The swimming hole seemed so far away but in fact it was less than 2 1/2 miles from our front door in Alabama Village, the housing project that was built to provide places to live for the thousands of workers imported to support the shipbuilding industry during World War II. Chickasabogue creek, the closest navigable water to our home was an exploration frontier for some of us twentieth century Tom Sawyers who grew up in and around Prichard in the fifties and sixties.
Prichard was a wonderful place with lots of outdoor activities available to keep us younger folks occupied and out of trouble. The city maintained numerous recreation areas. The main one near city hall had a zoo with gorillas, monkeys, and alligators, a playground with rides and swings, a baseball / football field that also served as an arena for rodeos, and a huge swimming pool for us to cool off and let loose some energy in the summer months.
It was a completely different era, an innocent time free from worry about trivial stuff like boundaries. If we could walk there, we could play as long as we wanted, and then get home in time for supper we were within the limits our parents set.
If we wanted to go swimming when the Prichard Park swimming pool was closed or we didn’t have the ten cents required to pay for our admission, Chickasabogue Creek was our best alternative. The creek originated above Oak Grove and snaked several miles all the way to the Mobile River near the paper mills. There were a number of swimming holes along the way with the main difference between each being the temperature of the water. The closer to the spring that feeds the creek you were, the colder the water.
We were feeling the heat and humidity on this early summer day in 1965. Steve Ard and I had been swimming with others at the old Hollingsworth & Whitney site known by most as the H&W when we decided to water ski back to the bridge at Highway 43. I maneuvered around the winding curves watching intently for oncoming boats with one eye and watching Steve in the rear view mirror with the other. When we rounded the last tight bend in the river, I noticed someone in a thicket near the bank waving to us. I quickly pulled back on the throttle and dropped Steve into the cold black water.
As I turned the boat around and headed back to get Steve he asked, “What did you do that for?”
I pointed to the bank as I pulled him into the boat.
I turned the boat around and we headed toward the man who was dressed in a blue uniform complete with spit shined shoes. The patch on his shoulder read, “Saraland Police Department.”
“Man, am I glad to see y’all. I have been trudging through this swamp for two hours.”
We helped him into the boat and he explained why he was where he was.
“A lady up in Saraland called our office and said that she had heard shots fired and someone yelling for help from out her back door down toward the south.”
“My partner and I responded to the call and we heard the yelling also but we weren’t exactly sure where it was coming from, so I drew the short straw and started on foot in the direction of the sounds but I haven’t seen anything suspicious. I was hoping I could find another way back to Saraland without having to go back through that swamp.”
We ferried him to the launch ramp on the north side of the Highway 43 Bridge where he found a telephone and called the department for a ride back to Saraland.
After he left, Steve and I walked back down the dock where we had tied boat. A man who was working on the motor in a boat that was tied nearby asked, “What was the policeman doing with you?”
I related the story the policeman had told.
A slight grin caused his lips to turn up slightly at the edges as he said, “I’ll bet that was me.”
He went on, “I had been sculling along fishing near the bank, caught a nice mess of bream. When it started to get hot and the fish had quit biting, I was I ready to go home. I packed up my stuff and pulled on the starter rope time after time but my motor wouldn’t crank. All it would do is spit, sputter, and backfire. I pulled the rope again and again but all it did was, ‘Pop – Pop,’” him making the sound of a backfiring engine.
He continued, “I alternated between pulling on the rope and yelling, ‘H-e-l-p, H-e-l-p.’ Finally another boater came along and towed me back to here.”
I climbed into our boat. Steve untied us, stepped aboard also, and gave a slight shove. I said to Steve as we backed away from the dock, “I’ll bet he is right, that is exactly what she heard.”
Steve and I went back to playing and didn’t worry anymore about the mysterious shooting on Chickasabogue Creek.
Thinking about it now, it probably would have made sense to call the police department and tell them the facts but we didn’t. We normally didn’t go looking for policeman on purpose in those days.
by Wayne Brady 5/1/2013