Friday, March 6, 2015

The Happy Place - Gail Roughton

           “I need to visit my happy place.” How often we hear that! But what, exactly, is a happy place? And where is it? “Oh, it’s all in our heads!” you say. Well, that’s right. And then again—it’s not. We all carry our permanent happy place with us. See, it’s not limited in location or the space-time continuum. It can be with you any place, any time. All we have to do is remember. Remember the place where magic lived, where memories were made, the memories of things past that shaped us, changed us, molded us, into the person we are. Where was my place? A little beat-up, sun-seared wooden fishing dock on the banks of Stone Creek.

I was born in the Deep South in the 50’s and grew up in the early and mid-60’s. It was a pivotal time in history when the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the space program began to drag even the sleepiest little Southern town kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century. Rowan & Martin regularly socked it to the country as Laugh-In looked at the news, and Simon & Garfunkel sang of their brother who had died so his brothers could be free. None of that made much never-mind to me, though. I was busy following my Daddy around like a shadow whenever he was home from work. He was a construction foreman and a master carpenter. On weekends, he’d take me to his building sites, where I walked on the long light poles of Macon’s Henderson Stadium when they still lay on the ground and wrote on the chalkboards of schools-to-be long before students entered their doors. Daddy’s gone, but most of the structures he helped build still stand, strong and functional, still in use. That’s rather a form of immortality, don’t you think?
We lived a few miles outside the mid-sized Middle Georgia city of Macon in a small country neighborhood of only four or five houses, perched on the banks of Stone Creek Swamp. Readers might recognize the name from The Color of Seven. Stone Creek itself ran about half a mile behind the house. I guess I was nine or so when our neighbor “up the hill”, Mr. Emory Scoven, built the dock over the spot where Stone Creek expanded into a small pond.

Mr. Emory was a retired railroad man who lived with his brother, sister, and sister-in-law in the house on the hill next door to us. I ran in and out of that house without knocking, with total impunity. Nobody in our neighborhood knocked back then. I loved the other residents of that house, Mr. Will, Miss Lucille, and Miss Ethel, but Mr. Emory? Mr. Emory was a modern day Pied Piper. Children loved him like lint loves wool. Once upon a time the neighborhood had brimmed with kids who’d dogged his every step, but in my time, the child population was down to one. Me. And on summer days when school was out and Daddy was still at work, I trailed the man unmercifully while he tended the yards and fruit trees he so loved. If he ever grew impatient or tired of my company, he never showed it. His railroad tales were better than the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm.

Late spring and summer evenings were the best times of all. Daddy came home from work, showered and ate. That’s when we headed out the back door to join Mr. Emory at the dock and cast our lines into the leaf-brown waters of the creek. The three of us sat for hours in perfect contentment, talking or not talking, it really didn’t matter either way, while the corks from our fishing lines bobbed on the water. It didn’t matter if we caught anything, either, and in fact, we preferred not to, especially since we always released any fish caught that evening back into the creek when incipient darkness forced us back up the trail toward the house. We caught some of those fish pretty much every day. I learned to recognize them over the course of a summer because all fish don’t look alike, not even fish of the same species. They have individual shadowings of color and irregularities in their gills and fins.

That’s childhood. That’s my happy place. The creek, the dock, Daddy and Mr. Emory. Sitting cross-legged on bare planking, slapping at mosquitoes as they discovered my bare arms and legs. Cane poles only, of course, because rods and reels were useless in the close confines of the creek and its small pool and would only catch uselessly in the brush and undergrowth of the banks.

I remember the sound of the frogs as dusk fell, and birds flying low across the pond’s clearing. Sometimes you could see the head of a water moccasin swimming across the creek further downstream, crossing a safe distance from the intrusion of the dock upon their territory.

Nothing else on God’s green earth feels like late evening in the spring in the Deep South. The air feels like velvet, light trembles off the water, birds fly overhead. The sounds of the frogs and insects make their own symphony. I have no pictures of that creek and dock to post. Digital cameras were far into the future. Children don’t think of such things as recording special moments on film. No matter. There’s no way any camera could have properly recorded those moments, those men, that place, that time. The photographs are in my heart. They always will be. I take them out and look at them frequently, especially when I’m writing. 

I know somewhere out there, they’re still fishing together on the banks of Stone Creek. I love you, Daddy. I love you, Mr. Emory.

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