Feechie of the Week: Aaron Roughton's Dad

It's a big day for Jonathan-Rogers.com. I'm proud to present the first reader-submitted Feechie of the Week. Aaron Roughton, a regular around here, tells the story of his father's capture of an alligator...with his bare hands. It's a chilling tale. Don't be put off by the fact that the story begins with an eighth-grade choir trip. Young Mr. Roughton soon proves his feechie bona fides. Do you have a friend or loved one who has behaved in a feechiefied manner? Tell the story using the contact form to the right. He or she could be Feechie of the Week.

Now for Aaron's story...

Legend has it that sometime around 1960 my dad was on an 8th grade choir trip with his school.  The destination was Rainbow Springs in central Florida.  This is not the kind of trip I can imagine being legal in today’s world of lawsuits, especially based upon what transpired at the park.  While on a glass bottom boat tour of the springs that morning, the tour guide pointed down a small stream forking off from the main river at a floating raft of tape grass (or Valisneria Saggiteria as my dad has corrected me) that had gotten caught in some low hanging branches along side the stream.  Sleeping peacefully on the raft was a cluster (herd? pod? swarm?) of baby alligators.  About 10 feet further down the stream was the partially submerged head of a very large mama gator patiently guarding her young.  With a wink, my dad and his buddy knew what the rest of the afternoon had in store for them.  My dad was a Methodist preacher’s kid like his father before him and like me after him.  He grew up in Orlando, so running around in swamps was a normal Sunday afternoon activity.  He had 10 or 12 aquariums full of snakes in the church parsonage that he and his friends had caught and stuffed in pillow cases on their outings.  But he didn’t have a gator.   He saw his chance that day at Rainbow Springs, so after the glass bottom boat ride was over he checked out a canoe. The two boys paddled back to the stream toward the sleeping gators.  They got as close as they could, but the low hanging branches prevented them from making it all the way to the raft.  They didn’t see the mama gator, so my dad put on his swim mask and his flippers and slipped into the crystal clear ice cold water to swim the last 15 feet.  He inched silently up to the raft, mask half in the water, half out, while his friend kept watch in the canoe.  When he was given the all-clear, he lurched over the side of the nest with a few good kicks and started grabbing for gators.  The babies scattered, but he managed to grab one that was missing its left front leg, because it was probably swimming in circles, and scrambled back into the canoe.  The baby immediately started calling for mama with a “YONK!  YONK!  YONK!”   But the mama gator was nowhere to be found.  After an unpleasant bus ride with a baby gator tucked under his shirt, chewing angrily on his belly, my dad found himself the proud owner of a prehistoric fanginfested deathrolling swamplurker.

THE REST OF THE STORY

A couple of years later my grandfather was transferred to a Methodist church in Ft. Lauderdale.  The gator had been living in a large tank outside the Orlando house, but since the parsonage in Ft. Lauderdale was on the church grounds, my grandfather thought it best to release the gator before they moved.  They took him to a lake near Sebring and let him go free.  Fifteen years later, my dad found himself back in Sebring as a speaker for Youth Week at 1st United Methodist Sebring.  On a break, he took a walk on a long boardwalk that wound through a cypress swamp at a park in town. He spotted a couple throwing marshmallows from the boardwalk to an 8' gator in the swamp below.  The gator rolled to his right to get one of the marshmallows in the coca-cola colored swamp water and my dad noticed that he was...wait for it...missing his left front leg!