Sometimes we have a hard time deciding what to call our relatives’ spouses, children and such. You have in-laws and they are pretty easy to identify, then you have folks like your nephew’s wife. Is she my niece, my cousin or is she just my nephew’s wife?
As far as I’m concerned, my nephew’s wife is family and I will love her as such. I will also call her pretty and strong and on this day, I will call her fortunate. She said that I could share this story with you, so I will. If I add anything to it, you will be able to tell. Otherwise, it’s a true story, just like all of the others I share.
Blake and Meghan have been married for less than a year; they are young and good looking and enjoy the outdoors. Weekends are spent hunting, fishing, swimming and enjoying nature. Our family has a piece of land; we simply call “the bottoms.” Blake makes full use of the land and it makes us all very happy.
On this day, Blake and a friend were working on a tractor or a bush hog or both. I’m sure he was planning on planting something to bring critters into the bottoms to shoot at. Don’t worry, he’ll eat it and he will only shoot at it if it’s in season. This is Alabama, we eat what we shoot. There’s another part of that phrase that I can’t seem to remember.
While Blake was working on the tractor, his wife Meghan and her friend decided to cool it in the Tallapoosa River. August in Alabama is hot. The R.L. Harris Dam (Lake Wedowee) had let the water through about 15 minutes earlier, so the girls were being very careful (the water gets high and the current gets fast).
Meghan’s friend fell in, and Meghan attempted to help her. In the process of trying to get her friend back to shore, Meghan was holding on to a tree branch. The branch broke, Meghan went in. Fortunately, she and her friend had the branch to hang on to. Unfortunately, the current was very strong.
At this point, you had two good looking girls in bikinis going down river on a branch – really fast. They didn’t have their cell phones and they were a good piece from the cabin and their voices couldn’t be heard. The boys were trying to crank the tractor or run the bush hog or something else noisy that boys do. So Meghan and her friend had one choice – to hang on for dear life.
For 6 miles, they prayed, they laughed, and they cried and tried not to panic.
The boys, being good southern boys, did start to wonder where they were. They couldn’t find them and they got worried fast and started looking for them and calling them and getting sick. They drove the dirt roads until they could get cell service and called 911. It did not look good.
My nephew and his friend waited for what seemed an eternity. He later figured out that it was only about 15 minutes. Within 15 minutes, in rural Alabama, the Sheriff and a posse of do-gooders were there. This is Alabama, and this is America, where people show up when you need them. They show up and start looking. They show up with pick-up trucks and boats and dogs. The Sheriff noted that this was not good at all. “The current is very strong,” he said. I think he may have even noted that they may be “looking for bodies.” I don’t even like to think that.
Blake continued driving the property and searching the riverbank. As he walked through the corn fields with a fellow who had showed up to help, he heard trains go by (the tracks run close to the river). The sound of the trains drowned out his screaming and calling his wife and her friend. Blake also heard a railroad service truck squealing down the tracks following the trains. He was sick and exhausted and scared.
Time kept passing, hour by hour. No word of the girls. My older brother (Blake’s father) showed up as soon as he got word. My brother and Blake went through the heavy brush of the woods with a bush axe, still calling and hoping for some sign. They didn’t find it.
Meanwhile, the girls were going down river for about 6 miles, where they spotted a flat place on the riverbank and Meghan’s friend talked her into “letting go” and swimming for the riverbank. She must be a good friend. They let go of the limb, the limb that had literally kept them alive for 6 miles, to try to make it to the shore.
Meghan said she swam like she never had before. She swam like her life depended on it - it did. Fighting the current, the girls made it to the riverbank. When they made it, they broke down, cried and kissed the muddy, snaky riverbank, thanking God for the strength to get there.
Still no one knew of their fate. The posse, the sheriff, my brother and Blake were looking for them.
My older brother was waist deep in the Tallapoosa River still calling for the girls. Blake followed his Daddy into the water, doing the same. Blake grew up hunting and fishing this land and noted it was the first time he had seen his Daddy in the water. Seeing his Daddy in the water, he got his second wind and wasn’t about to quit looking for his wife and their friend. My big brother has this effect on people; you follow him, knowing things will be alright.
Blake couldn’t help thinking that this land, which had always been heaven to him, was turning into hell. He noted that it was the scariest day of his life.
At this point the “good ole girl” kicked in. I’m pretty sure Meghan can field dress a deer and run a trot line, but I still would have liked to have seen them for the rest of this trip. Two blondes in bikinis, covered in mud, tromping through the deep woods of Alabama.
The girls (in bikinis) fought through a briar patch and made their way to a fenced pasture where they broke the fence down (Blake will fix that) and headed toward the railroad track. Their luck was changing; a train was coming down the tracks. Meghan and her friend screamed and yelled and waved and the fellows in the train just waved back. It must have been the second train that Blake had heard on the tracks.
Fortunately, the fellow in the rail service truck following the second train, decided to stop. The driver seemed to be a little concerned about giving the girls a ride in the company truck and was probably scared to call in his "find." I doubt he picks up girls in bikinis every day in the middle of the woods. The girls rode 8 miles down the tracks to Cragford, Alabama (population ~ 1000, real spread out).
Once in Cragford, the girls walked to a nearby house, where an older couple let them use their telephone to call 911. An older man, two mud covered girls in bikinis, a 911 call…. I won’t go there. The 911 folks were happy to get her call, word spread that they were ok and it turned out to be a good day.
Somewhere in the midst of all of this, Blake had made his way back to the riverbank and was looking down river from under a shade tree. He was talking to the Lord and begging. We’ve all been there and sometimes it doesn’t work out like we want it to. This time it did. He heard people screaming down river, “They found them, they’re alright!” He was overcome with joy and thankfulness and I’m sure he cried. I sure would have.
The Deputies probably fought over who got to drive the two blonde bikini clad girls back to Randolph County, Alabama. I don’t blame them.
It will be a hot topic in Randolph County for a few days. They had scratches, cuts and bruises, but they were just fine (in their bikinis). Blake told Meghan that it would probably be a good idea if she stayed inside the house for a while. She said something about the tractor, and I won’t say anything else.
These kinds of stories are all around us. The lessons they teach us are plenty. What lesson do we pick?
Helping a friend in need?
Learning to let go?
Wearing bikinis in the woods?
Find a train track to follow?
Nah…. I think the best lesson we can learn is to be like Meghan and her friend and kiss the muddy, snaky ground and give thanks. Most of us “make it to the riverbank every day.” We are in a river every day, the current is very strong and we have to swim like we never have before.
Then tomorrow, we do it again.
Meghan, Lindsay (her friend), Blake and all of us want to express our gratitude to all of the good folks that dropped everything to help. Being from Alabama, we don't expect anything else, but we know to say "Thank You" (and mean it).
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I'm BN Heard and I like semicolons, dogs and "good ole girls."