30 June 2006

River rat.

River in the rain
Sometimes at night you look like a long white train
Winding your way away somewhere
River, I love you, don't you care?

If you're on the run, winding someplace
Just trying to find the sun
Whether the sunshine, whether the rain,
River, I love you just the same.

But sometimes, in a time of trouble
When you're out of hand
And your muddy bubbles roll across my floor
Carrying away the things I treasure
Hell, there ain't no way to measure
Why I love you more than I did the day before ...

River in the rain
Sometimes at night you look like a long white train
Winding your way away from me
River, I've never seen the sea.

-- Roger Miller, "River in the Rain," from the musical Big River

Love that song. Been playing it a lot lately -- because this is flood season? Or because I'm such a river rat?

The river appears in every novel I write. I can't resist. It's come to symbolize the boundary of heaven, because all my life I've stood on the hills that surround my little town and look out across the floodplain to the hills of Kansas, blue with distance. I have never traveled to the Kansas hills to stand and look back at my home. It's a view I've never seen.

All through my childhood, the river's paid us visits. 1979, the year the ice floes backed up behind the railroad bridge, my first flood. We had just gone to Savannah to Grandma Ann's when the water came into Nodaway, so we ended up camping out there. Then I believe there was one in '81, and maybe a short one in'85. The river made it to the edge of the yard in '79, but no closer.

Then there were the floods of legend.

The great flood I always heard about was 1951. The river was five miles across. Dad, who was about five or six, made a raft and invited Uncle Harold, who was blind, to take a ride. Uncle Harold knew better. Great-grandpa Ben, who worked for the Corps of Engineers, drove a big boat right up the main street and hitched it to the front of the store, which was built about five feet off the ground.

1993 was my flood.

I was going to college and living in the house where I'd lived when a kid. Every few days, as the waters rose, the route out of town changed as yet another road went under. Every day I could smell the stagnant, brown water. I finally had to evacuate when the water, which had stayed at the edge of the yard before, now crept up to the front door, to the windows. My coneflowers and delphiums floated in the murk. I had to get my stuff and leave. I did it, though I hated to.

The waters never came into my house, which was fortunate. The main street, however, was devastated. Grandpa Vance floated by Uncle Harold's house in the canoe and cleaned the leaves out of the gutters. Aunt Olga's house had to be torn down. Nodaway's population dropped from 50 to about 36.

There's this point of pride a river rat has, this relationship with the river that fills their home with mud and silt and mildew. "Can't chase us out," they say affectionately, looking out at the water. "The river's our home. We ain't leaving."

But I left. Live in a nice town. I can walk to the library; doesn't that count for something?

But I still want to go back and live in Nodaway. Live within sight of that river, live at the edge of heaven.

3 comments:

Don Tate II said...

I'm so attached to my Des Moines river. Now that I live in Texas, the Colorado River just won't do. I can't find my old fishing spots.

Melinda said...

Guess you'll have to find some new fishing spots? But that's not much fun.

My grandpas were the ones that fished for us, though now both are gone. I'm such a wuss when I try to fish. I'm like "I'm sorry, worm!" Fortunately I haven't caught any fish. Now that would be bad! "I'm sorry, fish!"

We used to fry up fish eggs, and they tasted so good. I don't know what kind of fish eggs they were because I was just a little kid and didn't know the difference between a crappie and a bale of hay. Have you ever tried those?

Melinda said...

Fish eggs, I mean, not a bale of hay. I'm sure that wouldn't taste very good.