“Stay away from the river!” Grandma would holler at us, not skipping a beat in whatever project she was in up to her elbows.
My cousins and I would let the screen door slam behind us as we headed outside. That wasn’t usually where we were planning on going, but it was where we always ended up. First we’d circle around the enormous backyard, and do some exploring. We might, or we might not, play in the old leaning barn, it’s smell of fresh hay and filtered sunlight and dust so tempting. We might take off down the lane to see whatever there was to see that day. Or we’d spy on the younger cousins, keeping well out of their vision lest we get wrangled by our parents into watching out for them. There were some old foundations of buildings overgrown with grass and vines in another part of the tangled growth that was our cousins’ territory. Those were interesting places for the imagination to work with.
But no matter what we might find to keep us entertained while the adults did their endless visiting, we would wind up at the river. It was inevitable. The river wasn’t even fifty yards away from Grandma’s front porch. There wasn’t a fence or a barrier of any kind to keep us away from it’s beautiful gurgling, rush of water. Besides that, it called to us, I’m sure of it. “Come and play, come and play” it’s eddies and swirls would whisper. Who could resist the call of a river?
The spot we favored was a small arching curve out where the river took a decidedly left-hand turn. This served to slow the water down a bit. Our favorite spot to play was a little rocky shallow area with willows and reeds just beside the slough. “Stay away from that slough!” was another of Grandma’s favorite warnings. The slough was a boggy grown in mess of mucky water that we wouldn’t dream of exploring. Our private area on the river’s shore, where we cautiously waded in and chucked rocks had clear splashy water with plenty of rocks on the shore to choose from. It was quiet and hidden and felt like no other place on earth.
If we had planned ahead we’d have a couple of safety pins, and some string. And then we would have found some nice long sturdy sticks to attach them to. We’d fling our short, makeshift lines out into the current only to have them immediately float right back to us. I don’t think the string was ever quite long enough. And even though our unmarried uncle sold bait to the real fishermen that frequented the river in that area, it never really dawned on us to bring some bait ourselves. Impaling a wriggly worm on a safety-pin was the last thing I would dream of doing. Had we caught a fish, we wouldn’t have had a clue what to do with it. We were only pretending at everything we did anyway.
My cousins, who lived next door to Grandma, probably got to do real fishing all the time and were just humoring me. Although, it seems they were every bit as invested in the process as I was. Our bi-monthly visits to Grandma’s were a treat for us as well as for them. We surely lived a charmed life when we got together.
With the vast amount cousins that spent time at Grandma’s it’s a miracle that no one ever drowned. I think there must have been some busy guardian angels at that spot in the river. A few of the younger cousins seemed drawn to mayhem and mischief like flies to honey. Or was it that mischief and mayhem was drawn to them? That’s the more likely of the two. I’m sure there were angels, or maybe even Saint Andrew himself, the patron saint of fishermen, who oversaw the protection and safety of our clan. Surely it wasn’t that far for angels or saints to be on the job. That spot, by Grandma’s house, was a little piece of heaven.