I grew up in Albany, Georgia not more than two miles through the woods from the largest natural spring in the state. Radium Springs or Radium as we called the springs is still the stuff that dreams are made of especially if you grew up there when I did. The kids who hung out there all those golden summers ago are still flush with the memories we made there and many of us have never stopped dreaming about Radium.
But the memory I have to share with you does not include the gorgeous southern belles we longed for in sweet dreams. My memorable story comes from an earlier age before our fragile and crushed libidos emerged scathed, and scorched from the narrow halls of junior high school straight into the cavernous hallways of Albany High School.
This memory is from that long lost age of prepubescence when Luke and I were only about ten years old. This would have been in 1951 or ’52. My Mother dropped us off one beautiful Sunday morning and left us to swim and play to the point of exhaustion so we would be too tired to bother her when we came back home after the big swim.
Luke and I were built pretty much alike. We both looked exactly like spider monkeys. We were skinny and had the long limbs of the world’s most successful tree swingers. Our simian good looks destined us to pretty much play together because other normal looking kids usually were intimidated by our tree climbing and limb swinging abilities. Our faces even looked like those of long limbed monkeys.
Once we arrived at the springs we hit the ground running. We went all out. We swam around the island about a dozen times. We ventured down the creek that emptied into the Flint River at least twice before life guards told us they would kick our butts if we didn’t cut it out. We had worked the place over petty good that morning and we were headed for more of the same that afternoon up until the moment Luke fell in love with a slide that was at least as high as a two story building. I lost sight of him for a few minutes and when I next caught sight of him he was climbing up that long slide the same way most people use to slide down it. He was all over that sliding board. The picture shown below has the slide located on the Casino side of the swimming area but back when Luke commandeered the slide it was mounted on the island.
He fell madly in love with the slide. I temporarily lost sight of him again and when I finally spotted him he was swinging just like one of those old spider monkeys from the supporting structure beneath the slide. I felt sure he was going to set up a rhythmic swinging of the slide that would result in its crashing into the water on top of a dozen swimmers.
It was hard to keep up with loose limbed Luke. I next saw him going up the slide by walking it from the bottom to the top. Man could he move. There is a man in this old picture of one of the slides doing the same crazy backward slide walk.
His great downfall finally came when he tried sliding down backward on his hands and knees. It was more fun than watching acrobats at a circus. As he went down the thing on his hands and knees he hit that little dip in the board where two sections were joined. He commenced to do a back flip that would have worked perfectly except for the fact he didn’t know he was going to do a back flip. When he completed the flip he lost his grip and his face hit that same joint between the slide sections.
Hitting your face wouldn’t normally have been much of a problem for either of us because we were far less than handsome boys. To be honest we were fairly ugly boys. The trouble with hitting his face right at that spot at that moment was, like most human type people, Luke had a mouth full of teeth. That joint in the slide sections got a good grip on one of Luke’s upper incisors and drove it deep into the roof of his mouth where the Lord did not intend it to be. It was noticeable and it was not pretty.
I don’t remember how I got in touch with my Daddy but it seems like it was no time at all before he had us in the car, still in our floppy swimsuits, and on the road to town.
I also have no idea how Daddy had arranged for a dentist to meet us downtown but the dentist was there in full regalia and with a huge assortment of stainless steel tools of torture waiting for Luke to show up. I do not remember the name of the dentist but I remember his office was on the second floor of a building on Front Street and it was across the street from Keenan’s Auto Parts Company.
Luke was quickly ushered into the dentist’s chair and as the dentist picked up a syringe with a pretty good sized needle attached I saw Luke’s spider monkey eyes accelerate to saucer size in a split second. Now I don’t really know how needles are measured in diameter but I understand that the smaller the number, the bigger the needle. A size seven is probably the largest they make but this dentist had somehow scraped up a number one needle and old Luke had not missed a beat when the dentist picked it up from his tray.
I have never seen an Olympic speedster move as fast as Luke did. He came out of that chair like it had a built in catapult. He went out the door and down the stairs. I could see him running past Keenan’s Auto Parts and heading for the river before the dentist could say, “What the hell happened?”
We chased Luke. Correction: I chased Luke for more than an hour all along Front Street to Broad Avenue up to Jackson Street and back down Pine Street. At times we passed the same businesses more than once. It had to be a Sunday because the streets were empty of cars and people and it was a good thing that few people saw us because I don’t think my Daddy could have taken the embarrassment of having Tift Park zoo keepers join the chase for a couple of spider monkeys running loose on the Flint River Bridge. Luke could run even faster than he could swing from limbs. Daddy tried to keep up in his car. Finally he told me, “Just yell to him that we won’t take him back to the dentist. We’ll take him home to his Mother and Daddy.” And that’s what we did.
I understand Luke’s folks got him to settle down so the family dentist could get his tooth back in shape. I used to see him from time to time. I would look for signs of the tooth being false but I never could tell if they saved his tooth or if he had a new one stuck on a retainer. I was always afraid to ask. I didn’t want to take an ass whipping from a spider monkey.
Luke never went back to Radium springs with me and maybe it was best that way. I eventually became acceptable to a few local girls who apparently decided it was okay to have to put up with just one spider monkey.