Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Little Red House

Wenonah is ringed with woods. They were our favorite places. They weren't wide or deep but they were nearly unvisited by adults or anyone but children. Beyond the woods were the swamps of the Mantua Creek. Once, back in the 1800's the creek was wide and deep. But towns up and down the creek dammed off feeder streams to create ponds and lakes for recreation and decoration and by the time I was young it was a stream about 16 feet wide surrounded by swamp. The swamps were home to muskrat and cattails and birds and had a deep swamp smell. They were scary and inviting.
You could run through them once you knew how. How to avoid the deep mud, find the hillocks and firm places. We did so with abandon. I think it was in 4th grade we found the Little Red House. It was down by the sewer plant at the end of Mantua Avenue on the North side on the Mantua border. You had to walk down a dirt road past the sewer plant a few hundred yards and there it old abandoned shotgun shack. Red. Empty. Falling apart. Me, Chris, Terry, Ed Mossop, Mick, and a few others went several times there to explore. To walk through it's empty rooms and just look.
It was eerie and weird and frightening. And just beyond were the swamps. One day we all walked out to the swamps. We got perhaps thirty feet out when we hit quick mud. This was deep mud that sucked you down. The more you pulled to get out the deeper you went in. Ed Mossop went out furthest and got caught up to his waist. We struggled with panic and terror to free him. It was low tide. If we couldn't get him loose who knew what might happen. He might be sucked all the way in and die. He might drown. Hours of struggle ensued. Mud sucked and pulled and we pulled and Eddie came loose. No shoes. Covered chest deep in swamp mud. We stumbled back. Stunned. Frightened. It was the first time in our lives we confronted a situation in which we might die. We were terrified. Exhilerated. Stunned.
It became legend.
We never went back. The house sank into oblivion. But the struggle became our story.
We learned how to walk on the swamps. How to avoid quick mud. How to leap and dance and play in the swamps. We ran up and down the length of them from the bridge to the trestle. Perhaps a half mile but it seemed like a league.
We began to find weapons. Cattails were spears and hammers once wrenched loose. We waged epic battles up and down the creek. We tore open skunk cabbage and relished it's funk. We were gods.
We learned you could make money on the swamp. You could set traps and catch muskrat and sell them to fur traders. You made more money selling a muskrat than you could on a newspaper route. We knew how to set leghold traps and live traps and we knew where they lived. My Uncle Al from Pennsylvania told us that in the late 40's he sold muskrats to the black people in his town for food. We were stunned. Amazed.
We loved our swamp. More than the woods. Anyone could walk in the woods...only a skilled kid could navigate the swamps. We fought wars with kids from Mantua across the creek. We cherished Christmas gifts of hip boots so we could slog across streams and even the low points of the creek.
When we came home, covered in muck, my mother banished us to the basement to strip our clothes. Rich with the funk of mud and death and life.
When I was much older my father in law fed us a meal of channel catfish caught in the south. It tasted of swamp. I couldn't eat.

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