By Lynne Mathews Abensohn
There’s a river that runs deep through my mind.
When I was a kid growing up in Rhode Island, the river was just a stone’s throw from my back porch. Instinctively, I knew about rivers and the places they could take me. From the time I could walk, I'd go down our aptly named street, “River Street,” past my Grandfather’s business, through a field of high grasses, by slabs of shimmering, granite river barriers, and down to the shores of the deep, dark, flowing river which made our street a dead end. But to me, it was never a dead end. It was the Blackstone. It was the place where my cousins and I often played cowboys & Indians and cops & robbers, but mostly, we played pirates. Real pirates naturally lived and worked on rivers and high seas and our river was perfectly located to host them. It was our world—deep, murky and mysterious, and there were no adults watching us. Any time of day, we'd saunter down the embankment, through ferns and cat o nine tails, down to the shallows. We'd then walk across broken muddy planks and uneven stones to get to our secret island, where neither friend nor foe could find us, or our treasures. And we fished. We fished near the island where it smelled of sweet honeysuckle and mildly decayed vegetation. We'd bring our fishing gear—plain old nylon fishing lines with dobber, hook, and lead sinker. We'd find a good fishing spot, pull out the green plastic square of wrapped line from our back pockets, unravel a good amount of it, and let it drop into the weeds below near our dampened sneakers. Then we'd grab the line above the small red and white dobber, flip it up with our left hand, grab it quickly with our right, and spin, and spin, and spin with enough speed to toss the line out into deeper, faster waters where we could see the iridescence of the jumping, redbreast sunfish. Sometimes we caught an old shoe, piece of bicycle chain, or a clump of weeds. But most of the time, we caught catfish or sunfish. When we caught a real fish, we pretended to cook and eat it. However, we always threw it back into the muddy waters because everyone knew the Blackstone was polluted from years of mill debris and waste. We didn’t want to eat dirty fish. That never stopped us pirates from fishing, though. We were on a mission. Once you went fishing, you understood. Nothing could explain the fluttering in your chest when you saw that dobber moving up and down and felt that sharp tug on your line from down below. You knew there was some sort of living creature latching on, waiting for you to reel it in. And once you reeled it in, no matter how large or small a catch you had, it just filled you up with pure joy. We’d yell out in delight, “Caught a big one! Feels like a shark. Maybe a great barracuda!” And yet, being a pirate was always unpredictable downriver. I’ll never forget the time cousin Joellyn got a fish hook stuck in her hand while baiting a thick squirmy nightcrawler. Instead of baiting the worm, she deeply hooked the palm of her left hand. I knew how hard it was to yank a hook out of a fish’s mouth. I cringed, not at the pain she must have felt when the hook went in, but at the idea of how she would have to push it further into her flesh until it came out the other side before snipping off the barb with pliers. And then she would have to pull the hook all the way back out at the place where it went in. Ugh. But a few days later, my cousin Joellyn was back at the secret island with me and our little cousins catching frogs to add to our tasty pirate stew. It didn’t take long to get back to the brackish waters. No one ever said being a pirate was easy, but one thing was certain. There was always another adventure waiting for us on the shores of the Blackstone.
Lynne Mathews Abensohn grew up in Rhode Island and attended college in Boston. She has lived in many places around the world for short stints of time. Currently, Lynne lives in Newton, MA where she teaches marketing, history, and hospitality at a Japanese University.