Stopping the flood


At first, it was a just a trickle. There was no real harm being done. After all, who amongst us notices a trickle? A case could be made that the trickle was even beneficial.

Eventually, the trickle turned into a small stream. It was obvious the stream needed to be stopped, but I didn’t say anything. My silence was partly out of fear of what would happen to me and partly because I really didn’t know how to stop it.

Soon the stream turned into a flood causing all kinds of unforeseen destruction in its wake, and only one person was to blame. But that’s how this story ends. The beginning starts with a mountain of sand.

Sand was delivered to our backyard at 110 Flamingo Street on the Monday we got out of school for summer break. By Friday my three brothers and I had ridden our bikes up and over the sand mountain so many times deep trails were forever carved into it, or so we thought.

Early Saturday morning Dad met us in the backyard with five shovels. The next seven hours were filled with constant complaining, sweating, and swatting no-see-ums as we spread the sand into a large flat circle.

Then we helped Dad lay out and drive in posts, secure the metal four-foot wall, and then drop in a liner. Dad tossed a hose over the wall, and the filling of our new pool started.

For almost that entire summer we enjoyed games of belly flopping, rescuing drowning pool frogs, and seeing who could make the largest dents in the sandy bottom under the plastic liner. The key word in that last sentence was “almost.”

By July, it was during one of the sand bottom denting games that yours truly found the pool plug with his big toe. The plug was equipped with a loop on top that fit perfectly around this 10-year-old’s big toe.

After a couple of days of pulling, the pool plug gave a little. It took a few days, but eventually a small trickle of water oozed out from under the liner, escaping down the backyard to Dad’s garden and eventually his soon-to-be prized tomato patch.

I kept pulling on that plug with my big toe, and for about a month Dad’s tomatoes enjoyed soaking up pool water. He didn’t notice the loss of water due to the trickle. With all that splashing going on by us kids, Dad just kept adding water each week. The small trickle went unnoticed by all except me.

The last Saturday of summer, during a rather robust game of pool bottom denting, I looped my big toe around the plug and gave a mighty pull. With a muffled pop and release of a few bubbles, the plug finally gave way.

It took over an hour for the flow of water to make its way out from under the liner, but by then we were all sitting down at the dinner table, oblivious to the destruction that was occurring in our very own backyard, all under the cover of darkness.

But I knew what was happening. My only hope was one of those pool frogs would clog the hole until I could figure out how to reinstall the plug.

By dawn the next morning the entire pool had collapsed in on itself. The steady flood of water washed away half of Dad’s garden, but somehow his tomatoes survived.

Upon investigation, Dad immediately ordered us out of bed, lined us up, and asked who had removed the bottom plug.

When The Wife finished reading this story she laughed and asked, “Well, did you blame the pool collapse and flood on your brothers?”

“No,” I answered, “I could’ve blamed it on the pool designer for making a plug perfect for a 10-year-old’s big toe. Could’ve blamed it on Dad. If he hadn’t bought the pool, it never would’ve collapsed and flooded his garden. Instead, I just admitted my mistake and took full blame. Besides my brothers would’ve ratted me out if I hadn’t.”

After the flood, I learned a few things. First, if you want prize-winning tomatoes, use a trickle of pool water for a month or so.

Second, ignoring a problem hoping it will just fix itself does nothing but make it worse.

Third, when something goes wrong, and you’re the cause, it’s just better to admit your mistake, take the blame, and move on. It’s much easier that way.

And finally, blaming your problem on someone else just makes you look immature and childish.

That was an important life lesson I learned that long-ago summer.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, served as a firefighter for more than two decades and has been a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is His books are available at]