COLUMBUS, OHIO’S RIVER RATS KIDS©
By Linda Lee Greene, January 17, 2019
We were called “River Rats” when I was a kid. That’s because West Second Avenue in our distinctly blue-collar, family-oriented neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio marched right up to the raised east bank of the Scioto River, as it still does, and we spent much of our playtime at the river. We gained access to it most easily on pathways on both sides of the Third Avenue Bridge that spanned it, as it does to this day. In what we called “Fly Town,” and today is officially “Harrison West,” the blue-collar ambiance has transformed to an upwardly-mobile vibe, as most of the remaining houses and apartment buildings of the area have undergone slick renovations. During the last couple of decades, large numbers of them were torn down to make way for stylish row-houses and condos, inhabited primarily by young, childless professionals on view profusely on weekends jogging the blacktop-paved streets. I visited my old stomping grounds not long ago and was heartened to find that the street in front of the house where I lived for the nine years of my childhood beginning at the age of six and ending at the age of fifteen was still comprised of its timeworn original bricks.
I snapped a few photos while I was there, and then sat in my car as old memories swept over me. I recalled that back before agricultural and urban-generated pollutants and other development threats made the water unsafe for wading and swimming, seining for crawdads in the river at its shallow points under the bridge was a daily task on hot summer days for us kids. Principally, it was a male-oriented activity, but once in a while the boys stooped to allowing us girls a go at it. Females wore skirts and dresses, and rarely shorts then, and I remember well kicking off my shoes and pulling the hem of my full-skirted garment between my legs and tucking it up and into its waistband and wading gratefully into the rapids of the waterway. The goal for us girls was cooling off and impressing the boys with our willingness to participate in their labor, even though once the crustaceans were caught in the seining net, we wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole. Part of the fun for the boys was eliciting squeals of horror from us girls when they scraped the icky, writhing things out of the nets and chased us up the riverbank with them.
Shivers of dismay prick my spine now when I think of the many times a gang of us inched our way into the tunnel beneath the bridge. It seemed then never to end as it bore east under West Third Avenue, but surely it is a judgment influenced by the outsized imagination of an adolescent girl. It was dark and teemed with mold, filth, and acrid leavings of the homeless who made of it their toilet and even their nighttime dwelling. We never saw them, though, as homelessness was uncommon back then—at least it was the case in our corner of the world.
We lived on the kid-friendly streets then—not that they weren’t frequented by cars, but there was a kind of unspoken contract between us kids and drivers that allowed us full access to the streets as our playgrounds. Hardly ever were any of us kids holed up in our houses, unless we were sick or grounded. After school until dark, and summer vacations from early morning ‘til sundown, we gave those bricks on the streets a workout. Kick the can, hide and seek, Cowboys and Indians, jump rope, marbles, jacks, hopscotch—splashing in rain puddles—riding bikes, climbing trees, picking through trashcans in the alleys—sledding, snowball fighting, building snowmen and igloos, and on and on, the pastimes were endless no matter the season, or the weather conditions. Never was there a boring moment, or a longing for a friend.
Columbus, Oho, USA, and multi-award-winning author, Linda Lee Greene has authored and published four books. All of them are available worldwide in eBook and soft cover at online booksellers. Her latest novel, CRADLE OF THE SERPENT (goo.gl/i3UkAV) was designated as a finalist in the 2018 American Fiction Awards Competition. It was also awarded a 5 Star Review by Readers’ Favorites. In addition, she was the winner of the 2018 Peter Hills Memorial Writing Competition. Scheduled for release in early 2019 is her novel, A CHANCE AT THE MOON. It will be available in soft cover and eBook at Amazon.com and other online booksellers. An extensive exhibition of Greene’s artwork can be viewed at www.gallery-llgreene.com.