This is the story I wrote for my personal history group today. It's not edited but it's late and I need to go to bed so here it is:
A troll lived under the wooden bridge that led to Aunt Dee’s house. If we got too close to the edge he would grab our ankles and drag us under. We walked exactly in the middle of the bridge but there were cracks between some of the planks. Could the troll reach his fingers through the cracks and grab me? I wondered.
I stood on the side of the bridge for a long time, trying to figure out the exact middle. I marked it with a rock and put my feet on each side. I held my breath, counted to ten and ran. I screamed inside my head all the way across. I would have screamed out loud but my older sisters would have laughed at me. I have never been an out-loud screamer for fear of being a fool. So much we stifle in ourselves, perhaps, for fear of what others will think of us.
Pat and Julie did not run across the bridge, but walked, sedately, as if life under the bridge with the Troll was not something to worry about. By the time I was ready to cross they were already in Aunt Dee’s house and wouldn’t know if I trapped by the horrid Troll.
Sometimes I would ask them to hold my hand but then they walked in the middle of the bridge, leaving me a body’s width closer to the edge. Would they hold on tight if the Troll grabbed or would they just wave goodbye and say things like, “Our poor little sister, has to live under the bridge now.”
The canal the bridge spanned was a wicked thing. At least to a little girl it was wicked. I had heard the story of when my sister, Julie, who, at age two, played to close to the edge and fell in. She was swept downstream—or down canal. My sister Pat ran along the bank until she got to a culvert. Just as Julie was going to be swept under Pat grabbed Julie’s dress and pulled her out of the water.
Pat dragged her sobbing, stumbling sister into Aunt Dee’s house. Mom was so upset that all she could do was scold Julie, “Look what you did! You ruined your brand new shoes.” Then she scolded Pat, “How could you let your sister ruin her shoes, like that?”
Years later Mom apologized to both Julie and Pat. “I was so upset, thinking my little girl could have drowned, that I focused on her shoes so I wouldn’t have to think what might have happened.” Thus the story of the Troll began. If we were afraid of the Troll we would stay away from the canal. It worked, but maybe I am psychologically damaged. Permanently. Probably not, but it amuses me to blame a Troll for my damagedness.
The canal had long, green moss, waving in the water but we were told not to try and fish it out, not even with a stick. Not even with a long stick that was practically a whole tree branch and would surely be safe. Anyway, after Danny--Aunt Dee's only boy, a year older than I was-- and I fished the moss out with our long, safe tree branch the moss flattened into an ugly, slimy mess. We threw it back into the water and then threw the tree branch in after it. A farmer had to come and fish the branch out as it eventually collected debris, which restricted the water flow to his fields. We looked at him innocently. Or dumbly, I’m not sure which. We were both older by then and the prospect of the Troll was not threatening but the farmer might have been.
The canal was part of my life as long as I lived in Annabella. I gathered Potawatomi plums with Pam, my best friend and other girls, supposedly so our mother’s could make jam but I don’t remember bringing any home. I think we just said we were going to bring them home so we could ease our conscience about stealing the fruit from the canal. It was shady under the Potawatomi trees and we sat and sucked on the sour fruit, lying to each other, saying the fruit was delicious.
We floated on the canal on inner tubes but the water was so slow moving that it wasn’t much of a thrill. Besides that you could only float one block and then there was a bridge to be dealt with. It ended up too much trouble to try and lazily float when we had to get out and drag our inner tube with us every block.
Mom told me that when she and Aunt Dee and Aunt Lill were little girls they would jump into the canal and their dresses would pouf up like balloons and float on the water. But we were discouraged from swimming in the canal because we could get stuck with barbed wired or submerged sticks and get an infection.
We much preferred the river, where even more danger from infection was available. The river was also slow moving but made beautiful sand banks that we pretended were islands. If a dead cow happened to float down the river we climbed up on the bank until it passed. I remember doing that, watching the cow float by, all four legs sticking in the air, and then getting back into the bacteria-water and swimming.
But that’s a story for another day and involves inner tubes and sunbathing in our bras. So risqué in those days. So deliciously fun, or so we told ourselves. So sunburned at the end of the day. And finally, so not worth it.