A hot summer day in the South was the perfect time to grab a fishing pole and drown some worms under the old pecan tree by the stream. Time was, long ago, when the stream had more whitecapping over rocks and tree stumps. Now, after many long, hot summers with little rain to feed the watering hole, the river was little more than a creek with just a few deep wells suitable for fishing.
I loved spending summers with my grandparents. When Granny was busy canning vegetables and Granddaddy was plowing in the field above the house, I would grab my cane pole and run down the road to my cousin’s house.
“Are you boys coming out today, or what? Those fish ain’t gonna just jump outta the creek!” I’d yell up to Jack and Jason’s room on the second floor of the little yellow house. My twin cousins were about as lazy as a hunting dog out of season, but I knew how to get them out of the house.
“Fine, then! We all know I’m a better at fishin’ than both of you put together!” I yelled, then stood back and waited.
It didn’t take long before they would yell back from their room. “You ain’t! You cain’t even bait a hook, City Girl!”
The boys rattled down the stairs like a freight train, tackle box in one hand and fishing pole in the other, then bursting through the front door. The screech of the old screen door almost drowned out the ringing phone inside. I was pretty sure that was Granny on the phone making sure the boys were going to the creek with me. I was right. With the phone plastered to her perfectly coiffed doo, my aunt waived to us from the window as we began our journey.
The stream was a short walk through the field behind my cousins’ house. Every summer I was amazed how it changed a little more, but my favorite seat under the pecan tree never moved. The old log always stayed put. A blackbird was perched on the far end waiting for me to have a seat with it.
“Want me to bait yur hook, Emmie?” Jason mocked. I could do it myself, and he knew that asking would irritate me. Oh, how Jason lived to irritate me!
“Stand back, evil one!” I shouted. I wielded my fishing pole as a sword, like a knight slaying dragons. “I shall have no guff from either of you today, for I am Queen of the Creek! Now, go away yur buggin’ me.” I giggled and finished baiting my hook.
“Cuz? Why d’ya talk so fancy? Ya come for a visit and then ya go away again. But, when ya come back, yur all fancy again. I don’t like ya fancy,” Jason said.
“Yeah,” Jack said. “Are ya, like, famous in the city? Last summer ya said ‘chew were gonna be a famous writer or sumthin’ and have yur mug on a big picture board.”
“I said a billboard, and I am going to be a famous writer one day…just not today,” I answered. With my worm secured on the hook, I plopped it into the water and waited for the first sign of a nibble.
Jack didn’t seem to be in the mood to fish, so he sat back against the old log and looked up at the sky. “Kin I be famous?”
“Well…that depends. What can you do?” I asked.
“He ain’t gonna be famous ‘cause he cain’t do nuthin’!” Jason said as he whipped his line into the water.
“Don’t listen to him, Jack. Granny said we could do whatever we want when we grow up. She said I could be a famous writer. She even gave me something to help my dream come true. She called it my…talisman,” I couldn’t help being a little dramatic. Back then, messing with my cousins was the only true entertainment I had during the day.
“What’s a tally-man?” Jack asked as he moved closer to me.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out a red handkerchief. I handed Jack my fishing pole and unwrapped the gift Granny gave me that morning. It was a shiny black stone with white streaks running through its natural grooves. One side was flat, and the other side was worn like it had been heated and pressed flat by Granny’s thumb…like Granny’s famous thumbprint cookies.
“Granny told me to rub this stone here like this when I’m writing and the words won’t come,” I showed Jack the small indentation. “She said if I rub the stone and think really hard, the words would come again. I don’t know if it works, though. I haven’t tried it.”
“Wow…” Jack softly whispered. “Like magic?” I nodded and put the treasure back into my pocket.
My cousins and I sat at the creek for the better part of the day. Jason tried to balance himself on a rock in the middle of the stream, slipped and landed on his backside in the middle of the stream. Jack and I laughed so hard that he peed in his pants, which made Jason laugh so hard he fell off the rock a second time.
It was dusk when we made it home, empty handed, but not empty-hearted. Granny already set the table for dinner, and Granddaddy was showering off the day’s dirt. She was sitting at the small secretary in the corner paying bills when I walked in and kissed her rosy cheek. She put down the stapler she was using to neatly pack away the copies of invoices and checks and gave me a hug.
“Taking a bath in the creek isn’t the same as taking a real bath, Emmie,” Granny said. “You have a little time before dinner, so go wash up.”
“Yes, ma’am.” As I walked down the hall, I wondered how many of these lazy summer days I would have left before life changed.