I’ve got another creek story for you guys. This one is scary, though, especially from the point-of-view of my grown-up, mom eyes.
When I was growing up in rural south Alabama, our pasture was about a mile from the Gihon Springs community. We would ride our bikes from our house, a little way down Papa and Gramma’s driveway, and then we’d cut down the dirt field road to our pasture. We rode way past Papa’s pasture, past Mr. Abe Findley’s pasture (Mr. Abe* was a distant relative), across the railroad tracks, through our pasture gate, and then down another pasture to the creek.
The field road was called “no man’s land.” No one owned it, and it was used to connect the Findleys’ and our pastures. It was kind of like public property. Until we were much older, Ben and I could only ride our bikes about a third of the way down. It was really isolated, once you trekked that far. When you got to the end of the road, you had to cross the railroad tracks, and the road ended at our pasture gate. The pasture was probably less than a mile to the north of the sawmill, where lots of people worked. Remember, this was the sawmill that got burned. (See March 28, 2013 blog post.)
Sometimes people would walk north on the railroad tracks. I’m not sure why, because it only led to more pastures. It wasn’t like there were more houses down there, somewhere. That’s one reason why Mom and Dad didn’t let us ride our bicycles all the way down there.
So as young kids, Ben and I were happy to be able to ride the whole dirt road with Mom to the creek on hot summer days.
One day, Ben and I were having fun splashing and playing at the creek. We heard someone coming over the top of the sandy creek bank. It was an acquaintance from the Gihon Springs neighborhood, Mr. Clay Teague*. We didn’t really know the guy that well, but Ben and I were happy to see our guest. He was a single guy, about 30 years old or so. He had ridden down the field road on his bike. Mom got up from her lawn chair and books and stood near us to talk to the man.
About five minutes later, we heard Dad coming on the tractor. We were delighted. It was like a party! Mr. Clay talked to Mom and Dad while Ben and I went back to splashing in the creek. Soon, Mr. Clay went on his way, and Mom and Dad continued to talk for a while in low voices.
One day, when I was an adult, Mom and I were talking about our memories of the creek. Somehow we got on the subject of Mr. Clay Teague. And I heard the rest of the story…
On that long-ago day, Mom, Ben, and I got to the creek and parked our bikes at the top of the bank. Mom settled herself in her lawn chair with her school books, and Ben and I were whooping and chasing water bugs in the creek. She heard someone call a greeting from over the top of the creek bank. It was Mr. Clay Teague, walking his bike down the road that led to the creek. Mom’s adrenaline rushed as she was on instant alert. She was far from anywhere that she could call for help, as this sandy-headed almost-stranger approached her children. Knowing Mom, I’m sure that she lifted a little prayer.
Maybe he would just go away.
A few minutes later, Mom heard the familiar puttering of a diesel engine. She felt relief course through her body. Dad parked the tractor at the top of the bank and came down to talk. Soon, Mr. Clay got on his bike and road back down the road.
Dad knew that his family had just left for the creek that day. And somehow he happened to see Mr. Clay start down the field road.
From that day on, Mom didn’t take us to the creek unless Dad was working in the hay field. And Dad was usually in the hay field during the summer, so it was all good.
I call that Providence.
I don’t know if Mr. Clay Teague would have hurt us that day. When I was talking to Mom about blogging about the creep at the creek, I said, “Mom, he probably just went down there to talk to us. He probably didn’t mean any harm.”
Mom looked straight at me and said, “Stephanie, that man just wasn’t right.” As a kid, I just couldn’t detect that kind of thing.
Whether Mr. Clay Teague had ill intent or not, I’m just glad Dad came at the right time.
* Please note that all names have been changed to protect privacy.