Down By the Creek

Once a long time ago, I went to live in Georgia, with my backwoods, hillbilly cousins. It was summer in the Deep South. I can tell you it’s like being in a jungle during the summer season in the forests of the south. And everyone talks with a twang. I’d taken a plane there, to get away from California and the trouble I had gotten into there. (That’s another story).

My relatives, I love them from a distance. I spent two weeks out there, living in a trailer with no air conditioning. The humidity felt like it was raining on some days. And at night the fireflies were out in force, lighting up the night, as we’d sit outside drinking sweet tea and picking string beans. I was bored.

And then my cousin Sandy and two guys came to get me. “We’re going to the creek, you wanna go?” Hell yes I wanna go! The four of us piled in an old car and went down yonder to a place off the road,where we parked the car. There was a tiny store there I remember. Then we walked through the forest, the two guys carrying the cooler. I walked behind my cousin, watching her butt sway back and forth in her white cut-offs, and listening to her talking in her twang, about nothing in particular. For about a mile
we walked, they knew where they were going, down a trail with tall trees that only got taller as we went further, through a thick forest.

They called it a creek. But it was a slow moving river. One guy laid down a thick quilt. We all sat on it, popped open Coors beers. The two guys jumped into the water, diving in, swimming under the current. And then I did the same. Sandy had to get up her nerve before she could do it. The water wasn’t warm, it was chilly. There was a huge boulder that stood up, jutting out of the water. One of the guys said to me “this was where your cousin Franklin drowned, right here, where your swimming now, right in that spot.” “The water isn’t even deep” I said in a low voice. The guy looking at my eyes and face, “he didn’t know how to swim”, he said, and I swam off. And could feel his hands running along my leg as I swam by him. He didn’t even say anything. That’s how they did things back there, by tacit consent. You just do something, and if nobody disagrees, it’s okay. He was subtle.

I can say for sure that day I remember it because of the simplicity of what we were doing. We were just enjoying the water, the sun and each other’s company. It seemed like that was exactly where I needed to be on that day. My cousins and those two guys talked with a heavy southern twang, so thick that I could barely understand them. But by the end of the day I understood them all, everything.

Ritz

In the summer of 1969 my neighborhood was full of lots of kids, kids my age. Two doors down some new neighbors moved in, the Huntons. All the kids had portfolios and agents. There were two twins, Rene And Feline. Feline was my sister’s friend and Rene was mine. One hot day I went outside and there was Rene, coming across the front lawn, with several round, brown crackers in her hands. She was munching one, and talking fast. She always talked fast. She was cool, she had freckles across her nose and cheeks and brown straight hair with bangs. And also mostly because she was going to be famous, because when you were a kid and you had an agent and a portfolio, that was what we thought would happen. She offered me a cracker, and it had Philadelphia cream cheeseon the top. It was so good. I was hungry too.

     Together we walked back across the lawns that seperated our houses. And into her house we went. So she says excitedly, (because that was how she talked), “let’s make Kool-aid!” And I just nodded. Because Rene had a way of making everything seem really exciting, even making Kool-aid and eating Ritz crackers with cream cheese.

     “Let’s go back to your house now!” This was Rene. So we just did that, walked back across the lawns to my house and into the kitchen. “We’re gonna make sandwiches okay mom”? This was me. My mother blew her nose loudly in the other room. Rene jumped and her eyes were wide, “what was that?” she whispered. “it’s my mom blowing her foghorn”, I hissed as I smoothed mayonnaise on Wonder Bread. Rene was holding the bologna. We used some cheese and mustard too. And we bit into our sandwiches while looking out the kitchen window and drank our Kool-aid. My mouth full I said in boredom “what do you wanna do now?”  Her idea came to her, ”Let’s run in the sprinklers out front.” What else could I say to Rene, it seemed that everything she did was fun and exciting.

     I let her borrow one of my stretchy bathing suits, we were the same size. Outside we stalked with our towels, and I stepped into the planter to turn on the water hose. It attached to a metal sprinkler that gushed water from all angles, up into the air. She screamed, the water hit her. I watched as some of the neighbor kids looked out their doors. Soon, one by one each of our friends around us came out too. Some were in their shorts, some were in bathing suits. The front lawn was soon busy with all sizes and ages of kids, running and screaming, through the water.

     “I have a good idea!” I yelled to Rene, over the crowd. “I’ll get the Slip-n-Slide”. This was a long piece of plastic that we played on. At one end you could attach a water hose, and it got completely wet. And then we could run forth onto the plastic and throw ourselves onto it, sliding. I ran fast through the house and into our backyard, grabbing one end of the plastic and dragging it around the side of the house. I threw it down, everyone pulled it onto the lawn, attached the hose to it. My front lawn became a scene of wild flying legs, arms and wet hair and laughing screaming faces. I looked down to the soaking grass, and I saw soggy Ritz crackers smashed, as feet ran over and over them.