From Chicken Soup for the Child's Soul

The Gravel Pit

The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.

George Santayana

The station wagon was full of kids: my brothers and sisters, plus a few neighborhood kids, all squished together on the seats.

“Ouch!” My little brother’s sharp elbow poked me in the eye. The tall girl from next door pushed against me to make room by the window for my older sister. It was like being in a basket full of puppies. Everyone wiggled and squirmed, making as much noise as possible.

“The curse of a big family,” I mumbled to myself. “It’s a terrible, terrible curse.”

“Renee’s saying bad stuff!” yelled one of my brothers, the one with the sharp elbow.

“Renee . . .” my mom called out. “Please! Just try to get along.”

“Okay,” I mumbled a little louder. “But tell him to quit stabbing with his elbow.”

“Are we there yet?” shouted my baby sister.

Mom smiled. I rolled my eyes. Being part of a big family was really starting to bug me. People banging on the bathroom door all the time. People eating all the snacks in the house. People jumping in the front seat first, so I always had to sit in the back. What was a kid supposed to do?

I need a break, I thought as I scratched an old scab on my knee. What I wouldn’t give to be an only child—just once. But I knew there was no chance of that. I bounced and bumped as the crowded family station wagon rolled down the small road.

“The gravel pit is about three minutes away,” my mom said cheerfully. “You’ll have plenty of time to swim.”

Swimming. At least that was a peaceful activity. I could float on my back and look at the sky. I could pretend that I was the only person in the world. At least I could float on my back. It was the only way I knew how to swim.

Mom steered the car off the road and parked carefully beside a small row of cars.

“One at a time . . .” she yelled before the car doors opened. “No one gets trampled.”

Nobody listened. The station wagon was like a boxcar full of monkeys. All the doors flew open at once. Hands and feet and a few heads shot out of each door in a tangled mess.

“Hey!” “Watch it!” “No fair!” After pushing, shoving, and whining, we finally all tumbled out.

I quickly pulled off my jeans, T-shirt, socks, and flip-flops, and finally got down to my faded swimsuit.

“Yeehaa!” I yelled as I splashed into the gravel pit. Cold water stung my face. I dunked my head under the water, and it shot up my nose. After standing up again, I sniffed and snorted. Then I dropped backward into the water and began to float. The water sat around my ears, smooth and silent. The sun warmed my face. I was a leaf floating in a large gravel-pit puddle. No pushing. No yelling. Everything was silent under water. No crazy mix of neighbor kids and family kids. For the moment, I was an only child.

Yeah, I thought, an only child. More presents at Christmas. More treats at the grocery store. I could sit in the front seat all the way home from the store. No more tall stacks of dishes to wash at supper. My stomach growled at the thought of food. Hadn’t Mom packed a huge bag of chips and a jug of iced tea for our snack?

I stood up to wade to shore.

Gulp! Dark sandy water suddenly filled my mouth and covered my head. The rocky ground was gone.

Shoosh! I tried to kick to the surface. As my face peeked out of the water, I took a deep breath. Splashing and twisting, I tried to swim. It didn’t work. I only knew how to float. And I only knew how to start floating in shallow water.

The water closed over my head again. I thought about my mom. Where was she? What would she do if she couldn’t find me? What about my brothers and sisters? As a hundred thoughts bounced through my head, I rose back to the top of the water. This time I didn’t try to take a deep breath.

“Ahhhh!” I screamed after a quick gasp. Then I sank back down into the dark water. My head filled with pictures of my family. Everyone was crying. It was like a movie in a theater, except I was under water. Everyone missed me. They were so sad . . . so . . .

Shoosh! I felt the water swirling around me. Something warm and strong touched my hand. A shark in a gravel pit? No . . . it was someone’s hand.

I couldn’t see, but I could feel my body moving as the hand started to pull me through the water. It pulled and pulled until I could feel gravel under my feet, and I stumbled onto shore. My legs folded under me like thin pieces of construction paper.

“We did it!” yelled one of my brothers as I looked up and saw my mother holding my hand.

“It was sooo cool,” cried another kid. “We walked right into the deep part. . . . The water was so deep. . . .”

Another kid started talking at the same time. “Yeah, we all held hands and made a human chain so Mom could get Renee.”

I was speechless. Kids ran all around me, jumping, running, yelling, screaming. What could I say? Maybe this great big crazy family wasn’t so crazy. After all, they were the human chain. Because of them, I was on dry ground—right where I wanted to be.

Renee Hixson

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