The River Was Our Playground
by Dennis Sadowski
Just retired, and need a hobby.
I am eight years old and my brother is eleven.
The house was little but what a great place to play. The yard in the front was large and we viewed Old Joes place across the street. It was just a shack, but he was so proud of it. He looked like a skinny Santa. In his later years.
At first we were afraid of him, but soon we watched him collect toys and restore them to their original, like new glory. The back yard was what made this home the best place a kid could play.
As you stood on top of the hill. There it was - a playground.
The wooden stairs took you down about thirty feet, to the not so mighty, Root River. The bank was thick with weeds. You had to navigate without stirring the critters, along the bank. Alongside the bank was a magical fifty-five gallon drum. standing out of the water just for us to stand on and look up and down the river.
What a beautiful sight. The river was winding to the east and flowing out to Lake Michigan. All things floating by were our toys to snag to the shore. The gigantic, dead carp, were always to be ignored. They would float by on their sides exposing their mushy scales. Easily some were over three feet long.
As the welfare kids we were, we had no boats. Or did we? Down the river was an area where people docked their mostly fishing boats and canoes. They would tie them up to their docks and sometimes, carelessly.
Rich, my brother, was the one who would find the loose ones floating past our river bank. We would snag them with ease. Ropes thrown to them like a cowboy roping a calf.
We were the pirates of the river. Or as we knew,
just renting them for the day. We would use them and tie them up, The next day they were gone.
One very hot summer day. Rich was on the bank of the river with a row boat. I ran down the stairs and asked him. what are you doing?
He said I am going to discover America.
Hmm, can I come with? He said No! It may be to dangerous. I was the little brother. I was not going to let him go with-out me. I ran up the stairs and asked my mother. Can I go with Rich on an adventure on the river? Of course the answer was a stern NO!
Being the welfare kid who had a lot to learn. I ran to Rich and said we could not go. He had this look in is eyes of a Father to his son. We are going! Not at all happy, but he knew he had to take me. Get in the boat. I jumped in and thought, Rich would always take care of me. I will not worry about a thing.
We were making our way up the river against the current. Away from lake Michigan. Rich took the oars and paddles off. At first we were far from going in a straight line, but big brother oared like a fisherman with just a little practice.
The first thing we came to was a drainage ditch coming out of a cool rock wall. Water like a falls was gushing out. Rich knew of this area and said stay away from here. We pushed to the other side of the river and under this really cool bridge.
A fisherman was under it with his lines crossing the river. He quickly pulled in his lines with a rather crabby face. We moved on.
The trees were hanging over the river, thick with summer. Winding north now we came to an area with houses on one side and a walkway along the river. There was the river rat. This kid was on the sidewalk throwing rocks at us and yelling. Plunk pluck the rocks came closer. I was the one thinking, Why did I go along? Rich took the boat to the other side of the river, out of range and yelled a few graphic words at the river rat. Almost in tears myself, my big brother said. Big baby!
We moved rather well after that. Up ahead was a big split in the river. Rich knew which one to take. This is a park. It is called Island Park. How did he know this, is what I thought. He has been here without me. He oared on, splashing me as I was sitting in the way back of the row boat. What a free ride I thought. Then we noticed the river was getting very shallow. The boat was not moving no matter how hard Rich oared.
All I heard was, Get Out! Get out and push us over the rocks.
You are not kidding? No! I said I had my new Indian moccasins on.
Mom will kill me. Get Out, he said. We pushed on with my muddy and wet new shoes. I thought the shoes would make our Mom mad?
The river was easy after that we made great progress, winding up the river. It was beautiful, through Lincoln Park,
and through the coolest woods you could imagine. Rounding each bend in the river was a new sight. I am so happy I came along.
As we headed up stream I did notice the current was getting much stronger. Heading right at us. The rocks were being washed by the flood of water splashing and banging the boat.
The falls are right ahead of us, Rich said. Again, I thought, How does he know this? We have traveled at least ten miles down the river. He pulled the boat to the bank and said we have to walk from here. Again I say, are you kidding? NOPE Rich says and says again, With fatherly voice. Just do what I say!
Out of the boat and down the river we go to a shallow spot we can cross. we walk very gingerly across the slippery boulders and in the very fast moving water. It was like a jungle on the other side and we trudged through the weeds growing three to four feet tall. Up the small hill we went and found a path.
Amazed and happy for easy walking, but where? The path opened and to my amazement, we stood on the top of a quarry wall. The quarry was full of sparkling water. We walked the entire distance around the quarry. Rich reminding me each step to stay close. As we approached the end of the trail, we opened the fence, that someone cut open just for us.
There was the magical image, looking straight at me.
Roller coaster, train ride, all the kids old time fair rides.
A fenced in area, called KIDDY LAND! We got to the entrance gate.
My question came to Rich. We do not have any money. He said. I have collected these tickets I got for free. We get in and ride everything! What an adventure! As we approached the worker dressed in his bibs, like a train engineer, Money, please? Rich handed him the coupons. The train engineer had the worst news a kid could have. THESE ARE ONLY GOOD ON WEEKENDS. I did, yes I did! The pirate started to cry! Just to be nice, the engineer, gave us a short ride on the train for free.
As we exited the train, There stood our neighbor! My Moms co-worker with a car. I thought at least we would get a ride home for the spanking......He then gave some of the baddest news.
WALK HOME. Your Mother is worried sick.