Archives for May 2014

Mosenthein Island, St. Louis (from “Growing Up and Other Stories”)

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— A TRUE STORY —

The sun burned hot this Saturday in early May as the  old ‘Duck’ landing-craft, a left-over from World War II, wallowed its way across the muddy Mississippi with a cargo of twenty-five.
The deck vibrated as the diesel throbbed. The rhythm changed abruptly, and we shifted for balance while standing in the craft. The amphib turned slowly, and the driver accelerated to stay even with the approaching shoreline. With a bump! the wheels hit bottom, and the craft lumbered from the water like a huge beetle crawling from a pond. The driver tooted the diesel horn one sharp blast.
In moments we stood on the sandy shores of Mosenthein Island off the coast of St.Louis.
I followed my friends, Amedeo and Brian, up the beach as a sunburned group boarded the craft. My feet burned as I ran. Brian nodded up the beach at pretty Doris Porter who made excuses to talk to me in the halls of Beaumont High. I turned and hurried up the beach as Brian snickered.
A quarter mile up the sandy beach, we headed inland, pushing through thick bushes. The sand changed to a thin layer of dried mud, cracked and curled like old pizza dough.
“There it is!” yelled Brian. “I told you there’d be sloughs after the rain. Come on. I’ll bet it’s loaded with Carp. You said you caught fish with your bare hands a few years ago, Ray, so let’s do it again.”
I smelled the heavy odor of dead fish as crows rose, cawing in protest. Brian waded into mud hip-deep. The thick, mucky water heaved beside him, and Brian dived into the slimey mud and surfaced holding a flapping twenty-pound Carp.
“See? We can catch fifty in here. Come on.”
I put on my tennis shoes, tied them tight, and waded warily into the muck. Soon I was diving and wrestling with fish, and threw big Carp onto the shore as fast as I could grab them.
After about an hour, we stopped, crawled out, and lay laughing, covered with mud.
“Whooo-ie!” yelled Brian. “There must be thirty Carp on the bank.”
“Yeah, now what are you going to do with them, Brian?” I asked.
He stood gazing at the flopping fish.
“Leave em’?”
Amedeo and I laughed.
“You can’t just leave all these fish to die, Brian. Throw them back in the slough, dummy.”
We did and then headed back to the beach, covered from head to toe in stinking slime that itched as it dried. As we broke from the bushes, girls on their pristine towels screamed.
We walked along the crowded beach, saw two volley ball games and a group of muscle men doing handstands and other nifty tricks.
The mud on my skin had dried, and the itch and foul smell were unbearable. I dashed into Ole Miss. The muddy water was frigid. I washed and waded ashore, my fingers blue. Shivering, I flopped on the hot sand next to Amedeo and raised my chin to the sun. We lay quietly, rolled over occasionally and ran into and out of the frigid water to alleviate the effects of the hot sun. My skin felt cool as a shadow covered me. It was Doris Porter.
“Hi, Ray. I saw you arrive, but I guess you didn’t see me wave…”
“Uhhmm…” I mumbled.
“Want some cold Cokes or lemonade?” she asked.
We all nodded in unison, thirsty after our ordeal.
As we drank their cold drinks, Doris touched my chest.
“You’re really sunburned. I’ll rub baby oil with iodine on you.”
My skin did feel tight. “Okay, maybe a little on my back,” I said.
I smelled the sweet oil and relaxed just as the diesel horn ripped the air.
“Sorry, I gotta go,” I said. “I hop cars at Edna’s Drive-in on Saturday nights.”
“I know,” she said. “I’ll probably see you there after the movie.”
I looked at the sand, the sky, the amphib. “Yeah, well, I’ll see you,” I said weakly.
I backed away, turned, and dashed to the craft. I looked back. Amedeo was joking with Caroline Kelley, and Doris was smearing oil on Brian’s back.
I shrugged — and winced at the pain in my sunburned shoulders. I clambered aboard as the diesel belched to life and the landing craft lurched awkwardly into the water. The diesel hum increased in pitch, and we plowed into the muddy river for the trip home.
By that evening my whole body was one big burn – I had turned into a lobster, and felt like they had just taken me out of the boiling water.
Mom gently smeared me with baby oil and I spent a miserable night trying not to shift my position any more than necessary.
After two miserable days, the pain eased and I was back at work at Edna’s Drive-in, hopping cars and joking with my friends. My skin was now a mass of blisters which popped with every move and wetted my clothes in the process.
After a week my skin had peeled and now my body felt tight, flaky, and raw.
On Friday evening Brian came by the Drive-in and sought me out.
“Amedeo and I are headin’ for Mosenthein tomorrow early. Wanna come?”
I laughed and shook my head.
“No thanks, Brian. I think I’ve had enough sun to last me for the summer.”