30 feet under Flamingo Street


As you remember, Dear Reader, last week we left our hero stuck, unable to move, in the middle of a drain pipe deep under Flamingo Street. Chased there by his arch-nemesis, and with his brother James lying possibly dead on the valley floor, he’d given up all hope of rescue.

Urged on by the calls of torment from Bully Brad as he was getting closer, I tried to inch further into the pipe but couldn’t. Out of air, I tried to yell, but no words came out. Some 30 feet under Flamingo Street, there was nothing else to do. I was surely going to die. That’s when something really, really big bumped into my feet.

What I heard next wasn’t the voice of an angel, but it was the next best thing. “Hey, stop crying and move. Little brothers are always getting in the way.” Somehow James had come back to life and wiggled after me!

“Can’t move, can’t breathe,” I gasped. That’s when James told me to close my eyes. He started to sing a familiar tune, and he told me to sing along. Somehow by keeping eyes closed and listening to him sing, I was able to take a breath, then another. I started to sing too as we inched our way towards the light.

Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, covered in dirt, spider webs, and long-legged crickets, we made it to the end of the pipe and fell into the vertical drain.

Beams of light came from an opening 30 feet above. With feet against one side of the concrete shaft and backs against the other, two frightened boys from Flamingo Street sang a familiar tune as they shimmied up 20 feet to reach hand holds.

Once at the top, we yelled for our brothers. They came, moved the manhole cover, and pulled us the rest of the way out. I’ve been claustrophobic ever since.

But that’s not the end of this story. It actually was only the beginning.

Last week I helped Big Brother James put in his mid-summer garden. Together we built the frames, mixed the dirt for the raise beds, and answered questions his oldest girl had about the soon to be vegetable patch.

After a couple of hours in the hot sun, the conversation lulled, his girl went inside, and he asked about the story for this week. When I told him the topic, James stopped digging and suddenly stood. The blood drained from his face. “I remember that day. It still affects me. We almost died.”
Yep, we almost did.

It was a memory that had been deeply buried – even to me – until recent events brought it to the surface. Forty-five years later, I found myself in yet another drain pipe.

Only this time it was lying on top of the ground. There were no bugs. No spiders. And no Bully Brad. It was part of confidence training for the fire department.

With full turnout gear and breathing apparatus on, I crawled once again into a pipe (though I swore I’d never would). Halfway through, I felt like that frightened 9-year-old from years ago. Then I remembered and closed my eyes. I started to sing that familiar tune – “Three Blind Mice.”

Fears in life are to be met and conquered. Not run away from. Thanks, Big Brother James, for teaching me that so long ago – some 30 feet under Flamingo Street.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for over 26 years and a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is saferick@bellsouth.net. His books are available at www.RickRyckeley.com.]