Dragging the River

     Is there any term that carries a more profound visual than this?

     I was working on building a potting/firewood shed, when a memory that hadn't shown its head in 30 years sprang up. It was in the early 60's, cars had fins, my dad had a d.a. haircut, and my friend Randy P. had just drowned in the Calumet River on the south side of Chicago. We swam in that murk, (had to wear tennis shoes) and had seen it burn from gas and oil slicks, and now Randy was gone. The divers dove and the River Patrol drug it for 2 weeks, then he washed up. Closed casket. The moms got a lot of mileage out of Randy's story: what will happen to you if ...

   And the time our neighbor John M., my dad, and I were fishing over at a gravel pit called Wolf Lake on Chicago's S. Side. I was about 8 or 9 years old. There was a large family group fishing about 100 feet down the shore from us, and they were involved in the loudest argument. I watched as the old woman got up from her lawn chair at the waters edge, walked up the hill to their car, got in, and floored it down the hill into the lake. I saw her coming, and she locked eyes with me till the car hit the water with an explosive splash, about 10' from where I stood. It was so weird. My dad and John swam out to it as it went trunk up, and slid under. Her son didn't get wet. They dove for it, but she had locked the doors and left the windows slightly cracked. It settled in 20 feet of water, and I watched as the police divers finally dove and attached a cable from the wrecker, and saw them pull the car up, and open it. You can guess the rest.

Many more times than I have fingers, these things I've seen.

     I have always lived on rivers and lakes, and I got to thinking about how many times I have heard that ugly term. How many times I've seen those boats outfitted with outriggers, rope, and gaffs, and the long wait for the word of recovery, the vigilant checking of the bank in front of my home, and the fear of finding someone.

     As often happens to me, the proper words to describe the feeling came in. I grabbed a pen, and wrote:

"How often I've seen them drag the river,

and what was found had said goodbye.

In some strange way they'd slipped on under,

and left a broken heart to cry."

     The next day I told my kids about the verse, and what I thought had caused it. We talked about how no other occupation can be used interchangeably with the term "drag the river." We all agreed it brought a cold, wet, unpleasant feeling in the pit of our stomachs.

     The next day I was roofing the shed, heard a strange boat motor, and looking up I saw a County Sheriff boat with downriggers heading upstream. The verse jumped in my head and I started turning it over like a mantra, and continued for the 2 weeks it took for him to be found. Was it a premonition? Stranger things have happened. Becca had me go out on the dock and check many times daily, and we did our own search in our boats. At some point he finally came unnoticed by our home, and was found hung up in a log jam 2 miles down.

     I think the words came for me to sing as a prayer to help a fellow fisherman pass on over, which I did. I couldn't help it, they wouldn't go away, nor would the feeling.