Bryson City Tales — The Initiation (Part 3)

This is from the thirty-first chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City TalesI hope that you’ll enjoy going back to Bryson City with me each week, and that if you do, you’ll be sure to invite your friends and family to join us.


First the small inflatables were launched, one to search each side of the lakeshore. The large inflatable was being launched as Don and Billy drove up in the ambulance. “Don!” shouted Monty, “you want to be in the dragging boat with me and the doc?”

“You bet,” bellowed Don, as he ran over. One of the guys handed him a life vest, which he put on as he stepped into the boat. Monty started the small engine, and the three of us pushed off.

“Monty, y’all come back when the doc’s tired, and we’ll change off personnel, OK?” shouted Joe.

“You bet,” responded Monty. “Might not be too long. Doc’s fresh at all this.”

“Doc’ll do good, Monty,” exclaimed Don. “I bet he’ll set a record for a newcomer.”

What were they talking about? I wondered as the little engine kicked into gear. Within moments we were in the middle of the pitch-dark lake. The only light that could be seen came from the growing encampment on the shore, the searchlights of the two small boats examining each shore, and the lanterns they had placed about fifty yards apart on each shore. Occasionally we’d see the lights from the top of an eighteen-wheeler above the guardrails of the bridge as it thundered through the night.

“Don, show Doc how to use the grappling hook, will ya?”

“You bet!” Don shouted over the sputtering of the outboard motor. “Doc, this here’s a grappling hook.” He pulled on what looked like an oversized treble hook, attached to about ten feet of chain and then a long rope. “Put on these gloves. Monty will move the boat back and forth across the lake. He’ll be watching the shore, monitoring our progress with those lanterns on each side. He’ll be using a precise pattern so we don’t cover the same area twice.”

“Mark,” called Monty.

Don dropped the hook into the water and let the rope slide over his hands until it hit the bottom. “’Bout twenty-five feet here, Monty.”

“Walt, look here. The rope is marked with tape every five feet. You’ll know then how deep you are. You just jig the hook up and down. It’ll slide over most of the rocks and boulders, but if it hits something soft, it’ll usually stick in. You’ll feel the weight, and we can pull it up. Sometimes it’ll be milk cartons or a garbage bag. It’s worse when we snag a log. We’re done when it’s the body.”

I felt a shudder go down my spine.

“Doc, this is hard work. The current record for a new squad member is forty-five minutes. Want to see if you can beat that?”

“Might as well try.”

So my life as part of the Swain County Rescue Squad began, dragging the bottom of Lake Fontana looking for a recently inebriated and now likely deceased angler. I didn’t know how long I could make it, but I was determined to give it the old college try.

The first ten minutes weren’t too difficult—except for the times when the hook would snag. Monty would have to change the boat position, and sometimes Don would have to help me unsnag the hook. Eventually I could begin to “feel” the end of the hook. I could feel the difference between a rock and a log. After about fifteen minutes my arms were beginning to burn. At the twenty-five minute mark, my neck and upper back were aching, screaming at me to stop.

“Doc, you want someone to spell ya?” Monty or Don would call from time to time.

“I’m fine,” I’d reply—knowing full well that I was not.

I thought it peculiar that Don would call out the time in five-minute increments. “Thirty minutes, Doc. Want to keep going?” I noticed that the search boats were picking up the lanterns on each side of the lake. I remember wondering why. But I was seriously considering quitting, so that had become my overriding concern.

Only fifteen more minutes to the county rescue squad record. For someone who’s an outsider to the county, the opportunity to set a county record was too tempting to turn down. “I’m fine,” I lied once again—a white lie!

I could see another boat speeding up the river toward us, emergency lights flashing. “Looks like the National Park Service boat,” shouted Monty as they passed us and headed to shore at the encampment.

“Thirty-five minutes, Doc. You OK?”

I grunted. I could barely feel my fingers they were so numb. By now the only light we could see was at the camp—which for some reason seemed very festive, especially in light of our grim task that evening. Maybe these boys were just too used to death, I thought.

“Forty minutes, Doc. Only five minutes till the record. You gonna make it, boy?”

Boy. In any other setting it might be a demeaning term. Not here. Boy. Don or Monty, I’m not sure which, called me boy. Not doc, but boy. Despite the blinding pain in my neck and back, shoulders and arms, I smiled. I guess I was one of the boys!

“Forty-three minutes,” Don shouted. There were cheers from the shore. This was surreal. Here I was trying to locate a dead body, and the other boys were cheering me on to a new record. They sure didn’t teach me about this in medical school, I thought.

“Forty-four minutes,” shouted Monty. The chants on the shore began, “Go, go, go . . .”

“Thirty seconds … twenty-nine … twenty-eight,” Don shouted, as the gang on the shore chimed in, “ … ten … nine … eight . . .”

