(My mother's nickname was Cha--rhymes with chat. The following is a true story.)
“Wake up, Cha, let’s hurry so we can beat the others to the river. For once let’s be first.”
Ten-year-old Cha Kennedy slowly opened her eyes and looked at her older sister.
“It’s morning already?” she asked. Then she remembered how she wanted to be the first to jump in and swim across the Chikaskia River to a sandbar on the other side.
During the ride yesterday from their home in Blackwell she had overheard her parents talking about the spring rains and how they hoped that the river hadn’t flooded. The family had arrived very late last night at Camp Phelps Grove in northern Oklahoma and had not had a chance to check out the river that ran in front of the cabins.
Springing into action, Cha, accompanied by her older sister and little brother who was also awake, crept out of the cabin with eager anticipation. Their parents and little sister were still asleep. Once outside they saw that some of the other vacationing kids had beaten them to the bank and were staring anxiously at the water. Cha had a sinking feeling when she saw how worried they looked. After all, none of them had jumped in yet.
As soon as the other kids saw Cha they began to challenge her to be the first one to take the plunge. She wondered why they were picking on her. They should remember I’m not a good swimmer.
“Come on, Cha, you go first.”
“Yeah, see if you can make it across.”
Cha looked at the river and saw why they had hesitated. The river was higher than normal and the racing current visible on the surface was quite intimidating.
The kids continued to egg her on and she was tempted to jump in. Could she make it across? The others seemed to think she could--or were they just goading her?
As the taunting increased she gave in and decided she could at least try. Surely the river wasn’t so bad. She had swum in the Chikaskia many times before. She plunged into the rapidly moving water—and was immediately swept away.
Overcome with panic, she began to scream. “Help! Help!” She gulped and sputtered as the water washed over and around her, pulling and tugging her further and further away from the shore.
The other kids began to scream too as they ran along the riverbank following her. At least one had the presence of mind to go for help.
“Mr. Kennedy! Help! Cha can’t make it to the other side of the river! She’s caught in the current—help!”
Cha’s father immediately stepped out of the cabin, surveyed the scene, pulled off his shoes and jumped into the river. To Cha’s great relief he was soon beside her. But to her distress he didn’t grab her and haul her back to shore. Instead, he swam alongside her, firmly urging her to swim onward.
She couldn’t believe that he wasn’t helping her. Was he just going to let her drown?
“Come on, you can do it,” he repeated over and over.
Disappointed and angry, she had no other choice. She continued with all her strength and swam downriver with her father beside her.
Despite the pull of the rushing water, Cha, impelled by her father’s stern, “You can do it,” struggled to reach the shore. She kicked her legs and moved her arms furiously over and under, over and under, with her father swimming alongside her continuously pushing her with his words. “You can do it! You can do it!”
She wanted so much for him to grab her and hold her as he swam to the shore but he refused. You can do it! You can do it! The words became an echo inside her head as she frantically propelled her body onward through the water. All at once she knew she could do it—she had to.
And she did it—she reached the shore by herself. But she was still angry with her father for not helping her more. Standing up, she shook the water off and looked around, ready to complain to him. They had swum quite a distance downstream but they were safe. Suddenly she smiled, no longer quite so angry with her father who, she realized, should have been angry with her for so carelessly endangering herself.
However, as he waded onto the shore he said simply yet sternly, “I knew you could do it.”
Grateful that he had not reprimanded her more, she thought to herself, I did it but I’ll never do it again. By the look on his face she could tell that he knew she had learned her lesson.
No one else went in the river that day.