An additional, somewhat fictionalized, memory from my youth.
Girls were not allowed. That was the rule. It wasn’t written, discussed or spoken. Yet, it was part of the natural order of things as far as a trio of eight year-old boys was concerned. Such a statute had never been more in place than when it came to “creek time.” Girls just didn’t participate. Ever.
“Can I come?”
“What’d ya mean, ‘can I come’?” Derri’s clothing revealed his destination: old sneakers, no socks, cutoffs above the knees, sweatshirt for the briers, he was headed to the creek.
“I wanna come along.” Jules, Derri’s sister, knew the ritual. Dad had left for work. Mom busied herself with the baby and her hobbies. It was a weekday in summer and her brother and Robbie and Harold would head across the land cleared for the new double-decker homes, through the woods, and down to the stream that drained this half of the town of Clifton.
A stream mysterious and dangerous, chock full of minnows, frogs and crayfish.
“Mary’s gone away. Jill is covered in poison ivy,” Jules said, about to don her best pout. “And I got nothin’ to do.”
“Didn’t you get an Easy-Bake for Christmas?”
“I’m all baked out.”
“But you hate Robbie.”
Derri shook his head. “I gotta go. The mulberries are ripe. Go bake a pie.”
“I’m gonna tell mom you broke the last bottle of Aunt Missy’s peaches.”
Derri grabbed his tools, a plastic jug and a screwdriver. He’d never had to use the screwdriver. But Harold always carried one and swore that someday it would be needed. Derri’s was a Phillips head, better for defense.
“I already came clean. No allowance for a month. See ya.”
“Aw, can’t I go? I won’t get in the way or nothin’.”
Derri let the screen door slap behind him as he vanished around the corner of their single-story brick ranch. He met up with his friends and the three of them scanned the area for other kids who might follow. Sure that they were alone, they walked with purpose down Locust Street to the muddy driveway where the excavators and bulldozers were busy scraping the forest away making space for upscale homes. The boys skirted the dirt piles, basement pits and yellow machines and slipped into the quiet of Miller’s Woods.
Robbie led the way. “I bet they dug up a graveyard. I remember my brother saying they found old gravestones in those woods. Lots of ’em.”
“Then them houses gonna be haunted. Ghouls is what they’re called. Dead folk come back to life to eat kids and grown-ups trying to get back to life.” Harold liked books and never let a teachable moment go to waste.
“Ow. Damn briars,” Derri said, tearing free from some brambles.
“Don’t leave a blood trail. Them ghouls smell it, track it back to your house.”
“I’ll wash it off at the creek.”
Their path took them down to a gravel beach. Or what was left of one. Bigger kids had come along earlier in the summer and dug it out looking for gold. Robbie had also learned this from his brother. “At least Jake and Turk left the good rocks alone.”
Good rocks were flat stones that the boys had purposefully propped to have crawdad-sized crawl-space beneath them.
“Upstream or down, today, boys?” Harold held his screwdriver out, swapping it back and forth.
“We went up yesterday,” Derri reminded them. “Let’s see if we can get all the way to the Miller Avenue tunnel.”
Harold stepped into the water. “Cold as a witch’s tit.”
“Face down,” said Robbie.
“In the snow,” finished Derri.
Harold stopped and pointed his flathead screwdriver at Robbie. “You forgot the part about the brass bra.”
“Oh, yeah, the brass bra.”
Derri came up to the first good rock. He’d tied his jug to his belt and pocketed his screwdriver. He pushed his sleeves up and slid his hands around one side of the boulder. He knew the technique: lift with your legs first and then your back—but slowly.
As the water cleared, three crayfish materialized like aliens in the mist. They were rust colored, and seemed nonplussed for the disturbance. Derri held the rock vertical. “None too big. Leave ’em?”
“Shrimpy, shrimpy, shrimpy.” Harold recited.
Derri eased the boulder back into place, a puff of mud swirled away in the tea colored water.
“Hey, why’s she here?” Robbie pointed his own screwdriver downstream.
“Jules! What are you doin’ here?” Derri whipped his hand through the water trying to splash her.
Jules stood a ways down, waste deep in a pool. Her entire top half dripped creek water. In her outstretched hand she held the biggest crawdad the boys had ever seen. “Lookie what I found.”