I felt a new surge of energy. Everything in me wanted to stop when he hit zero, but I didn’t want to just set the record, I wanted to shatter it so that it would never be broken again. Not likely, I thought, given how many records are broken and broken again, but, why not try?

“Two . . . one . . . zero!” The crowd on the shore erupted. Sirens were turned on and truck horns pierced the dark, quiet night. Don and Monty were cheering and slapping me on the back.

“Doc, you did it!” yelled Don over the noise of the motor. “You can stop.”

“Stop?” I yelled. “No way! I’m going for sixty minutes!” I screamed.

The boat was silent except for the sputtering of the small engine. Don and Monty were laughing hysterically. Finally they stopped laughing long enough for Don to bellow, “Doc, there ain’t no record. You can stop.”

I was stunned. “No record? What are you talking about?”

“Doc,” exclaimed Monty, “this here was just an initiation, boy. There ain’t no record. You just had to prove you wanted to part of our squad.”

“There ain’t no record?” I asked. “Are you kidding me?”

They both rolled in laughter. From the shore I could hear a chorus of “Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray!”

I rolled over on my back, my arms slumped at my side. The most brilliant stars illuminated the sky. My arms were numb, but my heart was happy—perhaps as happy as it had ever been. I had been hoodwinked, but hoodwinked by friends—good friends.

Don pulled in the hook, and Monty gunned the boat back to shore. The celebration had begun. A new member of the squad had been initiated. The friendly pharmacist John Maddox had come up in the NPS boat with his son, Ranger John Maddox. Don and Billy, Deputy Rogers, the sheriff—they were all there, cheering and slapping me on the back.

An older woman approached, bringing me a mug of steaming hot chocolate. I could barely hold it in my frozen and fatigued hands. “Dr. Larimore, my name’s Millie. Good to meet you—and congratulations.” She actually smiled at me. She bent over and whispered, “My husband works at Cope Chevrolet. Let me know when you decide to get a new car, ya hear?” I smiled back.

As I sat down, Dianna Clampitt walked over. “Walt, from now on Barb will be invited to these initiations. Welcome to the Swain County Rescue Squad, and welcome to our community.”

I remember sitting around with the men and women late into the evening. I remember the laughter. But most of all I remember the intensely satisfying feeling of belonging and of being accepted.

The next morning at 6:00 A.M. the clock radio went off and Gary Ayers’s voice boomed, “The Swain County Rescue Squad was called to the site of a reported drowning last night near the new T. A. Sandlin Bridge. Turns out the call was a hoax, according to the Swain Command Center . . .”

“Walt, turn that thing off before it wakes up the kids!” exclaimed my sleepy spouse. My mind told my hand to reach over and turn off the radio, but my arms couldn’t move—they were too stiff and sore. Barb had to crawl over me to turn off the radio. Before she could click it off, Gary Ayers continued, “Chief Monty Clampitt reported that Dr. Walt Larimore, officially the newest member of the rescue squad, participated in the rescue mission . . .” She clicked it off.

“Barb, don’t you want to hear what happened last night?” I asked excitedly.

“Later,” she whispered as she rolled back to sleep.

I couldn’t move.

But I smiled.



  1. The Murder (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  2. The Arrival (Part 1)(Part 2)
  3. The Hemlock Inn (Part 1)(Part 2)
  4. The Grand Tour (Part 1)(Part 2)
  5. The Interview (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  6. Settling In (Part 1)(Part 2)
  7. First-Day Jitters (Part 1)(Part 2)
  8. Emergency (Part 1)(Part 2)
  9. The Delivery (Part 1)(Part 2)
  10. The “Expert” (Part 1)(Part 2)
  11. The Trial (Part 1)(Part 2)
  12. Shiitake Sam (Part 1)(Part 2)
  13. Wet Behind the Ears (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  14. Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 1) — Anal Angina(Part 2)(Part 3)(Part 4)
  15. White Lies
  16. The Epiphany (Part 1)(Part 2)
  17. Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1)(Part 2)
  18. Monuments (Part 1)(Part 2)
  19. My First Home Victory (Part 1)(Part 2)
  20. Fisher of Men (Part 1)(Part 2)
  21. Fly-Fishing (Part 1); (Part 2)
  22. Something Fishy (Part 1)(Part 2)
  23. A Good Day at the Office
  24. An Evening to Remember
  25. Another New Doc Comes to Town
  26. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Part 1)(Part 2)
  27. A Surprising Gift
  28. The New Year (Part 1)(Part 2)
  29. The Home Birth (Part1)(Part 2); (Part 3)
  30. The Showdown (Part1)(Part 2); (Part 3)
  31. The Initiation (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2020. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.

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