My best friend Barbara and her brother Gary, that kid Eugene from down the street and sometimes Kim – we all used to meet under the silver bridge. This was in the 1970’s, when kids could still disappear all day and no one worried.
We met underneath the bridge where the river rats scurried along the pilings. It was cool and mucky underneath the bridge, a break from the stifling humidity of an eastern Pennsylvania summer. There wasn’t much to do during those summers except dream. We dreamed of building a raft and floating as far away as possible. All the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Or maybe only I believed that possible. Maybe the rest of the gang simply hoped to build something that wouldn’t sink. So the boys scavenged wood and rope. Someone dragged two empty oil barrels that had been left to rust in the cow pasture.
Barbara and I watched with the rats as the boys tied and hammered and dragged and cussed for an hour or two or until we grew too bored to bother. And then we went home for dinner.
On some days we followed the abandoned railway running along the creek to swim in the sunhole – a place where the creek slowed and the trees cleared. The sunhole was lined with thickets of blackberries and we dodged poison ivy and thorns from the rambling wild rose to gorge ourselves on ripe berries until our fingertips were blue.
There was an abandoned outbuilding, too, along the creek. It may have been a home but most likely it belonged to the railway when the train ran one hundred years before. We liked to think it was haunted. It was two stories, with an attic. Holes in the floor allowed us to see clear through to the basement. The creek side stone wall lay in ruin allowing the sun to catch the musty air and drape shadows in ragged corners.
One afternoon, while the rest of the gang schemed in the basement, I climbed into the attic. My footfalls and the creaking boards startled a giant white owl from her nest. I ducked as the owl swooped the length of the attic several times, screeching loud in flight. I had never seen anything so large and so commanding. I could feel the rush of her wings as she arced and danced and then finally found her way toward the trees outside. The image of that owl, in all her full winged beauty swooping and howling above me, has haunted me all these years, more than the memories of ghosts.
When I returned home thirty years later, the silver bridge was gone. So was the trail along the abandoned rail and even our haunted clubhouse. But the creek still runs, and kids still swim in the sunhole.