One of my friends - someone I have known for many, many years - wrote a short article for inclusion in a memory book which was prepared in Champaign County, Ohio, a few years ago. I stumbled across her handwritten essay just a couple of nights ago, and thought I'd include some of her recollections in this blog. I've taken the liberty of editing these recollections and condensing the adventures which can be found in her original ten-page document.
Elaine Spain Chapman grew up in and around North Lewisburg. Her ancestors were some of the many who traveled from Virginia to settle in the fertile area around what was to eventually become North Lewisburg. In the prelude to her article, she wrote: "Words to an old love song go something like this: 'Last night I wandered in a dream along a stream and you were there among the moonmist.'
She wrote that the stream of her song and dream is not really a stream, but a creek, "or as we called it a 'crick.' " It was the stream of her forefathers, Spain Creek, which meandered and "gently flowed" from its point of origin near the present community of Mingo toward North Lewisburg.
"...the Spains settled all along the pleasant water supply. It's recorded that these early settlers built a few mills to care for their needs. Playing as a child along the "crick," (I) saw evidence of these long-gone mills - rocks and huge chunks of concrete."
As a child, and later as an adult, she hiked along the streambed. The stream was more winding and meandering than now. The original channel had yet to be dredged and straightened, and the banks made devoid of the native trees, shrubs, bushes and plants. Pollutants had not yet killed off the minnows, fish, and other creatures which depended upon the stream. There was no TV then, no video games to divert the adventurous behavior of children. The good clothes reserved for school were shucked at the end of the day; older garments were put on - maybe bib overalls for the boys, simple cotton dresses for the girls. Then, kids found their separate ways to the creek.
The boys rolled up their britches to wade in the creek. The girls just held their dresses up above their knees. Most kids went barefoot during the summer. Shoes were reserved for the school year. And those shoes went to a local shoe repair shop; there was not enough money in the family funds to buy more than one pair per child per year.
Boys carried a long string of fishing line in their pockets, a fishhook or two, and the every-trusty pocket knife. They used the knife to cut a stout, yet flexible willow branch to use as a pole. The line was tied on and a hook was added to the end. Maybe a worm or cricket or piece of popcorn was snared by the hook to use for bait. For a bobber, a piece of dry willow branch was tied to the line. The boys then cast their lines into a nearby deep pool, and hoped for the best. There were fish, and crawdads (crayfish), frogs, turtles and other forms of life in the water...fair game all. And of course, there were snakes!
There were water snakes, non-poisonous, but fearful looking all the same. There were no water moccasins or other poisonous snakes, but there were plenty of the dreaded blue racers. These long, slender snakes were aggressive in their behavior. "They were fast and they were scary! They acted like cobras," hissing and threatening "like they would strike." Run, and they chased you! Truthfully!
Some turtles, like the snapping turtles, were thought to be just as dangerous. Everyone knew that if someone was bitten by one of these monster turtles, the turtle would not let go until sundown!
There were stagnant pools of water along the streambed which became the breeding grounds for millions of mosquitos. They could carry many different kinds of disease. The biggest fear of both parents and children, however, was the ever-present threat of polio. In the days before the discoveries of Dr. Jonas Salk and a vaccine to prevent polio, the hot, muggy, "dog days" of summer were especially fearful. Kids were warned to stay out of the water. The regular "March of Dimes" featurette at the local movie theater reemphasized the tragedies of polio.
There was a railroad trestle which crossed the creek. It was scary to walk the rails, trying to keep balanced while looking down between the railroad ties at the water far, far below. No one wanted to get trapped on the bridge when a train was coming!
The railroad ran through the small towns, connecting one grain storage elevator with another. During the Depression, men who worked on the trains threw chunks of coal off to needy residents who stood waiting anxiously along the roadbed. Sometimes a kind engineer tossed off the Sunday newspaper "funnies," so kids could enjoy the antics of "Bringing Up Father," or "Mutt and Jeff."
Kids scoured the countryside for young dandelion greens, asparagus, wild strawberries, and mushrooms. Boys and men hunted the scrub brush and fields along the railroad and creekbed. Pheasants, rabbits, and squirrels abounded in the area, and were a welcome treat on the dinner table.
Elaine's article recalled with fondness these and many other sights and adventures from her youth, growing up "Along Spain Creek." I am grateful that she shared these recollections with me.