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Friday, 04 May 2007

Back to the River of Dreams

By Mick Brady of The Blog Brothers and Dancing in Tongues

Hudsonice It was known as Muh-he-kun-ne-tuk to the Mahicans, who had been there long before us, and as the mighty Hudson to others; we, obviously, preferred the Mahican name. Many of the adventures which took place along and above those riverbanks have already been faithfully recounted, but very few of those exploits actually occurred on the river. Fortunately, there is one simple, beautiful memory which begs revisiting; one which, thinking about it today, it seems so long ago and so far away, I find myself wondering if it really happened at all.

I can still see the four of us (me, you, Jackie and Teddy) in Aunt Madeleine's kitchen after dinner on a deep winter's night in January, somewhere in the early fifties. We are bubbling over with excitement as we prepare to head out into the bitter cold for an adventure we had been anticipating for days. We wrestle ourselves into just enough clothing to make it possible to stay warm and still be able to move, then put on our ice skates.

Jackie has decided that the river is frozen through; the ice is now safe and smooth enough for us to travel, by the light of a full moon, downriver several miles to visit a place that until now had been kept hidden from us, a place they had been hinting at for days, a place that only a few people on earth even knew about. We were going to visit old Tracy's cabin.

Gliding on the moonlit surface of one of America's great rivers was magic enough, but when the starry silence was ruptured by a New York Central express train thundering along the banks just a hundred feet away, it was a moment of surpassing awe. Passengers traveling upstate from Manhattan could be seen through the steamy windows of a dining car as it raced past us in the night. We stood for a moment in the moonlight, hardly able to speak, then skated on in silence.

Frozenleaf After some distance we came upon a marshy area along the riverbank, frozen into the ice and dusted with new fallen snow. A small, squat wooden building sat tucked into the shore, hard by the railroad tracks, a warm glow from the windows reflected on the icy river, tufts of smoke rising from a makeshift metal chimney in the roof. In spite of the frigid temperature, our race downriver had made us surprisingly warm. Someone must have heard us crunching up the riverbank, and when the door opened, we entered another world, another time.

Inside that shack was the magic of times gone by, and the old black man in the overalls who shared it all with us that night, for all I knew, could have been Uncle Remus, or Dan'l, the ex-slave who taught Mark Twain how to tell a good story. There was a glow in that room, and it wasn't just the pot-bellied stove or the kerosene lanterns. After taking off our coats and sweaters, we settled in around the fire for a night of story-telling, as if in a dream. Sipping hot tea and brandy, we sat and listened to tale upon tale of Tracy's long life on the railroad and the river. We passed around faded photos of downtown Albany underwater in the Great Flood of 1913, of horse-drawn liveries arriving at Union Station; we witnessed train following train, carrying long-gone friends, rich and poor.

Then, suddenly, Tracy stood up and said, "Ok, time fo' the likrish stick!". While this sounded like a great idea to me at the time, I noticed that Jackie and Teddy were trying desperately to keep from laughing, so I became a little apprehensive. Tracy then went to a cupboard and brought out a long, black, shiny stick and handed it to me with an air of mock gravity and a twinkle in his eye. "Go 'head, take a lick," he said. With no way out, I closed my eyes and ran my tongue tenuously along the "likrish stick", and as I did, the room filled with laughter. Opening my eyes, I said, "What's so damned funny?" "That's a bull's dick!", came the reply, and then more laughter. I had been initiated into Tracy's river family, one of the most elite clubs in the world.

Skates I don't remember skating back up the river that night, but I'm sure when we finally got to bed I sank into my pillow with a little bluebird on my shoulder, singing lullabies in my ear as I drifted off to yet another dreamland. Once again, it seemed, we had stepped out of the twentieth century into another time and come back to tell the tale. By the way, it's stories like this that have caused my kids to think I grew up in the Little House on the Prairie. Sometimes I think they just might be right.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:28 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Wonderful story telling. It is so beautifully written that I can see the river and feel the excitement of the adventure. The humor of the "likrish stick" adds to the enjoyment of reading this story. I wish I could write like that and I would give this story an A+.

I felt the cold of the ice and the warmth of the stove. Good story!

Yup. The magic of skating in the moonlight. I can almost hear the scrape of skates on the ice.
Beautiful!

Oh the memories of our town ice skating rinks....hadn't thought about them in a long time Mick....thanks. Beautiful post.

It's a cold night here in Ohio. I reached back for a warm story and this icy one fit the bill. Traditions are one of the adhesives of life. This was a great memory for you to share.

I'm ready to skate but not to join any clubs. lol

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