Little House, Big River

The River

While the two principal characters of this narrative were growing up on opposite sides of the river, momentous events were taking place on the river.  Seldom did those events intrude on the growing-up years of those two characters, but would set the stage for their own lives together on the water.  The lessons to be learned from adversarial mishaps, careless actions, and from the intrusion of mere fate were there for students of the river to take in.  So it was to be that one who loved the river was destined to meet and marry one who simply loved being on the water and who was eager and capable of turning those lessons into an invigorating, thrilling life of adventure and discovery on many bodies of water, fresh and salty.

On the New Jersey side of the river:

The willow branches hung low.  They would wave like a witch’s scraggly tresses in a breeze.  They were scary to a scrawny, near-sighted, pig-tailed kid. She said, when asked her age that summer, that she was a big girl.  She was two-and-a-half years old.  Her Valentine’s Day birthday had been quietly celebrated at her grandparent’s house with her favorite dinner, southern fried chicken and beaten biscuits.  Her grandpa proudly showed off the stock of his hunting rifle that she had cut her baby teeth on.  Grandmother gave the little girl a rag-doll which she had made for the child.  It had yarn hair, button eyes and clothing cut from old dresses that “Grammy” had saved for just such use.

Through the shivery branches of the willow trees, the little girl would catch momentary glimpses of the river that ran near the unkempt four-room bungalow she knew as home.  The Delaware River was a constant presence, in summer and winter, in daylight and darkness.   She could always hear the river’s murmuring, and smell the brown, muddy water.  When ships would go by on the river in the daytime she could often see them, especially if they were big freighters.  Smaller ships would announce their presence only by the movement of their masts, looking for all the world like leafless trees marching steadily along above the marsh grass.

At night she could often hear the thrum-thrum sound of the ship’s engines and propellers, and then the hissing wash of the ship’s wake on the shore.  Sometimes there would be foghorns sounding, and then it was really spooky.  Come morning, when the fog was still hanging, the willow trees would drip incessantly and their branches would hang eerily,  looking like shucked-off snake skins in the mist.  Indeed, many a black snake lived in those trees.  When the child would occasionally spy their slithery presence as they went up or down one of the trees, she would feel a spine-tingly terror and run for the house.  It felt safer inside then, but the lure of the outside would soon overcome her fear, and she would go back out to be near the sights and sounds of the river.  She was little aware of the dramas taking place out on that river.


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