It's something that you cannot hold in your hands. On any given day it can be blue, green, clear or dark gray. It can be smooth or choppy. It is not always good for drinking, but it sure is good for playing. It's that stuff that covers two thirds of our earth that has magical properties in the mind and heart of a child. It might be some other body of water to someone else, but to me it is the water known as Cinco Bayou.
I spent my summers as a baby and then a girl cavorting in the calm, gentle waters of the kid-friendly Cinco Bayou outside Fort Walton Beach, Florida. My cousins and I were literally in that delightful bay from sun-up to sundown every single day. We swam in the rain, we swam in the sun and in the evening we took a bar of soap and a towel and bathed ourselves clean in the bay. Our lives revolved around the water. We spent so much time in the water that I often wondered if my fingers and toes would be permanently shriveled.
In the early morning and late afternoon we fished from the dock using cane poles, red and white bobbins and lead weights and fish hooks we had threaded and tied ourselves. Our bait consisted of spit-rolled bread balls that we ever so carefully squished on our hooks until the first fish was caught. Then that poor guy was immediately headed for the chopping block. (We even fought over who got to use the eyes because they glittered in the water and attracted the most fish!) If we were lucky enough to have left over fish heads, they became the bait for the crab traps where we tried our best to capture the delicious but elusive blue crab (we had little idea what a delicacy blue crab would become.) Sadly, we also tortured poor hermit crabs by lining them up on the sand and making them crawl ever so slowly back to the water's edge, only to have to do it again. And again.
We cousins filled our days playing endless games that never seemed to grow old: underwater beauty parlor, underwater tea party and the game, catch-the-ball-off-the-dock-in-the-air-before-you-hit-the-water. We held garbled underwater conversations, practiced holding our breath as long as we could, turned underwater somersaults until our ears hurt, and practiced underwater ballet positions. A highlight of the summer would come when we would entice our grandmother into swimming with us all the way to the other side of the bay. Our beloved Uncle Dunk worked for the Alabama Department of Transportation, and he provided us with the rare treat of very large inflated tires that must have come off of some very large trucks. We tied ply-wood to the top of the tires, filled Coke bottles full of sand and dived for buried treasure just like the Bridges family on the television show, Sea Hunt. Other years we went poling down the mighty Mississippi (really the shallows of Cinco Bayou) just like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Never mind that we were five girl cousins, we were in truth just about anything and everything we wanted to be. My cousin Babs and I even had all of the younger cousins who visited each summer convinced that we were girls by day and porpoises by night. We accomplished this largely due to the fact that we both lied convincingly (not a great trait as I learned in later life) and could imitate almost perfectly the sounds that the television porpoise Flipper made.
Cinco Bayou and its environs afforded each of us cousins the fairy tale of a childhood. I could be whatever I dreamed I could be. And dream we all did. To this day when I find myself beside that particular body of water, I feel the stir of memories and the whisper of the magic within my soul. And then this middle-aged woman is suddenly a child filled with the joy of possibility all over again.