Friday, June 08, 2007

Clay Hill

I've said we played in the woods at the end of Lincoln Avenue. But mostly we spent our time on Clay Hill. Clay Hill was the remnants of a washed out railroad trestle. At it's base in the Mantua Creek were the worn stumps of the railroad trestles. Where the railroad went and what it was for were long forgotten. It was just a hill in a small woods at the end of our street. Most of the forest there was new growth. The trees were less than twenty years old. We raced through them as though we were in a forest in an ancient world. To the left of Clay Hill were the swamps of the Mantua Creek. They resumed again some hundred yards away to the right till they reached their largest point right by the bridge between Wenonah and Mantua.
The swamps were filled with cattails and skunk cabbage and muskrats. I suppose there was other wild life but we paid little or no attention to it. The creek had catfish and some sunny's and a few smallmouth bass. It meandered it's slow way to the Delaware from a point a few miles from Wenonah. Once it had been larger but it had been dammed off by various developers over the years to make lakes and ponds and now was largely ignored by everyone but children.
For us it was heaven.
It was a world without parents or rules or a point. We fought wars on Clay Hill. We refought WWII. We fought WWIII. We saved the world from alien invasions. We eventually got up the courage to run through the swamps. We'd leap from hillock to hillock all the way to the railroad trestle by the Parker's house. We braved quick mud and mosquitoes and we were rangers in a guerilla war. My favorite Christmas present for many years was hip boots so I could run through the swamp.
We'd come home and my mother would send us into the basement to strip and clean. We smelled like swamp.
We smelled like skunk. All within two hundred feet of our homes. No adults went into the woods. No teenagers went into the woods. Just us and our ilk.
One day in a pitched battle between Chris DeHart and my friends I found myself staked out and had ants dropped on my chest. I was petrified with terror. My brother Ted raced home to get my father to save me. From what?
Terry nearly had his ear blown off by a firecracker on Clay Hill.
Kids were shoved from the top of Clay Hill on bikes and narrowly avoided spilling into the creek. For some reason none of us would swim in the creek. We'd sit for hours at the base of the hill and talk and talk and talk about bullshit. We speculated about everything. Where babies came from, what sex was, would we kill a man in battle. We argued about baseball and football and organized our mad events. Our theatrical presentations, our athletic games, all were hatched here or on my porch or in the DeHarts house or in Terry Flemings basement.
Clay Hill was as large as the world got at that time and place. It was huge and seemed to go forever. It had mystery, access, and privacy. It was perfect. We built forts in groves of sticker bushes. We made tree forts and dug foxholes. We dammed a stream further down by the old dump and flooded the woods for hundreds of yards. We were very busy but of course told no one about any of it. Till we were older, with kids of our own.

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