Don’t forget your life jacket,” Mother had advised. Roger Woodward exhaled loudly, annoyed as he recalled her warning.
Why does it always have to be me? he wondered, eyeing his sister and the other empty vest beside her. No one was making Deanne put on her life jacket.
Another one of those teenager things, he reasoned miserably, fastening the adult-size vest around his child-size frame. I can’t wait until I’m a teenager.
“All ready?” Jim Honeycutt’s voice interrupted Roger’s self-pity.
“Ready!” exclaimed Deanne.
Roger smiled and allowed his frustrations to fade away. How could he stay upset? It was a beautiful July day, and he was going on his very first boat ride.
Ever since his family had moved from Greensburg, Pennsylvania, to Sunny Acres in upper New York, Roger had often marveled at the waters. But his dad’s friend, Mr. Honeycutt, would be the first person to actually take him and his sister out in them.
Mr. Honeycutt started the motor and steered the 12-foot aluminum vessel out into the river. They were off!
As they rode along, Deanne chatted easily with Mr. Honeycutt while Roger took in the sights. He hung his fingers over the side of the boat and let them skim the waves. The water was cool’what a relief! He had worn only his swimsuit, and the afternoon sun burned his skin.
Roger lifted his dripping hand from the water and shook it in Deanne’s direction.
“Hey!” she shrieked.
Mr. Honeycutt chuckled, and Roger turned his attention to an approaching bridge.
Are we going under it? Roger wondered eagerly. Yes, they were!
Roger’s face lit up as they passed under the Grand Island Bridge, and he examined the underbelly of the structure.
No young person he knew had ever said they’d done this before. Just wait until he told his parents about it!
Feeling upbeat and light-hearted, Roger wanted to wave a cheerful greeting to some boaters on the adjoining island, but something in their faces made him hesitate. Instead he said nothing as they stared at him in awe.
Mr. Honeycutt navigated toward a park along the bank. But as they passed a shoal, the engine hit a rock, damaging one of the boat’s safety devices.
The engine roared. The seagulls screeched. Suddenly Mr. Honeycutt could not control the boat, and they began to pick up speed.
Roger’s fingers curled around the side of the boat. He watched Mr. Honeycutt’s face turn pale as he shut off the engine and grabbed an oar in each hand.
“Get into that vest,” Mr. Honeycutt directed Deanne. He quickly glanced at Roger, then turned his focus to the swells.
But try as he might, Mr. Honeycutt could not gain any leverage in the swift currents.
The first wave hit the back of the boat. Just as Deanne fastened her vest, a second wave flipped them over completely.
Roger’s head hit something’hard’and for a few seconds he became disoriented. After a moment, though, he found himself being thrown to and fro like a rag doll among the rocks.
Roger could not see Deanne or Mr. Honeycutt. He knew only that he was being dragged toward a thundering cloud of mist a short way ahead.
Deanne tried to hang on to the overturned boat, but it hurt her hand to hold on to the rim. Finally the churning waters forced her to let go. Deanne’s only hope was to try to swim to shore.
On nearby Goat Island a group of tourists watched incredulously as a boat went by, headed straight toward the falls. Only one of them, John Hayes, sensed that something was wrong.
Whose boat is this? he pondered.
Hayes looked around in the Niagara River and glimpsed Deanne struggling to get to the embankment.
“Girl, swim to me!” Hayes screamed.
Deanne could not see her rescuer’she only heard his voice’and it gave her the encouragement she needed.
Hayes climbed over the railing and reached out his hand to Deanne. She missed. But in her second attempt she caught Hayes by the thumb.
The onlookers stood stunned. Fortunately John Quattrochi, another tourist, realized that Hayes would surely lose his hold on the girl in these strong waters. So Quattrochi also sprang into action. Together he and Hayes pulled Deanne to safety, 20 feet from the crest of Niagara Falls.
Once on land Deanne, exhausted and distraught, frantically told the others about her brother and Mr. Honeycutt.
Quattrochi nervously whispered, “Pray for them.”
Meanwhile Roger continued to bounce in the rapids.
What should I do? he speculated desperately.
He couldn’t swim’he’d never learned how. He peered around anxiously and spied several people running up and down the riverbank, pointing at him.
Why won’t they rescue me? he asked himself, his panic turning to anger.
Although Roger still had no idea what lay ahead, he began to accept that he was going to die in the river that afternoon. He thought of his family and his dog. He even considered what his parents might do with his toys.
Suddenly everything went dark.
Roger doesn’t remember catapulting out into the cloud over Horseshoe Falls. He doesn’t recall the 170-foot drop where more than a half million gallons of water surge over the edge every second. He has no recollection of landing in the mist pool, miraculously missing every single one of the tons of boulders that lie in wait at the base.
All he knows is that when he awoke from his daze, a ship had appeared.
The “ship” was a tour boat called The Maid of the Mist. One of the crew spotted Roger’s bright-orange life jacket bobbing like a cork in the haze. Roger waited as Captain Keech maneuvered the boat toward him.
It took three attempts before Roger could get a hold on the round life preserver. He was finally pulled aboard.
Then, ironically, yet to everyone’s relief, he innocently cried, “May I have a cup of water?”
Roger and his sister were examined at local hospitals. Amazingly, Deanne had only a few cuts and scrapes, and Roger suffered from a bruise on his head.
Since he wasn’t wearing a life jacket, no one saw Mr. Honeycutt’s tussle in the rapids. They didn’t see him go over the falls, either. But his body was found four days later, far down the river.
Many people spend their entire lifetime searching for God. But Roger Woodward met Him as a young boy. In a miracle. In the mist. There the Lord’s mighty hand caught him and delivered him from danger.
If anyone asks how he survived, he will tell you, “It wasn’t the hand of fate, nor the hand of luck, nor the spirit of Lelewala [the “maid of the mist” in Native American legend]. It was the Spirit of the living God who saved our lives that day and gave us hope that one day my sister and I would come to know Him.”
Written by Jonelle M. Broady
Illustrated by Ralph Butler