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MEET ME AT BIG SANDY
(After Dana Gioia’s
“Meet Me at the Lighthouse”)
by Tom Romano
Meet me at Big Sandy, under the bridge that bisects Malvern, Ohio, two separate towns in 1835, Lodi and Troy. The water is shallow under the bridge. We’ll catch crayfish (calling them crabs and don’t know they are gourmet eating in Louisiana). Ankle deep in the creek, we splash after them before they can flip away, backwards, tiny speed boats under water. We grasp the armored bodies, careful to avoid those claws, poised to pinch a finger and draw blood. We pen the crabs in forts we build with Big Sandy mud.
I forgot to tell you to bring your patched, bloated inner tube that smells of rubber. In the knee-deep current we hold them steady, making sure the valve stem is pointed down. We jump and swivel, plopping into the hole. In the shallows our butts drag the bottom. Our arms rest on the smooth skin of the inner tube. Our hands are rudders to navigate the creek.
We float downstream toward Waynesburg five miles off, past the Hollywood Products plant that every so often spews God knows what into Big Sandy through a wide pipe, such a roaring and steaming you think a train is bearing down on you.
We float by the bank where Mike Montella sits on a log, smoke from a fire swirling in the breeze to keep mosquitoes guessing while he fishes with cane pole, sinker, and bobber. He’s after catfish but often hooks carp, chub, suckers, and once a miniature, brown creek monster six inches high, tiny clawed feet dug into the ground, defiant, ready to fight. Mike waves and adjusts his red baseball cap, the bill worn where he touches it one hundred times a day.
We pass the little island of dry, white stones formed last spring during the flood that made Big Sandy a dangerous, whitecapped river and raised it within a foot of the bridge. Gone is the fallen tree that bridged the creek downstream where Uncle Ralph trapped muskrats.
We meander down Big Sandy’s twists and turns, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, and finally arrive at the Boy Scout swimming hole where the creek deepens to six feet. We hurl the inner tubes to the grass to dry in the sun like sleek black seals. By the steep bank stands a tall tree. From one limb a thick rope hangs down a few feet off the bank, just out of reach. With a stick we snag it and pull it in for swinging.
If we’re lucky, a teenage boy, maybe Don Leasure, tackle on the high school football team, his arms limbs themselves, lifts us high as we clutch the rope, knees tucked to our chests. He thrusts us down and out, launching us into space. Giddy with safe terror, we soar over the middle of Big Sandy, rising higher and higher until the rope slackens and we let go. We hang suspended, miraculously, in a place we’ve never been: not land or water, but sky. Then we plummet, eyes squinched tight, suddenly amid a commotion of creek. We touch the sandy bottom with our toes, for only an instant, before some water monster of claws and gills can grab our ankles. We push hard and break the surface, sputtering, grinning, knowing that floating, flying, and hanging have been a bit of heaven.