I was 7 years old when JAWS came out. I don't remember actually seeing it but I know that I did because, the summer after that, I was terrified of swimming at the lake. Now, I wasn't a stupid child - I knew that sharks were only found in the ocean - but the idea that something could come from the murky depths and attack you seemed plausible. My mother and stepfather, Les, had a cabin at the Lake of the Ozarks and I remember one weekend we went to the lake with my stepsister, Laurie. I don't remember how old I was and I don't remember how old Laurie was though she must have been in her late teens. I do remember that she had a broken arm.
Anyway, Laurie was a good waterskier and wanted to go skiing. My mom taped a plastic bag tightly around her cast and she headed to the boat along with me and Les. We drove out into the middle of the lake and Les killed the engine. Laurie put on her life jacket and jumped into the water and I slid the skis to her while Les fed the rope out behind the boat. She got into position, Les got behind the wheel, gunned it and Laurie immediately popped out of the water.
We drove around for several minutes and Laurie glided back and forth over the wake with ease - even with one arm doing all the work. At some point, Les made a sharp turn and the engine just died. Laurie slowly sunk into the water and yelled to me, asking what was wrong. I explained that the engine had died and Les was fixing it. My stepdad could fix most things so we felt confident that this was just a temporary stop which meant that Laurie just stayed in the water several yards behind the boat waiting. Les tinkered with the engine, Laurie treaded water and I watched her from the back of the boat.
All the sudden, there was an ENORMOUS splash about three feet away from her. She started screaming and all the images from JAWS started flashing through my mind and then I started screaming, "SWIM LAURIE SWIM!" It was just like in the movie - she was swimming but her progress was slow - the broken arm was definitely not helping. She was crying and swimming and I was screaming and jumping up and down and Les continued working on the engine seemingly oblivious to the tragedy that was about to befall his family.
Laurie finally reached the boat and I reached down to grab her good arm and pull her up the ladder. She grabbed a towel and we sat huddled together in the boat, both breathing heavily. Les had been on his knees by the engine and then stood up, wiped off his hands, and said, "It's all fixed! Ready to go again?" Laurie and I both nearly shouted, "NO!" He shrugged and we all headed home.
Once we got there, we had calmed down enough to tell my parents about Laurie's near death experience at the jaws of some mysterious creature.
My mom just laughed. I said, "No, you don't understand! Whatever it was was huge! It was at least as big as Laurie!" Mom just shook her head and smirked while she stubbed out her cigarette, "Honey, it was a spoonbill*. I've heard they can get to be about 170 pounds around here."
It might not have been JAWS but I never really did get used to the idea that I was swimming in a lake with a 170 pound fish that looked like this:
Can you blame me?
I was thinking about this tonight because I watched JAWS with the kids. The movie stands the test of time though my kids didn't seem as terrified as I did back in the day. Maybe next summer at the lake, I'll tell them about spoonbills. Doesn't every child deserve the gift of childhood terror?
*My mother called them spoonbills but, according to the Missouri fish and wildlife-knowers on Google, they are actually called paddlefish.