I returned today to the canal where John died. He must died around 1951, when I would have been five. I looked at the low bridge over the canal that I always looked at with fear. I’d stand a hundred yards upstream and I’d regard the swift current. I knew that if I fell in the current would sweep me downstream and under the bridge and beyond.Dad’s words would ring in my ear: The canal flows ninety miles, all the way to Hay. I’d stand upstream of the bridge and I’d terrify myself with thought of my helpless passage to Hay.
When I was five that bridge was larger and higher. The canal was wider: the entire scene dwarfed me. In that canal I learned the power of trust. Dad stood in the canal, and urged me to jump in and swim to him. He was three yards distant. He said, Jump in Howard. I’m here; you can trust me. I looked at that too-strong stream, I looked at the separation from Dad, I looked downstream in the direction of Hay. I said, Dad, how do I know I can trust you? Dad looked at me. He said, I gave you my word. I jumped in and I learned that trust is stronger even than the current in the Hay Canal.
This evening images came to me of Dad and his friend Jack diving into the canal, emerging gasping, diving again and again. Then Jack surfaced and cried, I found him! The two men dived once again and brought John to the surface. They placed his inert body onto the tray of Jack’s truck, which roared off towards the hospital. A final picture remains of my Dad working on John on the tray, as the track rounded a bend and disappeared.
Only minutes before that frantic scene, John was a young man in his prime, sailing on the little yacht that belonged to Dad and Jack. He’d served in the War and survived. That day the boat’s mast touched overhead power lines just as John pushed the boat off the bank. Current flowed through John, electrocuting him.
Years later his niece sent me a photo of John. The face that looked at me was young, handsome, dashing in his uniform. His face was smiling. As I looked at the picture I thought of the wreckage that would ravage his family.
As he fell, John cried, Electric!