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The S.S. Donut

May 5, 2021


It had been raining a lot and all of the creeks and ponds in our area were full. I had just turned 8 over the winter and younger brother Phil was 7. We had been looking out at the pond just north of our house and how much bigger it was. Normally that pond wasn’t a full acre, but with all of the springs rains it had swollen to over double that. Still not much but to our small eyes it looked like Lake Michigan.

Dad had hired a neighbor John Endecott to dig the pond a year ago and this was the first time we had seen it full. My Dad was a Sheet Metal Man which meant he installed heating and air conditioning systems mostly on large construction projects. I don’t know where he came up with it but he had brought home a large tubular metal frame made from air conditioning vents all soldered together. It was in the shape of a rectangle about 4 by 8 feet total with each tube about two feet wide. It was kind of like a large rectangular metal donut. Apparently, dad planned to turn it into some kind of a boat as he had drug it down to the pond.

Neither Phil or I had ever even been on a boat and neither one of us knew how to swim but that donut began speaking to our inner sailors. We began to plan the maiden voyage of the SS Donut. We probably had some distant relative that was a great Viking chief which left us at the mercy of our genes. We were good boys, just born to sail that is all.

We couldn’t tell older brother John we knew he would tell Mom on us. We couldn’t tell younger brother Dave because we knew he would want to go. He was only 5 and it was too dangerous for him. If he knew about it and we told him he could not go he would tell Mom for sure. Right after breakfast we met behind the chicken house for top level clandestine planning sessions.

The plan was simple. Two boys who could not swim, one 7 & and one 8 were going to climb the fence. Walk low in the weeds so that no one saw us heading for the pond. Once we got there we would drag the metal donut to the water, push off and jump on. That was the total plan. Genius right? What could go wrong.

We decided to wait till after lunch. First, Dave would be taking a nap about then and not likely to try to tag along. Unless we were playing a game together John never paid any attention to us anyway so he wouldn’t tell. Mom would be cleaning up after lunch so she should be safe. Also if we did get caught and for some reason Mom didn’t understand the importance of this voyage at least she couldn’t send us to bed without our lunch cause we would have already had it. You can see that we had seriously thought this out.

Lunch was bologna and cheese sandwiches with a milk chaser. Due to the anticipation we both gobbled down our mustard covered meals and gulped the fresh cold milk that older brother Charlie had extracted from Flossie the cow the night before. We were in a hurry, we were men of the sea now and the wind was blowing.

We carefully slipped out the door, me first with Phil and his impish grin right behind me. First we tied Boots our big collie to the rope on the porch. We knew he would follow us and he might be hard to control on the boat. He was not happy about being left behind but sacrifices have to be made for the greater good.

We casually strolled to the old barbed wire fence and stood there looking as innocent as two angels. Now is when the plan got sticky. We had to squeeze between two strands of the pointy wire and not get noticed. We stood at the fence and looked at each other as we were at the point of no return. I looked at Phil and said “I’m determined!” He said “Me Too!”

As the older and clear leader of this band of brothers I went first. I pushed one strand of wire down, bent over and made my way through with the skill of Houdini! Phil however not so good, because he got half way through and hung up his pants leg in the barbed wire. He is mostly through the fence but hung up on a barb bouncing around on one leg about to tear his pants.

This scared me. Mom would probably understand our little boat ride we were planning but if we tore our clothes she was going to be mad! I told him to stop jumping and grabbed the wire and pulled the barb from his jeans. Praise the Lord! Only a small hole mostly unnoticeable. Clearly a sign from above that God was with us.

We bent down and crept like an Osage Indian war party through the tall weeds to the bank of the pond. I don’t know why no one noticed us dragging the donut to the water as it took us nearly 10 minutes to get it there. It was heavy and the rains had the ground muddy. We would push with all our strength to move it a foot at a time. Often our feet would slip out from under us and we would fall in the mud beside our boat. By the time we got to the water we both looked like we had already been shipwrecked.

