I was going to spend a week with my friend, Jean, who had moved from East Lansing, Michigan to her uncles’ adjoining farms near Amery, Wisconsin. Jean’s mom, a widow, was my mom’s close friend, so I was allowed to make the solo two-hour bus trip from Minneapolis, where my family was visiting, to the farm.
Packing for Amery, I looked at my swimsuit, a one-piece yellowish thing with thin rubber threads woven into the fabric. It would do for another season, I thought. But in the Sears catalog, a similar suit in red looked much more interesting. I decided to dye my suit red. I had dyed other clothes with fair results, so this should be easy.
As best I remember, the instructions said to dissolve the red dye powder in a large pot, bring it to a boil, remove it from the stove and put in your clothing, stirring until the desired color was attained. Then you dunked the item into cold water. When I fished it out of the water the suit looked pretty good, a little splotchy, maybe, but better than the old yellow.
Once at the farm, I found all kinds of rural attractions, the county fair, riding on hay wagons, playing with barn kittens, and trying, with meager results, to milk the cows. And there were Jean’s cousins, viable playmates.
We all enjoyed a pond with a small dock, a short walk from the farms. Mrs. Jensen, whose house faced the pond, stood on that dock mornings and evenings calling, “Here, fishy-fishy!” And they would come, rolling to expose their bellies, front fins honing them in on the dry bread she scattered on the surface.
On the first day of my visit we were all at the pond – Jean, her cousins Margaret and Phyllis, Cousin Fred and his friend David. My approach to cold water has always been “get it over with.” I could never understand people who splashed their armpits, thighs and chest before slowly, regally, crouching into the water, complaining all the while that others were splashing them.
I leapt off the end of the dock, and after the instant shock, felt pure bliss. I stroked around, calling to all the sissies to jump in. They seemed to be taking their time.
But something strange was going on. My skin began to crawl. A shivery, wiggly sensation encircled my body. I looked down. My suit had turned to threads, thousands of them, wavering like fins in all directions. The rubber in the fabric was gone. There was no more fabric.
“My suit died!” I called. “Turn your backs, everyone!”
No backs were turned. The little darlings were intrigued. I began to wonder – just how nice were they? I hadn’t seen them often enough to know their trust factors.
Cousins Margaret and Phyllis found my situation extremely entertaining. They tried not to laugh, but were woefully unsuccessful.
Fred said, “Maybe we can help.”
“Absolutely not! You need to turn your back,” I yelled.
David walked out on the dock, saying, “Come on. Hop up. I won’t look. Honest.”
“Not on your life!” I said. “Get off that dock. Jean! Bring me a towel.”
Jean waded toward me carrying a large towel. Whew! With sodden towel secured, I started for the farm. Rapidly.
After that day these sweet children, despite promising not to, told this story whenever they thought it would have maximum embarrassment factor.
Now, sixty years later, even I think it’s pretty funny.