There was a creek that ran behind the Dott’s house on Corteland Drive in Knoxville when I was a kid. Boo, Terry, Tex and I, accompanied by our dogs and Soda the neighbor’s golden retriever, roamed the banks of that creek for three years.
It worried Mrs. Dott when we played in what we called the swimming hole just beyond her property line. Swimming hole was a grand word for two feet of water, but when it rained the creek swelled so that Soda could swim and Prince, my collie, could wade in red-clay mud. Tex’s dog, Blackie, was a Chihuahua mix; he didn’t swim or wade.
We kids could make an afternoon of sitting in a culvert. It was in a culvert that Tex told us his dad had been to the moon, “but don’t tell anybody.” We didn’t believe him, of course. In the scuffle that followed, after we told Tex he was full of it, he raked me with a sharp stick. Nothing serious but it bled, and, I believe, Tex was banished for the rest of the day.
For years I carried a little scar on the inside of my leg close to my ankle. I can’t find it now among all the shaving-cut and mosquito-bite scars, but for years it served to reinforce that memory, that story, that rift between tenuous friends.
If we walked down my driveway, turned left on Corteland, turned right at the first street and walked down a hill, there was a widening of the creek where we could find excellent rocks to build stuff and a culvert. At this point, the creek was a trickle except in wet weather. I felt cheated; I wanted a real creek with rushing water and rock falls. Too much development had ruined it, I suppose.
Don Gibson, of “Lonesome Me” fame, lived up the street, though his house never showed signs of activity. He probably spent most of his time in Nashville, we said, or, it was rumored, drinking.
One day, while we were playing in the culvert where the creek widened, Mr. Gibson came by with his little daughter. He stopped, watched us play for a minute, and said “Hello.” A little conversation followed. He was neither inebriated nor standoffish. He was just a dad with his little girl talking to some kids in a creek.
“Did you know who that was?” I asked when Mr. Gibson walked away. Shoulders shrugged. I told them he had a big hit record, and was famous. I knew this because I had two older sisters who loved music. More shrugs, more rock piles to make. It was all in a day’s work of being a kid.
In sixth grade our teacher Mrs. Stout asked us to keep a diary for six weeks. Each day we would draw a picture of and write about the most beautiful thing we had seen that day.
A tree had fallen across the swimming hole creating a natural bridge for sure-footed creatures. It arched slightly across the water. I sat on the path beside the creek one day and drew that tree, the creek, the fields in the distance. (West Hills was just under way then and farmland was a block away.) I don’t remember what I said about it for Mrs. Stout, but I remember that drawing.
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I imagine I said the creek was where I came to think when I wanted to be alone. It was where I had played as a child of 9 and 10. At 11 almost 12, I could sense the changes coming. Somehow I knew we would outgrow the creek and our adventures.
But not the memories.
Jan Hearne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.