The Hydrant


Tracy K. Lorenz



My old college roommate Mike McClure stopped over for a couple days last week. Mike hates heat, really really hates heat, he keeps his house so cold your blood starts to crystalize, so he was concerned with the fact I don’t have central air.   I told him “Don’t worry, I don’t need central air because there’s always a breeze coming off Lake Michigan.”  It was 77 the day before he got here and 75 the day after he left, in between it was 96 with one billion percent humidity that squeezed you like a garlic press.


It kind of reminded me of the summer when I was twelve. . .

I’ll never forget that summer because they tore up our entire street to put in new water lines and it stayed tore up all summer.  One of the advantages of living in a place completely built on sand is as soon as the road is removed it becomes a giant sand box, plus when they dig the hole and put the sand in a pile, a big pile, you have, well, a big sand pile.  We built marble runs and bike trails all through the sand piles with total disregard for the rather imposing pit RIGHT THERE waiting to swallow us like a fly trap.

We weren’t allowed to go into the actual hole because sand has a non-linear angle of repose and being buried alive would look bad on your resume. There was zero parental supervision that I remember, just a nightly headcount that always fell well within the margin for error. The only bad part was occasionally a kid would ride his bike into the pit accidentally, come scrambling out, and then their dad would have to walk to the bottom and get the bike. Pretty mundane until Jimmy Konecney almost drowned.

Now you might ask how one would drown in a sandpit, well, first you need water.

One day in August it was blistering hot, sun surface hot, and of course our mothers wouldn’t let us come inside so we were relegated to the sand piles like we were in the French Foreign Legion. Well, apparently it was also hot for the construction workers because one of them got out a giant wrench and opened up the fire hydrant.  Holy moly, the ghettos of South Central Norton Shores were transformed into a virtual water park minus clean water and codes.

Even with a fire hydrant it took awhile to fill up the ditch they dug that ran parallel to the road. We started out wading, then it was thigh high, then chest high, then I got out.  I remember it wasn’t the cleanest water, it was kind of brown and foamy which didn’t allow for great visibility when someone posed the question ”Where’s Jimmy?”

A ripple of excitement passed through the pile of kids out there that day and the youth banded together to kind of kick around and see if they hit something fleshy. Then, as God is my witness, one of the construction workers laid down on his stomach next to the ditch, stuck his arm in and sort of stirred it around like he was drawing out a bingo ball. He then yanked Jimmy (I’m guessing he was three) out of the water like a trout. Jimmy’s recovery was swift and we went on with our day as if nothing even remotely unusual had occurred.

It was a different time back then, we had no helicopter (or submarine) parents, we watched out for each other and if on occasion something iffy happened we were able to deal with it even if it involved asking an adult to fish a kid out of a ditch.  Jimmy lived, we had a memorable summer, the road was replaced, and decades later if you showed a stranger that spot and told them a kid nearly drowned there they’d think you were...all wet.

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