Monday, June 02, 2008

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

I might be wrong on the timeline here but I don't think so. The Christmas of 1963 brought me my 1st pair of hip boots. Waders is another name for them, especially among fishermen, but for us they were hip boots.

They were my best gift ever! Better than army men, better than sleds, better than money. Hip boots gave us mastery of the swamps! Now the water & the mud could not keep us back! Now we could go anywhere! As long as it didn't go over the top of our boots. Then there was a problem. A boot filled with mud & water was not a good thing. Especially in the winter.

The boots I got were black and from Sears or maybe from Polsky’s Army Navy in Woodbury. They came to the top of your thighs and you put them on over your regular shoes, kind of like a giant pair of galoshes. I had many pairs over the years, sometimes because I was growing but more often because I would get a hole in them. Even a small hole was a disaster as your foot quickly filled with cold, cold water. Once you had a hole in the boot they were shot and we did any number of stupid things designed to make holes. Running headlong through sticker bushes for one; walking through mud with no thought as to what might be beneath the mud for another.

But the boots freed us from the tyranny of mud and water. Where once we turned back from mud flats and pools of water now we could walk straight through! We could even cross the Mantua Creek at a few shallow points at low tide. Of course there were other difficulties. Hip boots were not possessed of any real grip. In fact they were sort of like wearing giant ice skates when you were walking on slippery underwater surfaces. What sort of surfaces? Well, say, half submerged logs or rocks by the trestle. That sort of thing. So you’d be walking out where disaster lurked, feet dry as a bone and then, boom you slipped off the log and were drenched to the bone. This would invariably necessitate a run back to the house, to the basement, to strip out of wet clothes, then race upstairs to change into dry clothes and out the door. Behind, in the basement were the wet jeans stinking of swamp mud and swamp water. Mom loved that.

The other big problem with hip boots was quick mud. If you got caught in some really nasty mud you might be up over your knees when it first got you. You’re fifty feet from any solid ground with your friends staring at you like you’re a knucklehead and you’re sinking slowly into the deep swamp. Then they’d form a little chain and with a stick or some shit reach out to you and pull you free. Leaving your boot sticking up in the mud. Like the foot in Fargo in the wood chipper but with almost the same consequences. You had to get it out or there’d be hell to pay. This would mean an hour or so of calculations, planning and effort that would eventually pay off and leave you with wet, muddy socks and shoes trudging up Mantua Ave dragging a boot caked in mud. What fun!

Hip boots eventually led us to our next money making enterprise. Trapping animals for their pelts. But more on that in my next post. If you’re squeamish about dead muskrats and river rats don’t worry. We sucked at trapping them.

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