The Trick of Quiet

By Doug Elwell

 The lake was created long ago, beyond the memory of anyone, when Hoges’ Branch was backed up by an earthen dam and a spillway to provide water for the village. Most of the time it inched thickly through the lake like a snail crosses a leaf. The lake was always brown, but we didn’t care about that. It was just the way of things. We had no concrete pool of glistening, clear water that smelled of chlorine to splash around in. The lake was what we had and it was enough. When we stood on the bottom, our feet would sink into several inches of cool greasy silt. When we came out, the peach fuzzy hair on our faces and arms and legs was brown with microscopic bits of mud that stuck. We looked like a gang of eleven year olds with a five o’clock shadow. We didn’t care. It was just the way of things.

The lake was the perfect place to pass hot summer afternoons in those days of our youth.

We dragged inner tubes down through the weeds and into the muddy water below Taber’s cabin. At the end of a short rickety pier that threatened to collapse but never did, we threw our inner tubes into the water then dove off the end and swam out. We pulled ourselves onto them, drifted lazily into the lake and came to rest a few feet from shore. Dave Armstrong had a tractor tube big enough for four or five of us to climb up on. It always prompted a fight for king of the tube. Sometimes there were as many as six or seven of us. We splashed and climbed and pulled each other onto and off of the thing. There was much shouting, shoving and sputtering. It lasted until everyone tired from being pushed off the tube into the water and fighting to climb back. One by one we pulled ourselves onto our own tubes and tickled our ears with the forbidden thrill of telling dirty jokes and practicing curse words we heard in the barber shop or the gas station out on the highway. As the white sun beat down on us we lay back and let its heat settle over us as we lay still in the watery womb of the lake.

It got quiet when the splashing and laughing and shouting stopped save for the konkaree of redwing blackbirds swaying in the cattails at the shore or when a car rattled over the ancient bridge by the spillway. The brown water settled, became still—smooth as a Hershey bar. The air held its breath and in the sky above us the white sun stopped for a while. Skinny arms and legs splayed over the sides of the tubes. In those warm summer days before the stuff of the world forced itself on us, we lived a carefree, mindless existence. The sweetness of our youth was in full bloom. We drifted—in the white sun— in the quiet—and talked—about nothing.

In those summer afternoons on that lake on that prairie we were learning what Sherwood Anderson called the trick of quiet.

DOUG avatar1

© Doug Elwell, February, 2013

A recovering educator, Doug Elwell spends most days writing, reading about writing and thinking about writing. Some of his short stories and essays have appeared in his hometown newspaper, Country Crossroads.  He has also been published in a Kindle collection of essays and short stories, Ignite Your Passion: Kindle Your Inner Spark.When he dies, he’d like to come back as his dog. The timing might make this a little difficult since the dog is already dead, but if it could be worked out, he’d like that—for the company. Doug can be contacted via email at:


About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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