A FEW TEARS DEEPER…
After a year the time had come where I needed to face the reality of what was taken from us. I awoke and got ready to venture out to the island we used to vacationland. As a family of seven, we didn’t always have the extra money to go on long expensive vacations, so our island property that was so ignorantly taken from us was referred to by our children as such. I set the hitch to the old girl one last time before being sold to the new owner and set off for the marina where she used to be kept before having to sit in a my driveway the past year or so. I loaded a few supplies for my journey but not the usual clothing and food we once packed; instead, it was traded for trash bags, gloves, and an old stick I had set a nail in to assist with picking up trash I thought I might encounter on my last journey. As I began to back Guinevere into the water, I realized that my mind had been consumed with emotion and wandering thoughts that I did not even remember driving to her old floating grounds.
At one time I used to race East across the Susquehanna river in anticipation of our beloved slice of heaven. This time I choose to endure the pain and heartbreak at a slower pace as the island came closer into view. I found it hard to pull up to shore anywhere because all of the debris that had washed up. The once cleaned shoreline was hardly recognizable with out the island residents there to care for it. I maneuvered Guinevere north in search for a suitable place to tie up. As I motored my way up river I couldn’t help but be reminded that these shorelines were once lined with docks, and other expensive investments. Around the docks, children and adults of all ages were once seen swimming, fishing, and making family memories. Unfortunately, only those memories remain and the river was a few tears deeper. I finally reach the only recognizable feature of the island and tie up my vessel to the old farmers landing. The farmers landing was primarily used for loading and unloading farm equipment for the cornfield that once lavishly grew in the center of the island. However, for many islanders we also used the farmers landing for many things; pulling and placing docks in the water or hulling scrap and trash off the island. Despite the many snakes (and I’m not talking about our nature friends we shared the island with) that thought all we did was party and drink we were more than just vacationing families, we were the stewards and custodians of island nature. I grab my supplies and start walking up the overgrown stone path. As I reach the hill, I am met with a decision I had not thought of, do I turn left towards what we called the freaky forest, straight across the cut towards the low side of the island or turn right towards the direction our cabin once stood? I decided to take the scenic route and hike the entire golf cart path. Well, what used to be a golf cart path any way. Shortly after I began my trek through the overgrown path I recalled how at one time little kid footprints could be seen in the dust of the trail. The footprints acted as evidence of good memories made. Precious memories, as precious as a dusty footprint when rain threatened the island. Never in my life did I imagine these little memories would have such an impact on me.
It didn’t take long before I was snapping on the gloves and snapping a trash bag with air preparing it for garbage. I was picking up trash of all kinds; broken beer bottles, empty cans, and yes even spent poison needles. The sight of the needles almost made it unbearable to continue as it put a dark cloud over our island once filled with laughter and happiness. Trash replaced the foot printed path and disgust replaced sadness. I continued anyway towards the freaky forest and before long I came to the grounds where the historic one room school house and cemetery of the Shelly family existed. As a historic building, it was the only protected structure, well protected from the township vultures anyway. It appears in just one years’ time squatters, and vandals had broken into the schoolhouse so I began walking towards it to investigate its condition. The foul smell of feces and urine pultruded through the broken door and windows and it became clear the squatters and vandals had used it since it was the only standing structure anymore. The smell was too strong to enter so I make way towards the grass-hidden cemetery. Again to my disgust I made another horrible discovery, the cemetery was not grass hidden rather nearly every headstone had been broken and smashed into nothing but dust and rubble. Headstones that stood since the 1800’s destroyed in just 1 year.
As I passed each lot where friends used to be I stop and think about all of those friends, and I am taken back and can picture every cabin. I pass the cabins where young river rats joined our river family, and cabins where long standing river rats have traded our slice of heaven for another heaven. I pass cabins where I have helped friends and recall those memories and the gratefulness like it was yesterday. Then there were the cabins I passed where we gathered as friends celebrating birthdays, Thanksgiving, and on rare warm occasions even New Years. Standing on the banks, I shed a tear for each of them making the river one tear deeper. Anyone who knew the island knows it was not a short walk and by the time I reached where my parents cabin stood on lot 71 and our cabin on lot 70 I had already run out of trash bags to fill. It was a long exhausting walk with many trash bags in tow. I did not think I had any emotion or tears left by the time I reached our lots but that is where the most emotion overtook me. The sight of the overgrown lots that were once filled with kids toys, yard games, rope swings and an enormous fire pit where many stories, laughs, and even tears were shed was now as empty as I felt, and as overgrown as my depression. As I wander around what once was a happy place where our kids were able to roam free, experience live a learn to grow socially I couldn’t help but recall our last day there on our lots. Watching my mom and dad and their grama and papa pack up a few last treasured items and burn what could be burnt was as painful witnessing as I’m sure it was for her watching unused craps being burnt. Allow me to explain that one. Kenna, one of the youngest girls had a hard time early on saying “crafts” and it always came out as craps. Therefore, grama always had “craps” and kept craps in their cabin for the kids to do.
As I collected trash around vacation land I had separated what can be burnt and what needed recycled just as we did during our days on the island. I began to burn what I could safely burn, when something in the overgrown pit caught my eye. I safely retrieved it and began to wipe it off. I don’t know who it belonged to or how it got there. What I did know is that it was a small silver anchor pendant like the ones all of the girls received as gifts from my mom, or like the ones she used when she crafted or crapted jewelry for one of the many island fundraisers we held trying to save our islands. Once more the river became several more tears deeper.
I made my way back to Guinevere and started motoring back towards the old run down marina that used to buzz with boat motors. It was particularly windy which caused my boat to bounce violently. One last memory entered my head that only my family will ever understand or know what is meant by it. “Watch for boobies” and at somepoint down the road transformed into the common phrase heard, “Hold your boobies”.
The islands and the island life had brought a lot of business to the area from Pizza shops, to marine mechanics, and even the many marinas that folks on the islands boated from and stored possessions over the winter months. All of the suffered loss just as we did. Many are not around anymore which affected the local community. The void of island residents whom paid taxes year in and year out to Londonderry Twp were no longer paying taxes to the township. I’m not sure how they made up for that revenue, but likely the residents in Londonderry Twp are covering the red with increased taxes. The taxes we paid to the township did not benefit the island residents since we had no roads to maintain, infrastructure that needed upkeep, or roads to be plowed which helped the residents of the mainland township. The township sure seemed to have a plan for this land otherwise why not let the island residents stay who benefit the township. It was promised during a township meeting that if an approved plan could be made available that they would consider it. Turned out they are all lying corrupt politicians and lawyers whom only affected the township they are sworn to work for. If only the residents understood the impact before they took our paradise.
As I load my boat for the last time only one thing is for sure, they can’t take my memories and the good times spent here, and I leave the river many tears deeper.
This is obviously a fictional story thought up from many dreams and a lot of thought as I spent time thinking of what could happen. This is not intended to sadden anyone. The only intention is to maybe sway one mind, change a few perspectives, and fan the fire for all river rats to keep pushing and keep coming together stronger than ever. RIVER RAT STRONG – IN IT TO WIN IT!