Once to the water it was simple. Push off and jump on. Which we did! Remember this is a floating donut. We are both sitting on a different part of the tube floating towards the middle of the swollen pond. We don’t have paddles, somehow that detail had slipped from our meticulous plan. We are both leaning over paddling with our hands.

The momentum of the launch got us floating toward the center of the pond. It was a glorious day! The sun was shining the water smooth, a perfect day for a boat ride! We looked at each other with smiles of pride! We were sailors, not just sailors we were practically pirates!

There was no wind and we just sat there on the S.S.Donut in the middle of the water like we had an anchor out. We had been on the water for at leat 20 minutes now with no discovery and I thought we probably should start paddling to the shore before we were foiled.

I think we would have made it too but somehow Boots had gotten loose from the rope, ran down to the pond and was frantically running the shore barking at us. I knew we were in trouble now. Someone was sure to notice the barking dog.

We both started padding the boat, we were scared now and were just flailing the water neither one at the same speed. So instead of going to the shore the donut just started going in circles. We were paddling faster and going nowhere. At this point Boots decides to swim out to the boat. When Boots got to the boat he starts trying to climb up on one of the tubes. Now the wet dog weighs more than either one of us and the donut starts bouncing in the water.

Phil is the first one to fall. He goes over the side and comes up in the water in the middle of the donut. I reach out and grab his hand and start to pull him toward the side I am sitting on. He now looks terrified and I am pretty scared myself as I took this time to factor in the fact that neither one of us knew how to swim. I tried to pull him up with me and instead slipped off the other side into the water.

Now we are both in the water clinging to the side of the donut. It is too slick for either one of us to climb up so we locked our hands together and straddled one length of the donut between us. Phil in the water in the center of the donut and me on the shore side.

We are stuck. Afraid to let go of each other for fear we would lose a brother and not able to climb back on the two foot tube that just a few minutes ago had been our perch of victory. Boots however did successfully climb up on one of the tubes and just sat there barking at the two of us hanging in the water. It was like he was saying, “Why don’t you get back on the boat?”

I am sure it was quite the picture when Mom looked out the window and saw our precarious crew still sitting in the middle of the pond. Dog on the boat and two boys hanging in the water.

By now older brother Charlie was home so Mom and Charlie followed by John all come running down to the pond. Mom was panicky but Charley who was 16 and a strong swimmer just walked into the water swam over and pushed the boat, boys and dog to the shore.

As we got close Mom waded out to the donut and grabbed an arm of each boy. She drug Phil over tube and began pulling us both to the shore. Mom was both mad and scared. Our short legs could not keep up so she was literally dragging us through the water.

Now we were wet, Charlie was wet, Boots was wet but worse of all Mom was wet. She was mad and wet dragging us to the house. As we got to the fence line she paused long enough to pull a limb just switch size off one of the pear trees. She threw us over the side of the fence and then climbed through herself. From then on with every step towards the house she making a swing at one of our legs with the switch. We danced and jumped everyone of those 50 yards to the house.

Mom made us strip naked and took the garden hose and rinsed us down with the cold water. She didn’t even give us a towel just told us to go straight to bed and it was only 3 o’clock in the afternoon. What about dinner?

Since we slept in the same twin size bed anyway we found it easy to discuss what had gone wrong with what had seemed to be a perfectly planned afternoon on the water. Wisdom and maturity were blossoming all over me and I very magnanimously took blame for the whole debacle. Phil chimed in “No it was my fault too!”

As you can guess there was no dinner for these two young sailors that night but we didn’t complain for fear that Dad would show up in the bedroom with his belt to add to Mom’s switching. We fell asleep early that night. I don’t know where it went but the next day the S.S. Donut was gone and never seen again.

As a happy note to this story in our teen years Phil and I both learned how to swim and became lifeguards at the local YMCA. I found many chances to return the deed my brother Charlie had done for me as I rescued a number 7 & 8 years who had gotten in a little over their heads. It is an easy thing for a kid to do. (Always feel free to share my posts. To find my books “The Reluctant Bachelor” and “Why aren’t we rich yet?” go to andywilloughby.com or Amazon}

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