The Crick, A Tale Of Boyhood Long Ago
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The Crick, A Tale Of Boyhood Long Ago

Author's program note. It's funny how memory works. One minute you're thinking about the next article you must write regarding the still unsettled events in Kiev, the possibility of civil war and a first rate crisis of universal concern and gnawing anxiety, a real humdinger.

The next, your eye having caught sight of a shimmering puddle on the way into Harvard Square, you're thinking of something your mind has disregarded for over a half century, and you find you're smiling. The scene has been kept tight for all these years for just this moment... and you welcome it with a mental embrace and heartfelt joy, glad to have it again; glad to share it with you.

Moving water.

It's the end of February hereabouts. We know the sun exists, at least by repute, but we don't see much of it. Rather, there is a cool gray mist hovering over the slumbering land; the kind of mist that makes you daydream and drift. Who sends it to us... and why do we always wonder just what's lurking in its watery labyrinth, a monster, the Lady of the Lake? Not the sun...

Then there's the mud, an ocean of mud, mud in every color and with every degree of grainy or slick inconvenience. I get more than my share because when asked to take off their shoes most of my endless stream of visitors adamantly asserts, and with a touch of asperity, that while others may carry mud about, they do not and never have; that the suggestion is little short of insulting and could result in a nasty episode on the (muddy) field of honor.

Thus I reluctantly give way to allowing what I most resolutely oppose... and so the mud they carry moves forward, ever forward, telltale evidence that I must be more forceful with the next arrival... but rarely am.

There is also water in all its various late winter manifestations: droplets, flakes, slush, ice (including the killer variation in black), puddles, tiny streams and haughty rivers that say "Leave us alone for we have places to go and no time for chit chat with the likes of you, lubber.")

I'm not talking about any of these watery options, no indeed. I am talking about a rambling stream of water called by me and my early prairie neighbors "the crick", every byway of America has them, and they are variously called branch, brook, beck, burn, creek, gill, kill, lick, mill race, rill, river, syke, bayou, rivulet, streamage and more. There is nothing more common than this, where a body of water with a current is confined within a bed and stream banks.

It is a sight that no real boy can see without itchy fingers and the glint of determination in his seasoned eye, a glint that ensures adventures and splendid triumphs.

No one has to tell us even a word about the crick and its place in our lives. I know. My brother Kevin knows... and so we go in search of the things we will need, things like the best and most durable of shovels.

Good shovels with stout handles are required after the ravages of winter. Storms and ice have moved many things which we must return to their proper places, and we are keen to know who has additional ones which may be required. Ours are often lost, taken by adults who pilfer our tools when we are not looking, and by doting grandparents who see in our shovels projects we can do for them. On such an understanding they are happy to loan.

Soon the near-by garage is filled with our gear, gloves (for rocks rend even calloused hands), long sticks with hooks, shoes that grip... and a fleet or two of boats of every kind, for our navy is multi-purpose and needs a plethora of vessels ranging from the one reminiscent of Cleopatra's Nile barge with golden poop (though no perfume in its love-sick sails) to the replica of "Old Ironsides", always a favorite, whose great victories were ever ready for recital.

Soon my father was complaining about our infringements to his precious garage space, but not too strenuously for he was a Navy man and knew what was necessary. About the time of his third warning, we were ready and so were the members of our audience and crew, for the Lant brothers were celebrated for their artistry with the crick and its aquatic possibilities and mischief.

George J. Quacker.

Being the oldest and most seasoned, I of course was commodore and had a cap like Humphrey Bogart wore in "The African Queen" (1951). It had withstood every ravage and bore its many wounds with deserved pride.

My rank and leadership did not, however, go unchallenged, for no watery event ever took place without the presence of George Quacker, a Pekin duck with a decided point of view on every subject, a voice that carried for miles, and a beak sharp enough to carry his determined point.

George had arrived one Easter along with his spouse, Georgia. Half a dozen or more goslings followed, a brood the parents tended with deliberate care and the assistance of the brothers who helped teach them how to swim in the bathtub (what a mess).

Sadly one night a raccoon literally frightened Georgia to death whilst looking for a way to get into her cage. We captured the murderer and shipped him off to the Children's Zoo in Hollywood, Illinois, where many of our pets spent their declining years.

George was lonely, and even taking care of the ducklings didn't entirely fill his time. And so he adopted... me, and became a familiar sight flying to greet me, and loudly too... or getting up at first light to summon me for (his) breakfast. He was known to follow me to school, too; the principal summoning me to take him home, while the entire school called his name, cheering him on. He loved the attention...

He also made sure that we dammed the crick just so to give him and his family the most commodious and convenient of swimming holes, the envy of his breed. And so while Kevin and I laboriously moved the flag stones into place, our intent to overawe Hoover's Dam, George directed events... a sharp peck given if he found our attention lagging. But it rarely did, for we were as avid as he was to produce perfection... and so we worked with a will to ensure we had it.

Of course the result was magnificent... so much so that we stopped the crick running past all the houses after ours while a growing lakelet covered the culverts, drive ways, lawns and flower beds of our long-suffering up-crick neighbors who would have kept my parents on speed dial had that technology existed. "Shirley, Jeffrey and Kevin are at it again!"... and so we were, happy in our work, happy to recall it today, a day when a smile was so very timely and hard to come by..

Envoi.

For the music to accompany this article, I have selected Hoagy Camichael's 1930 gem, "Lazy River". It conjures those blissful days when life was for living and not just for worrying about. Go to any search engine and play it now and be 16 or so all over again, skin bronzed, muscles agile, and time yours to command. "Up a lazy river by the old mill stream/ That lazy, hazy river where we both can dream..."


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