I remember one soggy day in the middle of April.
I was seven or eight, living with my mom, dad, and two brothers in a tiny town in central Alberta. Winter lasts a long time on the prairies, and we kids were enjoying the freedom of scarf-less faces and spring jackets. The snow had finally disappeared, new grass was springing up and the tiniest dots of green adorned the tips of each tree branch.
But it was wet.
The just-melted snow, combined with the rain that had been fallen through the night had left our world a slick, brown, muddy mess, and the muck drew us kids like moths to a porch light – we were powerless to stay away. The rain had gathered in every road and ally, making pothole puddles we liked to connect by carving canals from puddle to puddle with the heels of our boots. Ditches had become veritable moats, tempting us to wade in as far as possible without flooding the tops of our gum boots. Pools had formed in the ruts under the swing set at school, and we slowed our swings by shoving our feet into them, creating mini tidal waves that tended to “accidentally” soak our friends.
And then there was the mud. Teachers sent us to recess with dire warnings that anyone caught throwing, stomping in, rolling in, shoving others in, or generally manipulating the mud in any way would immediately be given lines or some other unpleasant task. Of course, this meant that as soon as we were turned loose on the playground, we all sidled around the mud, inching as close as we could, “accidentally” dropping a ball in or near it, seeing how close we could get without actually ending up in it.
To our simultaneous pity and delight, this behaviour often ended badly for at least one individual, and we got our vicarious mud fill for that recess.
On this particular rainy day in the middle of April, my kid brother, Brady, and I were on our way home from school. Living only a couple of blocks from Holden Elementary, my mother had deemed it safe, not to mention economically beneficial for us to walk to and from the school. In winter, this was pure drudgery, but with frozen cheeks and damp-from-recess mittens a thing of the past, it was now pure ecstasy.
We stomped heartily in every puddle along the way. We kicked the water at each other, protected by our splash pants. And then we reached the lot.
Ah, the lot. The vacant lot across the ally and down a few houses from where we lived. The lot, which had until late last fall, had contained a beat up old house, whose foundation had been filled in with dirt when it was removed. This dirt, thanks to the thawed ground, melted snow, and recent rain had softened and saturated, transformed into the biggest, most wondrous field of pure mud I had ever seen! It was glorious! A kid’s mud-filled dream come true!
Brady and I stared at this vision before us. I was suddenly convinced that cutting through this vacant lot would most certainly be the best way for us to get home that day.
“C’mon,” I said, and moved toward the lot. Brady needed no convincing. I lifted my boot and took the first step into the muck.
Squish……thhlllllluk! My gum boots sank in and out of the sumptuous mire. It was rapturous! That sound, the squashy feel of each step! Squish……thhlllllluk! We savoured each glorious step, not hurrying to reach the other side.
Squish……thhlllllluk! Squish……thhlllllluk! Squish……
But suddenly, there was no thhlllllluk of boot squeezing from its muddy cushion. Thhlllll…… come on! I strained my toes against the top of my boot. Thhlllll….. But my foot would not budge. I stared at Brady in dawning horror. He stared back, with the same terror-filled expression.
We were stuck!
Okay, don’t panic! I heaved upward on my boot with all my might, but the mud held it fast. I looked down. The muck was creeping higher and higher up my boots – I was sinking! In desperation, I grasped the top of my boot and began yanking on it with all my might. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Brady begin to do the same thing. The field of mud was losing its luster – fast.
Pull! Puuuulllll!! PULLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!! At that moment, Brady gave a great tug on his boot. His boot stayed rooted in the ooze, but as he pulled, his fingers slipped from the rim of his boot, and he hurtled backwards……
At least it was a soft landing.
I stared at my brother, lying in the mud, tears and rage gathering on his face. The mud had claimed him! The injustice! The horror!
I also barely managed to suppress an uncontrollable urge to laugh.
Well, there was nothing for it now. I pulled one warm, dry foot from its gum boot and slowly, gingerly set it in the mud. It eagerly oozed around it….my ankle….my pant leg. It was oddly thrilling, as I watched my white sock disappear into the grime, realizing that I was now doing something I would never, ever, not in a million years have been allowed to do, because now I simply had no other visible option. I lifted my other foot out of the boot and slogged toward Brady, who was still trying, unsuccessfully, to rouse himself from the mud. I held out my hand and hauled up my spectacularly filthy brother.
We left our boots behind; they were stuck fast in that mud, though we had tried, after Brady had joined me sock-footed in the mud, to loose them. As we left that muddy lot and drew closer and closer to home, a small feeling of dread began to well up inside me. The thrill of the adventure behind us, the sickening feeling that we were indeed headed home to a serious spanking hung heavier and heavier upon us. It may even be – dared I think it – belt-inducing!
We climbed the back stairs with trepidation. Brady and I shared an apprehensive glance, knowing that this may be the last time we were able to sit down comfortably for a very long time. I opened the door, and we crowded into the back porch.
“…..Mom?” I called nervously.
It was like waiting for the gallows to drop.
She appeared around the corner, took one look at our muddy frames….and went to get our father.
I don’t know by what miraculous force it occurred, but Brady and I were spared a beating that day. Perhaps they took one look at Brady’s tear-stained face and decided that what we had been through was punishment enough. I don’t know. My dad went to retrieve our boots, and Brady and I were shipped off to the showers immediately. We and the boots were hosed off, and before long, we were both clean and dry, ready for another day of mud and rain tomorrow.
And that was the day we lost our boots to the mud.