On the creek bank, my sister and I learned about sociology the old-fashioned way, by inventing our own tribe known as the Mudslinger Indians. We studied social mores and customs by crafting our own culture from the mud up. We thought deeply about family units, government and economics. We learned the importance of currency, and why it must not be too abundant or too scarce. We found that domestic mud-slinging escalates the tension it is supposed to relieve, but that bands of marauders (otherwise known as brothers and neighbor boys) must be addressed by a unified force.
On the creek bank, I learned that non-actions also have consequences. When I failed to count the cows, I failed to discover that a small calf was missing. We found him later, his small hooves stuck in the clay and the water up to his neck. In the barn I spent hours warming him with lights and blankets before he was strong enough to stand.
On the creek bank, I learned to improvise. When my brother refused to let me borrow his fishing pole, I fashioned my own from a stick of bamboo, a length of dental floss and a safety pin. I laughed as I drew a slick, undulating sunfish out of the cold waters. A young Cambodian neighbor taught me how to build a fire, clean the fish, and roast my small meal till the white flesh flaked off the bone like feathers.
On the creek bank, I learned that actions speak louder than words. One amazing summer, my brother stopped teasing me long enough to build me the world’s greatest tree house. It was a stilt-house, standing high on four sturdy legs overlooking the very best fishing hole on the property. I held the boards while he nailed them, sweat glistening in his red hair.
On the creek bank, I learned that bravery is not the absence of fear, but the will to confront it. Tired of being scared of the dark, I grabbed a blanket and a lantern and made for the tree house. I lay on my back, hearing every rustle, gurgle and chirp uttered in the darkness. I stayed all night — mostly because I was paralyzed with fear. But I knew I would never again let the darkness be a wall.
On the creek bank, I learned the important things in life. Sure, my childhood memories include the standard files: school corridors, embarrassing moments, the sighing of a big yellow school bus, and the crackle of Christmas wrapping paper. Yet my real classroom was on the creek bank, for it was there I learned about love, life and laughter.
Jeannie Babb is a Ringgold native. You can find her on FaceBook or pedaling a neon green bike through the Sewanee fog to the School of Theology, black academic gown billowing behind like a sail. Send email to email@example.com.