WRITER’S CORNER: Sugar Creek

BLOGGER’S NOTE: This is the first in what will hopefully become a series of personal writings from yours truly on That Book Lady Blog. Recent events have pushed me to return to one of my first loves, creative writing/journaling. These will be early drafts, so please be gentle with me.

I have creek water running through my veins. Fine lines full of scalding sand and cool, murky water stirred by skittering minnows.

As a little girl, there were two places I begged my dad to take me on the way home every afternoon: Casey’s and Sugar Creek. He’d try alternate routes to avoid passing Casey’s, the mere sight of the red faux-brick spurring my entreaties that we stop for a snack.

But it was hard to dodge the creek, which in my young mind was part of our backyard. To me, it was exclusively ours because it ran through the acreage my dad owned.

Sugar Creek, 2006

Every time we passed over that little artery of water, the pickup truck tires hitting that narrow paved bridge, I would peer out the passenger window and over the rusted green guardrails to judge the creek’s swimmability and wadeability. “Daddy! Can we go today?”

I’m not sure exactly how many afternoons I managed to wear my dad down with my requests to go to the creek. Looking back, I know there were much more pressing matters most days. He had a garden. He had household projects. He had dinner to make for my mom. But if the conditions were just right, when we got home he would send me to my room to change into my creek suit.

As a first-grader at the local Catholic school, I would trade a dark plaid jumper reeking of lunchroom mysteries and playground sweat for a too-small one piece stained orange by the creek’s iron deposits. A giant beach towel covered my freckled shoulders as I became the caped crusader of my own wilderness adventures.

The first chapter in the story was a walk through the fields behind our whitewashed farmhouse, cornstalks tickling my elbows and mosquitoes whispering in my ears. As we drew closer to the creek, we first had to cross a patch of weeds that scraped my skin. I hated this. Until I was perhaps too big to carry, I would hop on my dad’s sun-mottled back until the weeds thinned out and we came to stands of thin trees that lined the creek banks. That’s one of the most vivid memories I treasure from those days with my dad – the sensation of the weeds brushing my flip-flopped feet reminding me that even if something bad happened that I couldn’t totally avoid, he was there to hold me up and get me through it.

The creek was my oasis, and when my small footprints left mucky impressions across its shores it was like Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. I liked to think there were pieces of it that no one else had stepped on before, so I was blazing new territory.

In the shallowest places of the creek, iron deposits created oily rainbows. In the sand, we would build mushy towers topped with leafy flags and twiggy princesses and knights. But my favorite part was digging moats around the castles, then watching our structures slowly melt back into the water.

The minnows were a mystery. Were they really fish? I didn’t know, but their speed didn’t stop me from trying to catch them with my bare hands.

When the water was deep enough, my dad and I would venture out as far as I could go. Or he would carry me, again on his back, until the water lapped at his shoulders. I would shriek with delight and just a little bit of fright when he would “throw me” a couple of feet out. Underwater I usually kept my eyes closed, but when they were open I saw shades of green and brown like I’d never seen before. The sunlight filtered in all hazy and calm. As I surfaced, our laughter would echo off the banks. I never had to paddle far to return to the safety of his arms or the crinkled gaze of his kind blue eyes.

Sooner than I always wanted, it was time to go home. One night I came back with only one flip-flop, and Mom wasn’t too happy. I imagined that poor shoe wedged in a skid of mud, or floating forlornly downstream. Daddy would carry me back over the weeds until we made it to the rutted vehicle path that adjoined the dead-end gravel lane beside our home. We would trudge up that little tire-worn road past the sturdy line of evergreen trees, hand in hand, tired but content.

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