“We need a place just for us. It would be so secret that we would never tell anyone in the whole world about it.”
–From the Bridge to Terabithia, 1977.
My cousins are posing with their bicycles in this photo from 1980. The original, which was taken by my father in East Texas, is out of focus. I added the landscape effect to it via LunaPic in an effort to eliminate the distraction created by the blur. Also, I wanted to capture the glory of this beautiful moment in time. I love how it turned out. In particular, I appreciate the generational contrast between the 1950s farm truck in the background and the Huffy bikes. Also, the white vinyl flowered baskets are Gen-X splendid.
They were so proud of those bikes.
My cousins grew up in a broken home far from the father who loved them. During their years in East Texas, they lived in the projects, a series of small, red-brick structures that were clean and well-maintained. We were all new to town and none of us kids knew they were public housing units until someone on the school bus pointed it out. Kids can be so cruel.
By the way, here is the photo I edited. In addition to being blurry, it is over-exposed or possibly over-saturated. These things divert attention away from an otherwise magnificent candid picture of four Gen-Xers. Their birth years span 1966 to 1972.
Marvelous Gar Creek
Even if people and poverty can be cruel, some of the experiences I had growing up with my cousins are among the best memories of my life. They occurred during the sweet spot of my adolescence from 11 to 13. In addition, they spanned the adventurous geography of the Arkansas River Valley and the Piney Woods of East Texas. We rode our bikes everywhere, all day long. Absolutely, nobody kept tabs on us.
It sounds like something out of a novel but it’s all true. There was a marvelous creek behind my grandma’s trailer in Arkansas. It was called Gar Creek and it flowed to Hicks Creek, a larger tributary of the Arkansas River. On the south side of Gar Creek was a steep creek bank covered with trees and brush. One time, we all crossed the creek on our bikes. It was bubbling and brimming widely after rainfall, but it was a shortcut to Wal-Mart. So, one by one, each of us walked our bikes across rushing water and slippery rocks. After that, we walked our bikes up the steep incline and through a thicket of trees to reach the street. To this day that journey was one of the toughest feats of my life. I don’t know how we all escaped drowning, serious cuts or abduction.
Bikes with Vinyl Flowered Baskets in Space!
Here is the photo with the space effect via LunaPic. It pairs nicely with the following quote from Bridge to Terabithia: “She had made him leave his old self behind and come into her world, and then before he was really at home in it but too late to go back, she had left him stranded there–like an astronaut wandering about on the moon. Alone.”
I cherish these memories of adolescence. My kids have been cheated by my own helicopter parenting, which is currently worsened by my latest vice, the Crime Junkie podcast. Quite often, I must admit, murder is not a healthy escape from the troubles of the day. But, still, it’s there for me.
In many ways, maybe even in most ways, the adults were not there. Some were battling demons. Others were consumed with what ailed or interested them. For my father, it was religion. For my mother, soap operas.
Inside my grandmother’s trailer was a tiny haven of peace. The air conditioner was always blasting cold air and inside the fridge was an old milk jug full of green Kool-aid. My grandfather was a mess and lay dying on the couch for 30 some odd years. We barely knew he existed and we were all her joy. I’ll never forget the day I rode my bike to her house around dusk. By the time I arrived, it was evening and her front yard was flooded. It had been raining hard for days. As I walked barefoot to her front door I waded through hundreds and hundreds of blue catfish that had spilled from Gar Creek. I wondered if we could eat them because we were always so hungry, but my father said they were all dead.