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James R. Stout

What's That Down In The Creek?

            There’s a bridge on one of the main county roads that I use in order to get to the highway that takes me to the four different towns that I must go to on a regular basis. The county road is made of dirt and rock while the current bridge over the large creek is made of wood, iron, and concrete. The original bridge that spanned the creek was an old iron rail bridge. We used to call it the “rattleley brattley bridge” when I was growing up. The name came from the sound that the cars and trucks made as they crossed the bridge. The frame of the old bridge was iron, the base support was made of thick timbers, and the part that your wheels touched as you drove across the bridge was made of wooden planks that made the sound that gave the bridge its name. The planks would hit the iron beneath them and there you go. The current bridge, built in 2004, has a concrete slab in place of the wood planks, there’s no railings at all, and the base support is made of large wood timbers. Only one car at a time can cross the bridge and there’s a weight limit prohibiting large trucks from crossing the bridge. So, now you know about the bridge, but that’s not really what I want to talk about.

            The creek beneath the bridge is large and deep. During heavy rains the creek flows at a brisk clip and eventually joins a much larger creek known as Tantabough Creek. Old timers in the area call it “Tannybo Creek”. For at least 12 years there is something down in the creek that I have made note of many times when crossing the bridge. Some ne’re-do-well managed to dump an old hot water heater into the creek where it was able to float a short distance when large rains came, and the creek was high. It became lodged against the bank of the creek on one side where the creek makes a sudden left and then a sudden right curve. I drove across that bridge this afternoon and once again noticed the rusted out old water tank forlornly hugging the bank. It got me to thinking.

            At some point in the past, most likely half a century ago, somebody went to an appliance store and proudly chose that very hot water heater to provide hot water in their home. It was most likely brought home and installed with much fanfare. I can recall when my grandparents bought a new hot water heater in the old farmhouse and how excited we all were. Hot water! What a wonderful thing. That old hot water heater in the creek was bright and shiny and new at one time. Maybe it was brought home in the back of a 1961 Chevrolet Pick-up truck with a passel of kids sitting by it in the bed of the truck and excited about the new addition to the family home. Speaking of sitting in the back of the pick-up truck, we used to sit on the tailgate of my grandfather’s bed when Grandpa would drive down these country roads. It was a blast. Did anybody else have that privilege growing up?

            So, that old water heater was carried into a house somewhere out here in the country where it was installed. It most likely was a propane gas heater. All you have to do is drive around these roads and you’ll see those propane tanks at many houses. Sometimes the houses are long gone, and an old rusted tank is all that is left to prove that there once was a house there. We still have one hooked up to the old farmhouse and it provides heat for the hot water heater and stove. I’m all electric where I live, but that’s another story. For years that rusted out old water heater provided hot water for countless baths, countless and tasty meals, and a more comfortable way to shave for the men of the house.

            But, like everything in life, it eventually got old. It likely labored for years past its life expectancy, but eventually it just died. Maybe a descendant of the original owner of the house was tasked with replacing it. I hope not. Maybe somebody who came along and bought the old house had to get rid of the thing. I have no idea where it once did its duty and who unceremoniously threw it over the side of that old iron bridge. I’m sure it took two men to do the job. Although, I once met a plumber who was a regular Grizzly Adams standing 6’ 5” tall with a big bushy beard and arms that must have gone missing from a long-ago side-show strong man. We were having our hot water heater replaced when I was about 18 years old and I witnessed that guy take hold of our old water heater in a great ole big bear hug and take it out to his truck to be disposed of in a landfill somewhere.

            All of these things were going through my mind today when I drove across that bridge and saw the rusted water heater down below. I also started to think about we humans. We started off all shiny and new on the day we are born. But eventually our bodies wear out. Boy do I know about my body wearing out! What if when we die our “loved ones” took our dead bodies down to a bridge and just threw us in the water below? Well, I suppose its true that we wouldn’t know about it, but it sure would be a problem for those still alive. Can you imagine driving over a bridge and looking down on the decomposing body of Uncle George for a time? And who’s that Uncle George is on top of? Ooh, its that mean old Mr. Dadnabit who died a week before Uncle George did. Can you imagine how ripe Uncle George and Mr. Dadnabit would get for a while? And what about the fact that the water in that creek would get polluted from the decomposing bodies. Remember, that creek feeds into another creek which then feeds into a very large creek that eventually empties into Lake Livingston. Kids play in the lake. People ski in the lake. Heck, some of that pollution probably sinks into the soil and gets into the water table from which many wells are supplying homes with “fresh” water for cooking and bathing.

            What I guess I’m saying is that tossing that old hot water heater into the creek was a really dumb thing to do. Hey, and it sure doesn’t go with the old couch down there either! So, I guess I’m saying we all need to do our best not to add to the pollution of our water by carelessly tossing old appliances, dilapidated furniture, household garbage, and other things that don’t belong there. I know how much trouble it is to dispose of these things when you live out in the country. You have to load it into a vehicle and haul it to a landfill many miles away. But isn’t that what we should do? I know that when my old body finally dies, I won’t be dumped down in that creek. There are severe penalties for doing something like that! There are also penalties for dumping things like that old water heater. If someone is caught, then they can end up paying a stiff fine. But even if they aren’t caught, they will pay with polluted water. That’s just not very smart. So, let’s all do our part. I’m not some kind of nut who chains himself to a tree to keep from having the tree cut down. But I do care about how I treat the land and how I’ll leave it when I’m gone. I want my grandkids to enjoy the land as much as I have. Is that so bad? Well, I’ll get off my soapbox now. I think I’ll go take a hot shower. At least for a few moments my arthritic bones feel pretty good when I get in that hot water. Hey, I’ll even sing a song for you. How about “Why Don’t You Treat Me Like You Used to Do” by Hank Williams, Sr.?

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