I am not going to bother with four separate weeks dealing individually with Water, Fire, Air, and Land, the four topics for each week in April. To be perfectly honest, I can’t think of a thing relating natural elements to our family’s genealogy. When I think of these four elements, however, my own personal memories come to mind.
Like many families in the United States, we come from a long line of farmers. Now, many of our family lines weren’t farmers in the old countries, though I only know the occupations of a handful of our immigrant ancestors; Ohlrick Kuck was a blacksmith, and his father and brother were either shoemakers or wheelrights. The DeJean’s were tradesmen in textiles or patterns. The Aleck’s were tailors. Regardless of what the other families were – in the United States, they were farmers. Right up to the the turn of the 20th century. As such, our various ancestral lines were landowners. Some owned small farms of 40 or so acres, some owned large farms of hundreds of acres. Today, many of us are lucky to own a quarter of an acre. I don’t know if it’s this farming heritage or what, but having grown up in the suburbs, I have developed an affinity for large home lots. The best land purchase I made in my relatively short life is twenty-three acres in Ohio – a beautiful modern home in the center of a one-acre cleared field surround by twenty-two acres of woods. My hidden gem, long gone.
But I haven’t always been a land-loving recluse. My father and I had a long love affair with water. He’s owned a plethora of boats while I was growing up. My earliest memories involve boating around the Panama Canal Zone. Watching large pods of dolphins racing us, whale sharks passing under us, and catching butterflies with a fishing net on the docks. Picnics along the water where mom would weave hats or baskets out of the thick grasses that grew along the shore.
In California, we had a boat on a lake for fishing, skiing, and just hanging out on the water all summer long. My sister and I swam like fish and even participated in organized swimming sports. When we lived in Alabama, we had our own neighborhood swim “team” – the Sharpsburg Sharks (we lived on Sharpsburg Drive). It was a funny team since it was just us neighborhood kids gathering at our backyard pool to compete with each other – mostly playing Marco Polo.
For as long as I can remember, I have had vivid dreams. I still do. Some of my earliest dreams involved an ability to breathe underwater. They were my favorite dreams. It was like flying – slowly. It is said that dreams are memories, but how could a child have memories of breathing underwater? Funny you should ask. Was it memories of being in the womb? Or was it inherited memories…
My father is a scuba diver. Has been since before I was born. He’s a recreational location diver, who has retired from the sport. When I was in my early teens, it was about that time of year when we needed to haul the lake boat out of the water to clean the hull. My dad and I were sitting around trying to muster the energy to do so, and somehow I came to tell him how I routinely dreamed of breathing underwater, and I described my dreams to him. He was intrigued. He told me my dreams were remarkably accurate. But really, how complex of a sensation is it for the imagination?
He then had a light bulb moment and suggested we get some scuba equipment and dive under the boat to wash the hull. That’s right, we bought a can of air to breath under the water. We had a blast. That summer, I got my Junior Scuba Certification, I was 14. My certification dive took place in Monterey Bay, California, in November. It may have been California, but it was no Beach Boy water conditions. The air temperature was in the 50s, as was the water surface. At depth, though, it was a brisk lower 40’s. I was wearing the thickest wetsuit to be had, and my lips turned blue, nearing purple. My dad was tickled to death.
Fire, fire, fire!!! That is something one should not yell in a California neighborhood in the middle of summer while chasing a runaway horse trailer containing one horse named Wildfire. But we did it. And we laughed once we realized what we had done. Fortunately, no-one panicked, and the fire department was not called.
My sister, as many girls do, wanted a horse. So, she got a horse and named it Wildfire – after the song recorded by Michael Martin Murphey. My sister competed in Gymkhanas with Wildfire and won many a blue ribbon in the barrel races. We were trailering Wildfire to an event that fateful day when we had stopped by the house to pick up some last-minute sundries before heading up to the mountains, and the Gymkhana event. It’s incredible that the trailer stayed on the hitch from the stables to the house as it was not locked on right (we were in a rush, and even perfect dads make occasional mistakes), but there must have been a big enough bump in the road that the trailer jumped off the hitch. When we stopped at a four-way stop heading out of the neighborhood, the trailer passed right by us, and we all just watched it go by – speechless. Then all at once, we jumped out of the truck and ran after the trailer yelling, “Fire, fire!!” Wildfire’s nickname. I don’t know what we thought Wildfire was supposed to do about her runaway trailer, but people do the weirdest things when they freak out. And no, not another car in the neighborhood that day. Phew.