River Street Memories
A few days ago, my 5-year-old grandson was visiting and playing in our field. Living in the country has it’s rewards and one of these is that a child can play and do whatever strikes his fancy, within reason.
I was sitting on the deck watching him and he just took off running and shouting gleefully through the field. He was running just for the sheer joy of running and being alive.
This set me to thinking about the years I spent growing up in our little town and in particular about our Mill teams.
My dad was a manager for one season, I believe it was 1949 or ’50, somewhere in there. I got to be the batboy because I was his son. This was a good team with some great players.
The first basemen was “Rough Cut” Robinson, a big man, who looked a lot like Boog Powell who later played for Baltimore. When Rough Cut connected it seemed like the ball would never come down.
T. J. McDaniel played a mean shortstop and was our leadoff man.
I believe Bill Jolley played second base, and was the fastest white man I have ever seen.
There was a fellow by the name of McKinney, I have forgotten his first name, built along the lines of Babe Ruth and could knock a ball out of sight.
Ben Humphries was our pitcher and was also one of our better hitters.
The rest of the names on the team escape me. It was a great year for a kid. This was when baseball was really baseball and people played for the love of the game.
There was nothing like the first warm day of spring. The glove you had gotten for Christmas and had spent from December through March rubbing it down with oil, putting a ball in the glove and wrapping string or rubber bands around it to make the pocket just right.
Even now in the spring that same old feeling returns. The smell of the leather is ingrained in your senses forever. If you’re lucky enough to dream, the base hits, the good catches, knocking in a winning run, all return and though the years are eating you up, you can still feel the excitement of playing, still see the concrete stands and still feel the joy of running onto the field and after all these years, still loving the game.
Having left Cliffside in 1956 and not knowing at the time that I would never return there to live, I find that as the years have flown by, especially lately, that I miss my old hometown more than I ever thought I would.
We lived at 22 River Street, little did I know that the correct name was Riverview. I knew nobody that called the street anything other than River Street. The back of our house was about 100 feet from the river and there were no indoor bathrooms on River Street, which made a visit to the outhouse a real challenge during the cold months of Winter.
River Street Games
My fondest memories are of the games that we played and sometimes invented to keep ourselves entertained. Unlike today, none of the games were of the electronic variety and required minimal to little investment of anything except time.
Horseshoes were the mainstay of games that required no money, but required a lot of practice in order to challenge the big guys. There were several pits on River Street, with the main ones I remember being at the homes of Ellis Hill and Thurman Scruggs. The kids used small horseshoes until we were able to master the regular ones. You could play for hours, didn’t care how hot it was, you just played. Ellis even strung up a couple of lights over the pits and the big guys pitched at night.
Grass sliding was also big on River Street. I remember very little snow when I was growing up although I know we did have some from time to time. Grass sliding you could do just about year round, but especially during the summer months. There was a large hill between and behind the houses of Thurman Scruggs and Aster Harris that was a favorite place. Required only getting a piece of cardboard usually from Fletcher Ruppe’s store, cutting it up to different sizes and using these to slide down the hill on the overgrown grass and weeds that at times could be as slick as ice. The more daring of us would also find old tires and roll up inside the tires and we would push them down the hill. Only thing that would stop the tire were the trees between the hill and the river, and you could either bail out or hit the trees. I tried it once and once was enough for me.
The other game was called Peg. To my knowledge this game was invented and played only on River Street. There was a flat area south of the old trash pile on top of a hill that was our peg field. Peg was played just like baseball except you cut pegs from small branches of trees and then you would cut yourself a bat. The pegs were about 6-inches long and you placed one on top of another and tapped the end of the peg which would cause it to rise, then you’d hit it as hard as you could and run the bases.
The river was heavily wooded on both sides, from just below the dam all the way to the Big Broad River. This area was a forest really, with large hardwood, softwood and pines and cedars growing so thick you could hardly see through them. There was a path worn all the way to the big river. I can still remember that whenever a Tarzan movie was on at the “show,” for days afterward you could count on the River Street kids to be all up and down the river trying to do the Tarzan yell.
The absolute best time of all was when they would draw the pond. This was the highlight of every year and it usually was in the summer. Had it been during the school year, no boy on River Street would have gone to school. We took pride in our dip nets and spent a week or so getting them ready. It was an amazing day as there would be people from just below the dam all the way downstream to the big river. Once in awhile you might dip up a snake, but in the excitement we didn’t pay much attention to them. Mainly we caught catfish and carp, and then would trade the carp for catfish.
After the gates were closed and the pond started filling up again, you could walk from the bridge all the way to the big river on sand and mud and rocks and it was an amazing thing to see and more amazing as to what you could find in the river bed. Looking out from our house out onto the pond above the dam, you could marvel at the amount of mud that was in the river and the small channel clear to the bottom of that mountain of mud.
I find that the river and River Street are on my mind a lot here lately, especially during the night. We camped on the river, fished and swam in the river, made tree houses, climbed rocks, swung from ropes and vines and found all types of wildlife in the woods. The games we played were made up games and granted during that time nobody had much but what we had was enough.
I dream of the river as I remember it. I can still picture the large trees overhanging the river, sandbars, the rapids by the 10 foot hole, climbing Buzzards Roost and laying on the pine needles and just watching the river roll by.
Being born in a house on River Street, having my aunt and uncle living next door and my grandmother a few houses down the street, knowing everybody on the street, feeling protected and cared for by the people on the street made it like no other place I have ever lived or expect to find again.
The memories are there, they are vivid, and although all the houses have been torn down and the people I knew and loved are pretty much gone by now, they still exist in my mind and heart and always will.
I recently watched a movie about an old fellow from Iowa who rides a lawnmower several hundred miles, from Iowa to Wisconsin, to see his brother. He can’t drive a car anymore, doesn’t trust public transportation and has problems with his legs. During his journey he meets up with a bunch of young people who are riding bikes across the state and one of them asks him What is the hardest thing about growing old? He replies; “Son, the hardest thing about growing old is remembering when you were young.”
There is a lot of truth in that statement.
Whenever I visit the Web site I am able to go back in time and remember the good things about the town and the good times I had growing up there and for that I am grateful.
In the 1950s Gene left for the midwest where he went to college and had a successful career as an auditor and salesman. He’s now retired in Indianola, Iowa, where the terrain is considerably flatter than River Street’s. In this photo he’s on the football field at Cliffside High.