Adventures growing up in Fountain City, mostly true

Larry Van GuilderFeature, Fountain City

When last we saw our intrepid adventurers, yours truly and his pal Danny, they were fresh from an exercise in dam building in Fountain City Park that succeeded all too well. Locals still speak of the Great Park Flood of ’62. You could look it up.

Kids are drawn to water, so it was only natural that Fountain City Lake, the “Duck Pond,” held a great attraction for us. With a fishing pole and a couple of earthworms or nightcrawlers, you could picture yourself casting for monstrous predatory fish along the banks of the Amazon.

In the summer I sometimes had to tolerate the presence of my younger brother, Shut-up-Harold, as he tossed chunks of bread into the lake setting off a disorderly duck scrum. Because of his tendency to attach himself to any cold virus within a mile, mom never pressed him on me in cold weather.

It’s a long road that has no turning, and one bone-chilling winter day found me trudging through a few inches of fresh snow with Shut-up-Harold in tow. Maybe he looked especially virus-resistant that day, or maybe he favored mom with a pathetic look when he saw me pulling on my mittens. However it came about I was stuck with him, and it pains me to admit that it was a good thing I was.

We stopped at Danny’s house but his sisters (there were three of them) said he’d left a few minutes earlier. Now I had even greater reason to resent the presence of Shut-up-Harold. Waiting on him had caused me to miss the rendezvous we had planned a day earlier.

We moved on to Fountain City Lake where I hoped we’d catch up with Danny. I wasn’t surprised to see him scooting carefully across the surface of the frozen lake. After all, our plan concocted a day earlier was to “skate” on the lake if it was frozen hard enough, which it appeared to be from where I stood.

I called out to Danny that I was coming out. Then it happened. Before he could answer he plunged through the ice and into the frigid water.

The water wasn’t deep, just a little higher than Danny’s waist. Nonetheless, I was determined to rescue my shivering friend. I stepped cautiously on the ice, and in true heroic fashion began making my way to Danny without even waiting for spectator applause at the unselfishness of my act.

If I hadn’t been seeing headlines in my mind (“Heroic Rescue on Ice,” “Bravest Deed in History, says Governor”) I’d have seen the ice cracking in front of me as I drew near Danny. If.

Misery loves company, but Danny seemed to be enjoying mine a little too much after I plunged in up to my waist. I turned to call out to Shut-up-Harold to get help. The words stuck in my mouth when I saw my little brother scooting on his belly toward us with one outstretched arm.

Just because he was a little twerp too skinny to break the ice, Shut-up-Harold was transformed into a hero. Pushing himself back on the ice he gathered enough momentum to pull Danny and me along.

As we pulled ourselves out of the water the ice broke all the way to the edge. Now there was open water clear to the fountain in the center of the lake. Dripping and shivering, I looked at Shut-up-Harold but couldn’t find the right words.

So I threw him in.

Larry Van Guilder is the business/government editor of KnoxTNToday. Write to him at

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