LET’S GO TO THE RIVER!
© 2019 Walt Hampton
A winding, narrow dirt road beside the river leads to the homeplace. The old house sits on the end of a finger ridge, high and dry above the riverbottom, far enough away to be safe from the seasonal flooding but still close enough that wherever you are on the property, the sound of the flow is always in your ear. There was a barn and outbuildings, livestock and poultry, a garden and orchard, and tucked back in a quiet hollow just around the hill, the family cemetery, where the ancestors found their final rest. The sound of the river, the clucking of chickens, the muted laughter of children, the breeze and the songbirds in the apple and walnut trees, the warm sun and the hum of life around you; this was my summer. It was a place of peace and harmony.
Summer weekends during my childhood revolved around my father saying those words I waited all week to hear; “Hey, let’s go to the river!”. Those words meant of course fun and adventure to come, but looking back on it now, I know it was far more than that; it was the unexplainable aura of family, security and love that cemented my young life with a rock-solid foundation.
There was early-morning cold water in your river shoes, a box turtle in the path, a kingfisher twittering at us from the willow branches. The sound of the wooden boat on the rocks, the hum of a baitcast reel and the twang of a tight line with a two-pound smallmouth on the other end; lunch and a cold watermelon on the old house porch, an afternoon hunt for arrowheads and groundhogs up the riverbottom hollows. Then came the soft summer evening, crickets and katydids and the “JUGGARUM” of the old bullfrogs; then deep sleep on a feather tick under warm quilts and maybe a hound dog, snuck in when no-one was looking, the quiet murmur of the old folks talking and always the river music just outside the window. Protected; safe; loved. Heaven.
If you want children with character and conviction, feed them a diet of truth and love they can trust. Show them, then let them do it themselves. Let them know that without having to look that you have their back. We are mountain and river people; this is who we are.
For me, those days are gone now, left behind with the broken toys, the lost bass lures in the willows and the loyal dogs of my childhood—but the river is still there; and as long as the river is still there, then we are still there, barefoot and dirty and laughing with those that loved us. If you come this way, stop for a moment and listen; it could be that you will hear us, watching over you from the top of the hill. If you can hear the river, you can hear us. We will always be right here.
“Hey, let’s go to the river!”