Chuck Thurston column: Down to the Crick
I recently got a Facebook post from one of our friends, a day after our annual church picnic:
"After the picnic Sunday, Drake and I played in the creek with Rosie and Amelia. I haven't done that since I was a kid. We found crayfish, some eggs we could see the eyeballs of whatever they were going to hatch out as, a golf ball, and metal parts from a car or tractor."
Does that paint a mental image from your childhood? It certainly took me back. We lived on a farm that had a sizeable creek running through it. In my mother's West Virginal vernacular, it was a "crick," and so that's what it was to us, as young boys. On any given summer day - after morning chores were taken care of -we'd respond to Mom's query, "Where are you headed for?" with "Down to the crick!" She didn't seem to fret about any great hazard associated with this destination, and waved us away, if our work was done.
The crick was a source of endless fun. It passed under the two lane blacktop just a few hundred yards east of our house - we owned land on both sides of the road. On the downstream side of the bridge was what we called the "deep hole." It was perhaps four feet deep and contained all manner of minnows, chubs, frogs, crayfish, water bugs, and an occasional water snake. We splashed among them all. We had no bathing suits, as such, but wore cut off jeans. The knees had worn through the first - or even second - generation of patches, and the bottoms hacked off.
The hole itself was not much larger around than a good sized hot tub, and just two or three strokes of what passed for us as "swimming," took you from one side to the other. We even fished in it. An occasional four- or five-inch chub would grab one of our hooked worms.
Additional delights were to be found along other stretches. When there was a fair volume of water running, we floated all manner of things downstream: cans, bottles, homemade boats, and bombarded them with rocks - until we graduated to BB guns. These were the war years, and our targets were German or Jap vessels, to be attacked from our shore batteries and sunk, before they bobbed out of range of our cannonade.
In the spring, the rain and snow melt would turn the crick into a fearsome torrent. We ventured down to watch it, and could hear large rocks being tumbled end over end by the force of the current. At these times, the crick was a far cry from the gentle brook that would provide us with so much fun later. It seemed dangerous and threatening at those times, and we kept our distance.
During the heat of a long summer, the stream was often reduced to a sluggish trickle. Pools would shrink and some disappear. This would reveal new wonders. Areas that had been scoured by the spring floods would have moved the channel a bit to one side or another. We would see new sand bars and pockets of gravel previously unknown. We would explore these endlessly, looking for the gold that we knew must be there. We never found any, but, now and then, as we wandered along the stream bed, we would come upon something intriguing, half buried in the sand. What in the world...? We would commence to dig.
It might be an old plow point, the tine from a harrow, a sheet of tin - perhaps blown from a barn roof - other metal objects the origin of which we couldn't identify. It was all salvaged and laid away to await the next visit of the scrap man.
During the war years, parents, ours included, were genuinely terrified of the dreaded Infantile Paralysis - Polio. The disease and its means of infection didn't seem to be well understood. Certain food items were associated with the affliction and were removed from our diet. I remember that peaches were one of the suspect fruits, and I don't believe I was allowed one during those years. Turnips - which I could as well have done without - apparently passed the health muster, and I was permitted any number of them.
I am amazed, as I think back on it now, that the crick was not put off limits to us. By the end of summer we would be covered with stings, welts, cuts, bug bites, scratches - badges from our summer fun - and all bathed in the crick. It drained the woods, fields and pastures to the north and east of our farm. It carried the flotsam of the farms and wilds it traversed. it was a watering hole for every critter known to those parts, and carried God knows what with it. But it also carried the joys of our boyhood. Perhaps in the great wisdom of nature, it also carried our immunization.
Chuck Thurston lives in Kannapolis.