Rising Tide on Plum Island

Plum Island was deserted except for a slightly offbeat mother, her twelve-year-old daughter and four young sons, including five-year-old twins. I was that mother. If there were another whose children were running wild and free on the island that Easter Sunday, she […]

By Elizabeth Larrabee

Jan 19 2009

Plum Island was deserted except for a slightly offbeat mother, her twelve-year-old daughter and four young sons, including five-year-old twins. I was that mother. If there were another whose children were running wild and free on the island that Easter Sunday, she was nowhere in sight.

A winter chill hung on the breeze. Ripples furrowed the sandy flats into hard ridges. The distant surf glistened under intermittent sunbeams. While his sister and brothers leaped off the dunes, nine-year-old Allan wandered off to the jetty. He skipped from rock to rock, scattering hermit crabs, dodging salt spray. Half way to the end of the breakwater, happy in his dream world, he lost his balance. One foot jammed deep into a crevice. For a few minutes, he struggled to free himself, but to no avail.

“Mommy, Billy, I’m stuck!” he shouted as he thrashed about. “I’m going to drown. Mommy, I’m going to drown!” Then he laid across the rocks and succumbed to his tears.

“We’re coming, Allan!” seven-year-old Billy cried out as he raced towards his big brother, the rest of us running as fast as we could.

Allan sniffled and wiped his nose on his sleeve, pulling himself erect as if to show his courage, not let on that he was terrified.

“I’ll get you out…don’t worry,” Billy said, short of breath and long on encouragement.

I clenched my teeth to control my anxiety as I knelt beside my eldest son. Clearly, his foot was wedged tight between the rocks. I scanned the Atlantic, trying to determine if the tide was coming in and then realized, in near hysteria, sooner or later it always comes in! There was no time to run for fire engines or ambulances or bulldozers. Besides, I couldn’t leave the kids alone and drive miles in an old Chevy that was far less than reliable. Where could I go for help on Easter? I asked myself and drew a blank. The family had to extricate Allan.

I tried to keep my senses about me as Allan shuddered with watery chills and mounting fear. Leslie and Billy knelt beside me and tugged Allan under his arms.

“Son, grab Billy around his waist and twist your foot while he tries to pull you up. Hang on tight!”

What if we can’t free him? Do we all drown in this God-forsaken place? My God, must we cut off Allan’s leg to save his life? With what? Where is everybody? In church, of course. What in God’s name am I going to do?

“He’s not budging,” Billy said, as I cursed our beloved Plum Island from deep in my soul.

“OK, kids, let’s all push together and try to loosen this rock.”

Attempting to move a huge block of granite would be a vain endeavor but I had to say something while hoping against hope for an inspired solution.

“We need a tank.”

Of course we do, dear little Gary! But we can’t stand here and do nothing. This can’t be happening to this precious family…I love you so much, Allan. You mustn’t leave us. You mustn’t! What am I going to do, dear God, what am I going to do?

The wind grew stronger. White caps formed on the horizon. In those frantic moments when my son’s life seemed to be inexorably slipping away, I glanced down the beach for a sign of life but there was neither a sound nor faint outline of a human being in the heavy mist. Lost in my own fog, I barely heard Lawrence say, “Mommy, we don’t need a tank. Why don’t we take off his shoe?”

I immediately came back to my senses.

“Great idea, Lawrence. Come on, let’s get to it, guys.”

I gathered the troops for a concentrated surge of energy and determination. I had to get their adrenaline flowing if I were to save my son’s life.

“Listen kids, there isn’t much time. Billy, you lie flat on the rocks and reach as far into the crack as you can without getting stuck yourself…stretch! Twins, you two hang on to Billy’s feet. Allan, make room for Billy. Leslie, support Allan. He’s very tired.”

Yes, tired and soaking wet, cold and frightened.

“I can’t move my leg, Mom. I can’t…I’m stuck!”

I looked up for a split second to see that the sky had turned ominously dark, the tide bearing down on us. It showed no mercy.

“Yes, you can, Allan You can!” I shouted in my anguish, mindful that time was not on our side. “Twist it until Billy’s arm can slip through. Just do it!”

Allan twisted with all his might. Billy plunged both hands into the icy water, and inched his fingers along the torn pants, his slim torso dangling over the rock. Each second seemed an eternity, each splash in our faces, a tsunami.

The twins kept repeating, “Got it, Billy?” Allan was crying, “I’m freezing, Mom.” And my heart was pounding furiously when Billy said, “Hey guys, I’m touching the sneaker.”

“Good going, Billy.” I said, and hugged his wet legs. “Listen…wrap your hand around it…got it?”


“Good…push the heel down as hard as you can.”

As I squeezed Allan’s arm, the pleading in his eyes tore me apart. I kissed his cheek trying to hold back, but this time the tears welled up.

“It’s almost over,” I whispered, all the while envisioning the consequences if we failed–the very last minute, water swirling around Allan’s chest, the time when I would have to send the kids back to the dunes, Allan and I left on the jetty in a rising tide. I would never leave him there alone. Dear God, what shall I do then?

“I’ve got my fingers inside the shoe, Mom…it’s mushy.”

“Good. Now grab Allan’s heel and yank his foot out. You too, Allan. Pull as hard as you can!”

Suddenly, the words shot out of Billy’s mouth. “It’s off…it’s off!”

A wave splashed hard against the rocks, showering us all as we laughed away the unbearable tension and Allan eased up his scratched leg. Billy cradled his brother’s foot in his bloody hands as if to display his trophy for winning the battle. I hugged Allan tight, so overcome with relief and gratitude I couldn’t speak. He hugged me back, then resumed his big brother role as if he had merely taken a spill.

“You saved my life, guys…hey, wanna look for horseshoe crabs?”

“I’ll race you to the end of the jetty,” Billy said. “Look, the sun is out.”

“Yowie!” the twins yelled.

Leslie and I stood on the rock where Allan had slipped, smiling at one another as we watched him limp off wearing one shoe, sunlight glowing against his striped hat.

“There’s still a little time before the tide gets too high, Mom,” she said.

Liz Larrabee was born in Salem, MA, in 1925 and is a proud graduate of Edwards Elementary. She has five children and nine grandchildren. She enjoys traveling, writing, and taking pictures. Her work has been published in the Herald Tribune, Venice Gondolier, Sarasota and Beyond, and Attencion in San Miguel de Allende. Her work can also be read in the appropriately named Liz Larrabee’s Book.