RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON: Memories of happy times and places help in keeping us sane

By Rheta Grimsley Johnson

FISHTRAP HOLLOW, Miss. – I couldn’t quite watch as PK and Sandy Buff headed down the driveway with my old canoe lashed to the top of their car.
I had begged them to come and get the little fiberglass boat, as steady a canoe as you’ll ever see, with a flat transom in case the water is high and you want to attach a motor. And they did. Come to get it. They have a good place right on a river to use it. I don’t.
It was a little sad, nonetheless, considering the good times the green Winder canoe represented. How many times had it launched right from my former backyard in Carrollton, Ga., slim enough to negotiate the Little Tallapoosa River, passing cow pastures and respectable woods, delivering us safely to an old Ford pickup parked at a certain takeout?
Dozens? Maybe hundreds of times?
I remember the day my late husband Don and I drove through the octopus called Atlanta, all the way to the other side, to bucolic Winder, Ga. That, of course, is where we bought the Winder canoe. Don had read about them somewhere, in one of his magazines, about how a hunter could stand up safely and aim his shotgun without tipping the canoe. It was true.
In our case, however, the boat wasn’t used much for hunting. It was used for picnics, or gathering boughs of laurel in the spring, and once for rescuing a calf that had fallen down a steep bank into the water and was drowning. Occasionally Don might shoot a squirrel for me to use in cooking a Brunswick stew.
Mostly, though, the hunters’ canoe was loaded with paddles and children and cameras and a cooler. Once, after Hurricane Opal made a mess of the area, we took a chainsaw along and cut our way through downed trees.
We had agreed it was dumb to live in a house defined by a river and not keep a boat handy. And though we lived close to Atlanta, the grand illusion created by the little river and a farmer neighbor’s acreage kept us feeling secluded. And sane.
I resolved when we left Georgia and moved home to Mississippi not to pine for the wonderful old rambling house by the river. There was even an old grist mill house on the site, and strangers would tell us stories about memorable visits they’d made to our spot on the river.
Nice as it was, we preferred Mississippi. To long for things you love but must leave is silly, and wrong. To keep canoes in the yard that only dirt daubers use is silly, and wrong.
But I think it’s OK to remember every once and a while the fun you had in another place, another life. In a canoe. And I do.
There’s an old fading photograph of Chelsey, the niece, seated on the middle seat of the Winder canoe. Don sits behind her, steering with his paddle. I took the picture.
She is about 9, wearing a baseball cap cockeyed, looking serious and in charge. I can remember that day, and what brand of soft drink was in the cooler. I can remember the warm spring weather, and where we were on the route when Chelsey grew tired of paddling and confessed she was bored.
And if the Winder canoe provides even one day for my friends that’s as nice as that one was, maybe we eventually should have it bronzed.

Syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson lives near Iuka. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.