When I was in 9th grade, I was lucky enough to get invited to go with my girlfriend, Carole, to Baltimore to visit her family.
That was when people threw a mattress in the back of a station wagon so the kids could wallow around and be comfortable for a long trip. It was about an 8-hour road drive from Tennessee, and there were 9 of us in the car – Carole’s parents, their six kids and me. I could write about that alone, except I want to get to the good stuff.
When we got there, she and I went to Uncle Bill’s, and the rest of them went somewhere else. Uncle Bill and his wife, Aunt Edna, lived on the Chesapeake Bay. Literally – we walked out their back door and crossed over twenty yards of grass to the edge of the water, which was about two feet down from the bank. They had a small, partially covered dock with an aluminum boat hanging in the middle of it.
Uncle Bill took us out the next morning to catch crabs. He tied a chunk of fish to a string and tossed it into the water. Pretty soon a crab must have grabbed hold of the fish and took off with it, because the string started moving away from the dock. “We got one,” Uncle Bill said. Then he started pulling the string in slowly through the murky water, and soon you could see the crab coming into view. “If you pull gently, the crab will hold on almost up to the surface.” He told Carole to grab the long pole with a net at the end. “When you see the crab coming up to the top, swoop the net under him,” he said.
From the moment the hazy image of the crab came into view about a foot or two below the surface, Carole and I started screaming and jumping around like we’d seen a tarantula. The crab let go and fell out of sight.
“You girls try it this time, and don’t scare him off.” We fought over who was going to tie the disgusting bait on the string and who got to do the net. Finally we decided to take turns. I pulled the next crab in gently, and Carole swooped the net under him. We screamed again with him crawling around in the net, but Uncle Bill just laughed and told us to dump him in the boat behind us. Soon we were catching enough crabs by ourselves to keep us entertained for hours.
Over the course of a week, we were together 24/7, and were starting to get on each other’s nerves. Plus, it appeared that Uncle Bill favored me – I joked and teased with him because he reminded me of my grandfather – and I think he found me amusing. Whatever the reason, Carole and I ended up getting into an argument about who was going to do the net. Neither wanted to tie bait. “Well, it’s my uncle’s house so I should get to do the net,” she said. “Well, he likes me best, so I should get to do it.” I snapped back. These statements pissed us both off, and we started scuffling on the narrow dock. With the pushing and shoving, we lost our balance and fell arm in arm into the water.
We surfaced and screamed bloody murder, because these were brown, murky, crab-infested waters that stretched as far as the eye could see. Plus it shocked us – it was salt water, which I’d never experienced before. We scrambled back onto the dock and started laughing. Uncle Bill came out and told us it was completely safe to swim in there, and we could touch bottom. “Your screeching and thrashing scared off all the crabs in a hundred miles,” he assured us.
We jumped back in with our shorts and t-shirts, screaming and splashing around to make certain the crabs stayed away. When Uncle Bill went back in the house, we decided to be naughty and go skinny-dipping. You couldn’t see into the water at all, and it wasn’t like a beach where there were people around. This was literally in the backyard of many cottage-type houses, and no one else was ever around. So we flopped our clothes up on the dock and took turns doing daring stuff like touching a foot on the squishy bottom. We got braver after awhile and decided to touch a hand on the bottom, which meant we had to do a surface dive, which meant our bare bottoms were exposed to view for a few seconds.
I’d never skinny dipped before. It had never occurred to me to do it. So it was quite exhilarating. We touched the bottom with our hands over and over, going at the same time so we didn’t expose ourselves to each other. People couldn’t see us from their houses, or at least we couldn’t see them because of the bank. We felt we had our own private bay. Boats passed on occasion out in the distance, but far enough away they couldn’t see us. What a fun time we had – and we didn’t fight again after that. We were sisters in scandal.
Months later, when we were back home, I overhead my mom and dad get into a tiff because he had Playboy magazines. “I only get them for the articles,” he explained. Of course this aroused my curiosity, because I didn’t even know what a Playboy magazine was. I found a copy hidden under a pile of stuff in their bedroom and was shocked to see the foldout and other pictures. But what caught my eye the most was a letter to the editor with a grainy, zoomed in picture of two creamy white butt cheeks poking out of murky brown water. The caption read, “Great White Spotted in Chesapeake Bay!”
I just KNOW that was me!