I haven’t seen old Uncle Gene and Aunt Violets place since I was young. I long to see it again, but sadly it now only exists in memory and imagination. Even though we only stayed there for a few weeks out of the year, I always felt as if I was coming home. My anticipation and excitement grew as we turned down the narrow unmarked country road and crossed the rusted metal bridge that overlooked pollywog creek.
As Uncle Gene's small white house came into view my heart surged with joy. The house was not fancy and the pretty, tree shadowed yard was not large, but to me it was one of the dearest places in the world. There was a gravel driveway where visitors parked. A cobblestone path surrounded by green grass led to the front door. Yellow rose bushes, fragrant from the heat, rested under the large windows that sat on each side of the door.
When I first entered the living room through the old screen door, I was always struck with the feeling that I was not merely visiting a place, but a time. The furniture was old fashioned and draped with homemade quilts. The lack of air conditioning was accented by the portable fan that did nothing but move the warm air around. There was a television, but no cable; only an antenna that allowed a few channels to come through. The floors were made of rough wood planks that were covered in colorful braided rugs. Faded pink flowers papered the walls where black and white photos of family and friends were sprawled. Two couches were separated by a worn brown-leather recliner that was reserved for Uncle Gene when he was in the house.
The sunny kitchen sloped slightly downward from the living room. A large round table, where many crowded, but pleasant meals had been enjoyed, took up most of the room. It was strategically placed near the large front and side windows so that both the rising sun and anyone popping over for a visit could clearly be seen. The painted white walls had faded to a cheerful yellow. The windows were framed by Aunt Violet’s home-spun light blue curtains. Just off the kitchen was a back door that led out to a small porch. Only five steps brought us down to where large hickory trees shaded the yard. A hand-made wooden swing hung by thin chain from a thick branch of one of the towering trees. A well tended vegetable garden that we often invaded in search of berries and tomatoes was in the corner of the yard. On the south side of the house sat a water-well veiled in white by a flowering vine. Half of the yard near the house was kept clear; the rest of the yard was bordered by tall grasses and sun flowers waving in the wind. A well worn rocky path led down to pollywog creek.
How the creek was going to look from year to year was a surprise. Winter flooding often changed the face of it. One year rocks and sand had been pushed clear up to the lawn. The creek was bordered by short bushes with a sprinkling of pale pink and purple wild flowers. Oak trees with large trunks and great boughs spread clear out over the water. Some of the branches were very close to the ground. Often we would sit out on one of these branches and dangle our feet in the water, riveted by the different ripples that were created. The part of the creek that we loved to play in most was shallow and about twenty feet across. Further down, it meandered around the back of Uncle Gene’s property and became narrower. Here the creek was deeper and dark from the canopy of trees. The catfish that Grandpa Roy loved to catch hid at the bottom of this gloomy area. Further down stream, there were wide deep pools that were good for swimming.
In the shallow areas of the creek we would catch pollywogs, crawdads and tiny fish. Sometimes a rare turtle or two could be found. Once in a while, reddish brown snakes would be seen taking a ride down the creek with their heads raised above the water like a periscope. The sounds of the babbling creek and the rippling laughter of children splashing in the water still echoes in my mind. I remember putting my feet in the cool water and waiting for the disturbed sediment to clear. Minnows would curiously kiss my legs. Other aquatic creatures came close and then would sense that I was foreign to their world and would quickly swim away. The crawdads swam backwards. The pollywogs were fat and slow. Vibrant life is what we found in that creek behind old Uncle Gene’s house and with that life, freedom.