I peered down
through the willow leaves into the white and green water of Jackass Junction,
concentrating, psyching myself, gaining courage to execute a dive that no other
sane human would dare attempt. This performance, I was convinced, would live
forever in the minds of those who watched. I was known all over Sebastian
County as the wildest tree diver ever to launch from a swaying limb.
My toes ached
from gripping the willow branches between them. My lilywhite, bare bottom
flashed brazenly through the trees at passing motorists on Highway 10, only 300
they screamed from below.
I'm goin'," I said. I had to. It was too late to back out. You didn't climb
down the willow tree.
Most of the guys
had already performed their top vote-getting dives. Each in turn had climbed
the tree, verbally described to all present their own personal dive—and jumped.
But this would be my alltime best, the once in a lifetime: a
forward-flip-catch-a-Snicker-in-midair (thrown from the creek bank at the
precise moment)-and-eat-it-before-you-hit-the-water dive. A feat to shame all
other attempts, the World Series of belly whoppers.
It all started in
May of 1957, these daily treks to the best swimming hole around Greenwood, Ark.
We rode old fenderless bicycles out to the second bridge on Highway 10. Usually
the whole gang showed up, and just about everybody rode a bicycle. Everybody,
that is, except Wayland T. Jackson. He never rode a bicycle. He usually just
appeared out of the bushes, or someone would spot him wading from upstream or
crawling through the thick brush along the banks. We'd be swimming or playing
chase when all of a sudden there would be Wayland T. with that strange look on
his face. His family had moved into town from a far-off region—Louisiana or
somewhere. He never said much and never joined in the races or the diving
contests. He was very skinny and had olive-green skin and slanted brown eyes.
Everyone thought Wayland T. was a little strange. One day he brought a snake to
school. That did it: everyone knew then that Wayland T. had not been blessed
with a full deck. Any sane, normal, red-blooded American was deathly afraid of
snakes, especially cottonmouth water moccasins.
summer, the intrusion of a cottonmouth was the only thing that could separate
us from the cool waters of Jackass Junction. An Arkansas thunderstorm couldn't
budge us, even the kind that rolled in from southwest Oklahoma, spewing
lightning bolts like buckshot. Nor could a tornado approaching from over
Backbone Mountain or the blessed news of an unprotected watermelon patch make
us move. Only one thing, one obscene word—snake—could empty the water in an
But now I was
ready to dive. "O.K.," I yelled at Billy Joe, my designated Snicker
thrower, "don't throw until after I come out of the flip, you hear?
it," he replied. "You ready?"
God's sake, no." I whispered, but they couldn't hear me.