As a writer, the minute I start to tell a story, I am transported to a different place in time. Quite often, it’s back to my roots — a small farming community in northeastern Ohio. Maybe it is because I was a child, but life felt so much sweeter and a whole lot simpler then. There was plenty of time to eat strawberries straight from the patch, sip lemonade under the tall oak trees and follow my passions, which always seemed to result in the most amazing adventures.
My hometown had a country market, two churches, a post office, a bar and a feed mill. What more could one ask for? My paper route covered half of the territory. The other half was covered by my older brother, who seemed to know a shortcut to all the hot spots.
The whole of this scene was dominated by a large red brick Victorian home, sprawled across eight acres that we farmed for a portion of our livelihood. Listed on the national register of historical properties, the monstrous house was flanked by train tracks that ran every hour on the hour. It was a place of magic and mystery, where a bent tree became a racing horse, the bushes sheltered a fairy family and friendly ghosts peeked from the eves and the rambling vines that ran up its sides. Many a happy hour was whiled away concocting mud pies and stirring grass soup in coffee cans, carving bow and arrows out of tree branches, and running wild, across the tracks and into the woods beyond.
Come with me, now, in my time machine…back, back to a place of no concerns or deadlines, where the sweetest pleasure is spending a lazy afternoon in the bright, happy sunshine.
Whose idea it is, I don’t recall. What inspires us? I can’t remember. Perhaps it is an episode of Huckleberry Finn that has been popular and manages to broadcast on the three stations we get on our old television. In the movie, Tom and Huck sail a raft down a river and have a grand adventure. This sounds like a good idea to my brother and I, so we decide that we will build a raft of our own.
We spend a day or two gathering materials — wooden pallet, inner tube, milk cartons, rope — and then go to work. First, we use the rope to tie the inner tube and milk cartons to the raft. Then we cart it to the only body of water we have in our town — a creek. I don’t remember how we get it to the creek, which was several miles from our home, but we probably did it in stages, maybe over several days, crossing over the railroad tracks and through the woods to reach the water. The creek could become swollen and dangerous at times when rains were heavy, but for now, it is calm and welcoming. We are excited to test our invention.
My brother, being four years older (although not always wiser), decides to be the first passenger. We place the contraption in the water. It stands high above the shoreline at a height that looks promising. He hops aboard, and I watch as he slowly drops beneath the surface. At 14, he is thin and wiry, but all muscle — he is much too heavy for the sinking vessel. He cannot be the captain of our ship. If anyone is going to sail the creek, it will have to be me. I am twenty pounds lighter and the best, and only, candidate available for the job.
Within minutes, he vacates, and I eagerly climb aboard, ready for action. With a quick shove, he casts me off to catch a breeze and some fish with a rod I’ve brought along. Although the water rises swiftly to the top of the raft, it does not spill over. It floats!
My heart pounds with excitement. Happily, I drift with the current, heading into the center of the creek and out to the great beyond. As I am just beginning to pick up steam, I have a sudden, horrifying insight that causes a rush of adrenaline in my system. I cannot swim. I do not have a paddle. The current is flowing swiftly, and I am traveling out to sea with no way to return. What have I been thinking (or rather not thinking)?! I let out a holler. “Wait! How will I get back?”
My brother looks at the water, which is carrying me rapidly away and then at me, and reaches the same conclusion. There is no way back. He can’t swim either, but being a solid big brother and brave, he quickly wades in until the water is up to his chin and pulls me to safety.
We haul ourselves to shore and drag the pallet back home to deposit it on the junk heap we keep for old pieces of wood. Our adventure is at an end. Our raft will make no more voyages.
Heading inside for a plate of mom’s spaghetti and meatballs and warm apple pie, I smile. Tomorrow will bring another adventure. I have just spied three kittens that have been born in the woodpile, and one of them, the gray one with the dark stripes, is sure to be mine.