In my neighborhood we always knew that winter had come when one or more of our parents would report hearing at a coffee or cocktail party, “The Wilson boy fell through the ice again.” I don’t remember meeting my best friend Bruce Wilsonï¿½but I know that we met sometime when we were both 3 years old. Bruce’s house was across the pond that was at the bottom of the hill behind our house in Edina. From the time that we were old enough to use the phone until we were about 13, Bruce would call me after school and say, “Let’s goof around.”
If it was OK for me to go out, I would say, every time, “OK – meet me at the big rock.” I would then tear out of the kitchen door and around the house toward the top of the hill, letting the screen door slam behind me. As I would reach the crest of the hill I would hear Bruce’s screen door slam and his tennis shoes slapping across his asphalt driveway (ours was gravel, and longer). I would fly down the hill and around the curvature of our side of the pond, and as I did I would see Bruce running too, often in a handed down athletic jersey from one of his older brothers, sometimes with a sucker or some other type of hard candy wedged in his mouth. We always reached the big rock at about the same time, and we would clamber up onto this grey, Volkswagen-sized glacial remnant and sit quietly looking out onto the pond, which was neither spectacular nor very big; perhaps 80 yards long by 40 wide.ï¿½
Upon the rock, we would go over the day’s important news, such as the occurrence of more salamanders than usual in certain tree wells, or the expulsion of Bruce’s sister Shelley from the junior high for wearing an American flag sewn to the seat of her pants. But from year to year our attention would always be drawn to a stick or, I imagine, the end of a submerged tree branch that protruded from the water’s surface about 50 feet out from our granite perch. This stick would some years be visible and other years not, earning it the name of “the mysterious stick”. (Right?) Years later I figured that the reason for this probably had to do with the water level in the pond and/or the amount of snow melt or runoff. But when one is five years old other explanations, necessarily, come to mind.
Bruce would always have questions for me about the mysterious stick, the kind of questions to which I think he knew the answers but he wanted a sort of confirmation; a second opinion. I think in those days Bruce trusted me a bit more as the sort of intellectual pilot of our team, I’m not sure why.ï¿½
“What do you think it is, Guy? Why did it move — did it move since yesterday? I think it did — don’t you? Do you think someone down there moves it?” When with Bruce these questions, not just about sticks but about any possibly conceivable uncertainty in the physical world would be tendered to me at the approximate rate of 255 per hour.ï¿½
Perhaps I had actually gained a more cautious attitude about this ice business from an episode from when I was about two years old. It’s just a series of brief but distinct images for me now. At that time I enjoyed the popular TV series called Lassie. You remember, the shampooed collie with the incredibly plaintive bark and tear jerking theme music. Well, one day I was out on the front porch, unsupervised by whomever had that duty at that time (I recently learned that Dad caught some very cool Mom air over this incident) and suddenly, and I remember this so vividly, there trotted across the lawn Lassie herself! In the dog flesh! I could not believe my eyes, and I wanted to tell everyone, to cry out, “Come look, come look, for God’s sake, Lassie, the actual TV star dog is right here, crossing our very own front yard! It’s a modern day miracle!” But at this moment, no other person was to be seen, and so, though I don’t think I had ever crossed the street or even left the yard on my own before, I quickly concluded that I absolutely had to follow Lassie, I guess to somehow document this event or to get a witness or something, because obviously no one was ever going to believe me, especially at age two.ï¿½
She was so beautiful and fluffy. She trotted at a gentle gait, down a small hill, into the park, me tromping along through the snow behind her, and as she got out onto the ice, which was strong enough to support her light weight on her four paws, I faithfully followed. I’m not sure that I actually understood where the land ended and where the ice began at that time, but there wasn’t time to think in this rare and urgent situation. I simply had to follow that celebrity dog. Anyway, the next thing I knew my progress had been abruptly halted, I seemed to be at least a foot and a half shorter, I was cold and wet from the waist down, and the worst thing, the worst thing of all, was that Lassie was getting away. I think the dog casually turned its head, not stopping, but glancing back at me in a bored way as I stood there both fuming and freezing. It occurs to me only at this writing that the dog’s unwillingness to make any kind of helpful move should have immediately cued me to the fact that this dog was nothing more than a sleazy impostor. I mean, wouldn’t the real Lassie have been doing something intelligent and heroic by then?
I remember wiggling and squirming around until, as I later described it to several adults who seemed to be making much too big a deal of it, that I “just fell out”. I had no concept of the gravity of the situation, especially in light of the frustrating and annoying escape of that popular show business personality who had actually looked right at me and then callously left me stuck in the ice.