I drove the dirt road around the lake, where family cottages hid in the trees near the lake’s edge and where water lapped wooden steps. Occasionally, there was a driveway, sloping down, on a vacant lot where people had planned to build but never quite secured the fortune it would cost and hoped to sell and make profit come time to pay their children’s college tuition.
I noted the old Plymouth with a trailer and bass boat with an outboard motor rolling down the hill and heard a splash. When I drove down the path and slid to a stop, I noticed the car had dove headfirst, like a whale, and the trailer and boat were slowly sinking. The splash created a wave that moved toward the lake’s center. I jumped out, dove into the lake, and noted the old man holding two children, sinking deeper and deeper. Water had already gushed into the rolled down windows and flooded the car, and their lifeless bodies swayed like water plants, this way and that. The trailer had become unhitched and I pulled until it lodged on a rock only a couple of feet below the surface.
When I came out, I backed my truck until water covered the back tires, hoisted the winch rope to the boat trailer, and pulled her out salvaging the trailer, boat, and motor. When she was free, I hitched her to my truck. I stopped near an old Gulf station that had the only working pay phone left in the county and called the sheriff’s department about the Plymouth, the old man, and two children. I pulled the trailer, boat, and motor home and parked them in the barn behind our house. I told my wife it was payback from a buddy who’d lost a bet at work.
I read the next day in the paper the old man had lost his wife to COVID, his daughter had run off and left the two kids with him, and he couldn’t raise them on Social Security and was too proud to take food stamps or Welfare. He’d told a friend, “We’d all be better off somewhere else”, but the friend added that he never believed he meant committing suicide. I played scenarios before sleep about whether I could have pulled them lifeless to the shore, done mouth to mouth, and what would have become of them if I had. I stopped thinking about what if and instead focused on what was. I realized that in the face of tragedy, there was opportunity. I donated to the old man’s church, named my boat after him, and went fishing that weekend.