This is a story of how my life-long best friend Jason Jenkins (pictured left) saved my life.
It was a January afternoon in 1960. Fresh fallen snow blanketed everything in sight as the sun roamed low in the sky with dazzling brilliance. My friend Jason and I were dressed warm enough. Snow pants, heavy coats, mittens and stocking caps made us snug and happy. We were all geared up for an afternoon romp in the deep New England snow. The world was our playground whether it was sledding, or a toboggan, a snow ball fight or building forts in mounds made by the snow plow. We spent hours outside at a time, best friends making the most of a winter day.
This day we headed out through the farm field across from his house. We climbed over the wire fence that was meant to keep intruders out. A slow slope was easy to navigate as we scampered across the field. The ground was covered with waist deep snow which made the adventure more interesting. We trudged our way down to an old farm pond about 200 yards from the road. The ice-covered pond was windswept with snow, making the ice on top look rugged and not suitable for skates. There was a large willow tree on the south side of the pond. The dangling branches of the willow flowed down almost to the ice. There were also a few small white birch trees near the water’s edge. They looked feeble and about ready to fall onto the ice, the heavy wet snow bending them down. As I reminisce, I realize what a picturesque place it was. A regular Currier and Ives setting. With the two of us standing by the edge of the ice, and you could have a Normal Rockwell painting sure to inspire.
We made around to the west side of the pond and noticed there was a small opening in the ice about 100 feet from the shore. Since we loved playing games and were both great competitors, we decided to have a contest. An old stone wall was near the water’s edge, broken down by years of wind and wear. This left many small, medium and large rocks sitting around the shore. We decided to see who could throw the most rocks into that hole. Jason went first, and he just missed the small target. The rock he threw bounced across the ice halfway to the other shore. My first try wasn’t any better as it skipped the same direction.
After several more attempts, we realized this game was harder than we thought it would be. I came up with a plan to make it easier and more interesting. Why don’t we throw some of the bigger rocks out there and see if we can make the hole bigger, so we would have a bigger target? Jason liked that idea, and we started picking up the rocks we thought we could throw far enough to make a difference. This required more strength, and often we had to heave them out there. It was working great and the hole was getting bigger with every rock we threw. Soon it was about 6 feet across, and Jason said that’s good enough. We now had a target we could easily hit with the smaller stones. He started picking them up and throwing the, hitting the hole every time.
I disagreed. I had to outdo him, and the only way to do that now was to make the hole even bigger then he had. I searched around for the right rock. This was no throwing rock, at least not from that distance. I had to get much closer to get this rock near enough to break the ice and make the hole bigger. I picked it up and started out on the ice to make sure I could get it close enough to heave it into that hole. I was about 10 feet from the hole when I heard a noise of cracking ice. Before I could retreat, the slab of ice beneath me gave way. I dropped the rock as soon as I felt myself going down, but it was too late., I was suddenly in the frigid water, my heavy winter clothes dragging me down into the pond.
Scared was not the right word. I quickly started flapping my arms to try and get to the surface. I was a good swimmer, so did not have too much of a problem getting up. Some of the gold water had been gulped up, but I was OK at this point. I got to the surface and out my arms up on the ice in front of me only to have it give way. Plunging back down into the water a second time was not what I had anticipated. The ice was supposed to hold me up!
Now my coat was wet all the way through and it was harder to get back to the surface the second time. As I lunged upward with my arms, I was able to get above water and put my arms up on the ice again, only to have it give way once more. Oh my, down I went again. I was running out of strength. I had heard the stories – third time up is usually the last. Panic set in. I had no idea what was going on up above as I floated downward that second time, trying to get up the strength for one last pass at the surface.
Jason was frantic on the shore, and all I can do is give you his account of what he did. When he saw me go under, he yelled out to me, but of course I did not hear him. Ten he saw me surface and the ice break beneath me and knew I was in trouble. As he surveyed the area, he saw those old birch trees leaning down from the snow. He quickly ran over and grabbed one of them, pulling it up with some supernatural strength for the moment. He saw me go down for the second time and knew he didn’t have a moment to lose. With that tree in hand, he sprawled across the ice and put the tree right over the hole where I was. Tears welled up in his eyes as he knew he had to get this right.
I had no idea the tree was there. I mustered up all my strength to get to the surface one more time, and there it was. That branch was right where I needed it. I heard Jason yell out to grab it and I did. He held on and so did I as he dragged it back toward the shore. Some ice still broke beneath me, but finally I arrived on the surface of the ice and crawled as he dragged, I was exhausted and elated. He was shouting for joy. But I was also quickly turning into ice as we finally got to the shore and hugged each other. The house was 200 yards away across a snow filled field an over the fence
It took forever, it seemed, to get there. The snow was waist deep and I was completely soaked. I was freezing. Jason went before me, trying to open up a trail through the snow. He tamed the snow down to make a path so I could get through easier. Following the same path we had come down on made it easier. I was getting bluer and bluer as we went, shivering all the way. My body and my clothes felt like they were turning to ice as I moved. We got to the edge of the field and climbed over the fence, heading across the street. We got to his house and ran inside.
“Mom, Mom, Peter fell through the ice” Jason cried out.
His Mom came running out and Jason quickly had my clothes off and a towel around me. Oh, that felt so good. I was blue all over my body, but quickly started to warm as Jason’s mom gave us hot chocolate and delicious hot-cross scones. It took a while, but finally I was warm enough to get dressed, and Jason gave me some of his clothes to wear. Once I was warmed to a normal state, we took the ¼ mile walk to my house.
My Mom greeted us as we walked in the door and gave me a quizzical look. “Do you have Jason’s clothes on?”
I simply said “Yes, Mom. All of them.” And then we told her what had happened.
After high school, Jason joined the Army. It was the middle of the Vietnam war, and he decided that he wanted to fight for his country. He went on to become a ranger in the army, and a 1st Sargent. God only knows how much that incident that day prompted him to take on such a daring life, but I’m sure it did in some way. Before he got back to the states, he committed his life to a higher calling then that. He accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
I, on the other hand, went the opposite direction. There was no discipline in my life, and I fell into a well of lust, booze and drugs. They took over my life. For the next 5 years after high school my existence was a blur of parties and missed opportunities. I had received a full ride to a great technology school on my grades and blew that chance because of drugs. They even gave me a second chance, but I threw it away. I was whirling out of control.
Then came my 5th high school reunion. Lo and behold, Jason was there, now Jason. We talked and talked. We spent time together after that night. He tried to tell me about Jesus, I didn’t want to listen. But our friendship was renewed and we vowed to keep it going. For two years, we corresponded as I stayed at home in my drug filled life and he travelled to Florida, met a girl and moved to Iowa. We wrote to each other regularly and he would send a scripture address each time, forcing me to look it up. After two years I finally went to Iowa to visit Him. There, I accepted Jesus as my Savior as well. Jason saved my life a second time.
Jason and I are still best friends 55 years later. He has suffered a lot of depression and PTSD because of the two wars he served in. Sarin nerve gas, Alfloxin nerve gas and Agent Orange have eaten away his body. During these years, I have talked him down from suicide several times. I think of it as returning the favor of him saving my life twice. Now I am upon life, and he is the same. Putting our trust in our Savior above is what keeps both of us going. We talk almost every day and are closer now than we have ever been. We reminisce a lot about those days and many of the other things that we have been through together. I am so thankful for his friendship and that God has kept us close, despite some very hard times between us. It’s a friendship that will last a lifetime.