2004 by Paula Gramlich
Despite my daughter’s warning, I was determined to rescue my grandson’s Mickey Mouse binky from the creek bed. Driftwood stair steps in place, I tested the first log. With both feet on the driftwood, it took less than five seconds to turn a respectable middle-aged mother, and grandmother into the lady mud-wrestler of Parkville.
“Can you get out, Mom?” my daughter, Mikel, asked as she eased baby James’ stroller over the planks of the bridge above and behind me.
“Sure, I can get out,” I told her, my back to the bridge. “A little mud is not going to stop me.” I strained to pull up my legs. Neither budged.
“I better get some help,” said Mikel.
“No, wait. Don’t leave me,” I shouted as the stroller whizzed across the bridge.
“Get stuck in the mud, did ya?” asked a lady jogger.
“I came down here to get my grandson’s binky,” I explained, straining to look over my shoulder. “He threw it while were crossing. My daughter went to get help.”
With any luck the jogger would take the hint and go away. I didn’t need an audience. Besides longing for invisibility, I had other things on my mind. Things like my shoes. I felt them filling with water from somewhere deep within the mire. If I could untie these monstrous, water logged walking shoes and step out of them, I might stand a better chance of resurrecting my legs.
I plunged my arms into the mud.
I’d never paid attention to the physical logistics of toe-touching exercises until half my body was underground, and I came face to face with the opportunity of diving into a mud bath headfirst. I checked behind to see if I still had company. Yes, four other people had joined the jogger I heard her recounting the story of how my grandson had thrown his binky over the bridge and I had gone down after it.
Was she trying to find the park ranger Where was my daughter? Had she gone home to dial 911? Would she ever come back?
A mosquito lit on my face. I swiped it with my muddy hand leaving a brown patch of mud on my cheek. It felt cool against my skin but unlike the mud facial cleanser I used at home, this mudpack reeked with rotting algae and fishy particles of river life. I wanted to be home in my own bathroom with a towel around my hair instead of staring into the eyes of fifteen people now standing on a bridge viewing me with the same interest as a freak in a sideshow.
I wanted to shout at them. “Why don’t you hop into your air-conditioned cars and get out of here?” To add to my ordeal, more company was on its way.
A ranger and on-duty firemen sprinted through the park, dodging trees and hurdling picnic tables on their way to my rescue. I imagined some kid shouting, “Hey, Mom, let’s get some ice cream, drop by the bridge, and see if the crazy old lady has gotten herself out yet.” Diving head first into the mud looked like a good option.
“Don’t feel bad about this,” the ranger told me. “You’re not the first,” he grunted, straining to stretch his body across a sand bar. "Hell, I’ve had to dig out grown men.”
It was no accident he didn’t mention digging out any women. Most women with grown daughters and grandchildren would never allow themselves to get caught in this predicament. What would my friends and coworkers think of me now?
Images of people I knew from high school, college, and work took center stage. I saw them eating dinner and reaching for their remotes to turn on the six o’clock news.
“When I get my hand underneath your knees, you lift your leg,” said the park ranger, looking behind him at the fireman lifeline. I pulled. I pulled again.
Again the ranger tried to dig my legs out of the mud with no success. After the third attempt, he looked like he was ready to call for a construction crane. There were now thirty people on the bridge. At this rate the whole town of Parkville would be alerted to my predicament. All it took was one person to call the local news channel, and I would never be able to hold my head up in this town again. As the firemen and ranger plotted a new rescue technique, I envisioned a conversation between a man and his wife while eating dinner to the images of the six o’clock news.
“Look at that lady mud-wrestler from Parkville, honey.”
“That’s no lady. That’s Paula. She graduated the same year you did.”
“Holy crap, you’re right. Wasn’t she homecoming queen and a cheerleader? Well, she’s a mess now!”
Inch by inch my legs oozed from the mud as the firemen pulled on my torso at one end, and the park ranger shoveled from the other. As if I was in labor, a low moan rose in my throat. The mud around my legs made sucking noises and belched as it released its hold. The spectators on the bridge cheered.
I was free.
I smelled like water in the bottom of a wheelbarrow underneath the grass clippings, but I was free. With mud clinging to every part of my body, I oozed toward the bridge. The crowd separated before me like the Red Sea for the Israelites. The shouts and cries of hooray I heard from the creek bed had now acquiesced into silent stares.
For the first time I saw myself as these people saw me. I felt like an aged bottle of champagne that if uncorked, would explode. Judging from the horrified looks on the spectators’ faces this was no time to come unglued. With my luck a spectator would call the nearest mental health facility, and I’d find myself in a straight jacket, tied to a stretcher with a rag stuffed in my mouth.
“You might want to wash up. I’ve got a hose up at the bathroom,” said the ranger who followed me across the bridge. I tried very hard to ignore the firemen’s faces. Judging from their frozen smiles, they were choking back laughter, too.
As I was washed off with the hose in front of the whole Parkville fire department, Mikel’s car pulled up to the curb.
“Mother!” she shouted through the passenger window. The car door swung open. “Get in the car and try not to get any mud on the seat.”
I jumped in the passenger seat, slammed the door, and the cork blew out. I could not stop laughing.
“I am never going anyplace with you again,” Mikel whispered.
Her mouth barely moved as she talked—her eyes restlessly roved the crowd around our car.
As we sped from the park, I turned to check on my grandson. He stretched his lips into a smile. There, in the center of his mouth, was a clean Mickey Mouse binky, an exact replica of the one he had thrown off the bridge.
“Why didn’t you tell me you had another binky in the car?” I asked Mikel.
I thought you knew,” she answered.
“If I had known, I’d never have gone down into the creek bed. Next time remember that.” What was I talking about? There was not going to be a next time.
My career as lady Parkville mud-wrestler
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