I knew Cable Creek and Back Creek and Caraway Creek, brown-water streams and in some places barely that, running through the woods near my old house in southwestern Randolph County, because that’s where my high school boyfriend went crawfishing in the spring when he wasn’t hunting deer in the fall.
I drove Jackson Creek Road, which bisected the actual Jackson Creek, toward Denton every Friday night for fried flounder from Little Texas restaurant, holding my breath when I crossed the one-lane arched bridge that passed the dam at Lake Reese, the one that held back the Uwharrie River, where all these creeks would eventually end up.
I knew people who filled backpacks with cans of beer on Saturday nights and hung out in the dark cavern of the Pisgah Covered Bridge, which straddled a branch of the Little River, kissing in the shadows and drinking and telling ghost stories.
I won’t tell you whether I was one of those people.
When the waters of the Little River rose 14 feet in 2003, the nearly 100-year-old wooden bridge washed away, and became a ghost itself. There’s a new bridge now, put up by local townsfolk who couldn’t bear the view without it.
I knew about Naomi Wise, the Randolph County Quaker girl who drowned in the Deep River in the early 1800s, her story gleaned from the folk ballads we sang in eighth-grade chorus at Farmer School.
I wonder, do children in school classrooms still sing those haunting songs, truths made mythic, the ones that tell us the stories of our past?
One day, I wonder, will we remember the fish camps of the Piedmont that sprang up on our riverbanks? Was your Riverview Inn on the Catawba like my Little Texas on the Uwharrie? Those places are gone now, their stories swept up in a current of memory that’s being carried farther and farther away from us.
It all goes by in such a rush.
Will we speak of the days of the floods, when the rivers reared their heads to remind us that they’re still here, in full force? During Hurricane Floyd, when the Tar River swelled 20 feet above flood stage, we lowered our heads and prayed so hard for our friends in eastern North Carolina, in Princeville and Rocky Mount and Tarboro and Wilson, places where the river is a part of everything. If you look, you can still see the waterlines on clapboard, an alluvial yardstick of our history.
Raging waters subside, eventually. And I hope, then, we speak of the better days — of the swimming holes and of tires swinging from overhanging branches; of beloved wet dogs shaking on the banks; of Sunday baptisms and church picnics and family reunions; of pointing the nose of a canoe downriver and paddling; of spending quiet, perfect, peaceful afternoons in search of smooth, flat stones to sling, popping the surface of the water and making ripples that seem to go on forever.