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News / Life / Clark County Life

Everybody Has a Story: 10-year-old shows grown-up composure

By Bonnie Hennessey, West Hazel Dell
Published: June 22, 2024, 6:05am

My granddaughter, Jessica, had just turned 10 when she and her mom visited us in Springfield, Ore., back in 2015.

Jessica seemed moody this visit. She was not interested in family activities and just seemed to miss her friends back home in New Jersey.

On the first day, tears flowed at the restaurant when I ran out of quarters for the machine that had failed to deliver a tiny toy at the turn of a crank.

“But I haven’t gotten a toy yet!” Jessica shrieked.

The second day was our big day at the Oregon Country Fair, near Eugene. It was a happy experience until Jessica spied a girl in the crowd flapping her arms with glittering blue fairy wings attached. Jessica just had to have her own pair of fairy wings.

The rest of the afternoon became a quest to find the booth that sold them. After we wandered the entire fair and neared the end of our day with no fairy wings, tears of frustration ran down my granddaughter’s face. Then the fairy-wing booth appeared ahead at the entrance where we had come in.

Her mom half-heartedly shelled out $50 as Jessica donned glittering blue gossamer fairy wings. She got to flap her fairy wings for the short walk through the parking lot to the car.

I had almost forgotten why I liked my granddaughter.

The next day, we went to Island Park along the Willamette River to hike the rugged rocks along the shore and to swim. Jessica loved to swim and I planned to swim with her to the little rocky island about 50 yards from shore. Unfortunately, Jessica refused to put on the her water shoes.

“I am not wearing them. They are too uncomfortable,” she groaned. “I can’t swim in them!”

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Her mother and I walked away, leaving her to collapse into a heap of pre-adolescent tears. We quietly waded into the water. It was then, a mother duck and seven ducklings emerged from the brush to come paddling and bobbing right in front of us.

“Get the camera,” I whispered to my daughter. Jessica heard me, looked over and quickly maneuvered to put on her water shoes so she could come see the baby ducks.

Enchanted by the fuzzballs bobbing and quacking before us, Jessica smiled. She allowed me to take her hand as we waded into the water, deeper and deeper until our feet left the muddy bottom and we swam against the current toward the island.

We had to swim strongly as the current strengthened near the rocky outcrop of the island’s edge. It was exhilarating to climb up onto the warm dry rocks. Jessica let out a “whoop” as she lunged up.

We found our footing and climbed up a grassy hill to see the view beyond. I could see small fishing boats and fishermen wading in the water on the opposite side of the river. But then I was distracted.

There was something bobbing in the water just below me. It appeared to be two red shoes attached to blue legs.

Jessica came up behind me. As she looked down her eyes grew wide.

“What?! What’s that, Grandma? Is that a dummy floating in the water?”

I stared, speechless. Gently swaying in the water below us was the face-down body of a man. His bare back was covered with sand. He wore ragged blue jeans and red high-top gym shoes.

“It might be,” I stammered, wondering if I should run down to check his pulse. I was wishing it was a dummy – maybe some college prank.

We stood silently looking, wondering. The only sound was the water gently lapping. His skin was mottled and pasty.

“It’s not a dummy, Jess,” I said. “We need to go back and let someone know.”

She nodded and firmly took my hand. We walked back and climbed down the rocks. The water seemed cold and dark now. Jessica swam strongly, bravely.

When we reached the beach, Jess quietly explained to her mother what we had seen. I called 911 and reported our findings. Minutes later, a police car arrived and a burly policeman got out. Jessica and I answered his questions clearly and calmly, until we were released to go back home.

Days later, The Register-Guard reported that a 40-year-old man, likely under the influence of drugs and alcohol, was found drowned in the Willamette River near Island Park.

I was proud of my granddaughter’s composure and told her so. Now I so clearly remembered why I love this little girl.

Jessica was at the awkward age of 10 when she came to visit that summer, but seemed so much older when she returned home to New Jersey ten days later.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.