(A Recollection from My Childhood, Circa 1966)
Wow, it was a hot one, wasn’t it? A blistering summer. I don’t know what I would have done without the creek running behind grandpa’s house to play in during the heat of the day. Even those giant old trees with their huge limbs and canopy of leaves swaying in the hot breeze couldn’t stir up a breath of relief. I could lie on the high, mud-packed bank of the creek, right where it bent sharply round before it disappeared under the road a little ways down the way and it wasn’t too uncomfortable. The dirt itself seemed to hold some moisture, and that made it a bit cooler. Of course, I got dirty. Aren’t boys supposed to get dirty? I laid there by myself looking up into the trees, the dappled sunlight dancing on my face in the July afternoon. I may have dozed off a time or two.
Clad in only shorts and a white t-shirt, I’d hop down from the bank and start splashing through the creek. It was more than just a trickle of water through a mud hole, that’s for sure. This was a full-sized creek! I could easily wade across it in about 15 steps, and at its deepest it came up to mid-calf on me. The water was crystal clear, and on the creek bed I could see a collection of bland sandy pebbles worn smooth by the continuous stream of water. It looked and smelled so pure and clean.
Three or four summers back when I was eight or nine years old, grandpa helped put up a tire swing on a thick rope. It was a lazy old swing that hung from a high, high branch above a flat crossing where the creek was very shallow and you could sit in the tire and just dip your toes in the water. My sister and cousins loved it. When no one was around, I’d climb up on top of the tire rather than sit inside it, and get it swinging madly from side to side as far as I could! I loved the groaning, creaking sound of the rope as it twisted itself around the tree limb high above. I imagined from the noise it made that it was bound to break at any moment! The rope was long and it took forever to get it to swing very far, but it was thrilling once it got going.
Occasionally I’d hear a car approaching at high speed on the country road nearby but it just whooshed on by, adding its own unique sound to the countryside symphony of summer sounds; trickling water, rustling leaves, distant cows or horses. I paid it no mind. The road was elevated 30 or so feet above the creek and no one could see me unless they made a point to stop and look down through the trees and shrubbery. I loved the isolation of the creek here. It was so quiet and peaceful.
If I got bored like today, which was seldom, I’d trek upstream a ways. The creek had welcoming, wide banks when it wasn’t raining, which made it very easy to travel at an easy pace. I’d grab a broken limb of an appropriate size to use as my wizard’s staff and take off at a steady pace, stopping occasionally to toss a pebble at a critter or turn over a rock to look at the roly-poly’s. After about a half a mile I found what I was after; a stand of mulberry trees! I picked a double handful and rinsed the berries off in the creek before eating them. Oh, my! So sweet and delicious! They’re so messy, though, and they will stain your teeth and hands if you mash them, but I didn’t care.
After I’d eaten my fill I gathered up as many as I could carry by cradling them in my t-shirt. I knew grandma would do something with them for dessert that evening. I made my way back downstream a little quicker with my bounty carefully tucked away, walking barefoot in the shallow water the entire way. I could see the sun was setting in the west as the trees’ shadows grew longer and stretched away from where they stood close to the outer banks of the creek.
A short time later I stepped out of the shade and into the evening sun and began the slow climb up the gentle hillside to my grandparents’ home. I don’t know how many hours I’d spent exploring the creek that day, or any of the days that summer, for that matter. I never tired of it. Whether I was alone or with friends, or with my sister or cousins, it was always fun to hang out there.
I clopped up the worn wooden steps of the back porch. As I pulled open the squeaky screen door the smell of supper cooking wafted out from the kitchen, mixed with a swirl of grandpa’s pipe tobacco. I smiled, knowing grandma would be happy with the berries I was bringing with me. I looked once over my shoulder at the deepening shadows beneath the trees, wondering what teeming nightlife was waiting for full nightfall to come out of hiding to begin its own exploration along the creek. I was already excited to think what I might find there tomorrow.