This is the creek across the street from my childhood home in the tiny hamlet of South Otselic, New York. I like to call it a tiny hamlet. It sounds enchanting. In truth it was/is a podunk, cow town. “A Godforsaken hellhole,” as my dad liked to call it, especially after he’d shoveled snow for the fourth time in as many hours.
Hellhole, podunk and cow town are relative terms though. It had its own unique charms, situated in a valley surrounded by rolling hills and farmland. And how many people get to grow up with a creek practically in their front yard?
I saw a beaver once, right under that little footbridge. He slapped his tail on the water, proclaiming that mischief and nonsense would not be tolerated.
In the summer the creek would about dry up. A-yuh. (That’s valley talk for yes indeed.) We could walk up the gorge through the creek bed, hopping from rock to rock, being careful to avoid the slippery, mossy rocks. Sometimes we’d see a glimmer of a trout, hiding out in a hidden, deep pool.
Old Esther Brown lived in the house that would have been on the right in this photo. Some time after she died, the property was sold and the new owners tore her old plank house down. Now it’s a smallish park. Or just a lawn if you’re not living in JaneAustenWorld.
Esther once dumped an almost full bag of toasted coconut marshmallows into my Halloween sack, saying “There. Now I can turn off my porch light and go to bed.” I imagine she usually turned in around 8, but I could be wrong. I think I was dressed as a squaw that year, complete with a papoose doll tied to my back. Best trick or treat score ever, next to the home baked cookes made by another sweet elderly neighbor named Adelaide.
Esther had a thing for Lawrence Welk. The story goes, she was telling my dad what a wonderful, brilliant man old Lawrence was. My dad said something disrespectful like “Lawrence Welk? He’s terrible!” This was not a comment to be taken lightly by his Number One Fan, Esther. She is said to have replied, “Well if you don’t like Lawrence Welk there must be something wrong with your head!” I like to think that she turned swiftly on her heel and maybe slammed the screen door, but that’s probably just the storyteller in me.
It’s funny how you can live in a place and maybe not really respect or honor it, and then one day 30 years later you can’t stop thinking about it. Maybe it’s just because your daughter sent you a bag of coconut marshmallows, but maybe it’s also because the town is a part of you and if you won the lottery you would seriously consider moving back there to live a quiet life of berry picking and pies. Everything that was so ordinary and dull and annoying when you were an 18 year old suddenly seems like it must have been perfect and heartbreakingly beautiful.
I suppose I’ve got a bit of a Thomas Wolfey thing going on. A longing for the innocence of childhood and simpler times. But of course, “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time — back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
But you can sit and ponder, and relive it…the cool breeze coming down the gorge in the evening, Patches – the world’s smartest beagle performing leaps of faith through the hula hoop, woodsmoke, the stained glass window, the creaky barn floor and climbing the steps to the top of the garden where a cornfield stretches for acres.
A-yuh. I think I’ve made myself cry.