The River

There isn’t any place on the planet that I would rather be than exactly where I am at this exact moment…sitting on the front porch at our family’s river cabin down here in Georgia. My wife says it’s unfair to call it a cabin because after 30 years and a handful of renovations, it’s really more of a house now, but all I know is that when I was about 3 years old, my father paid $7500 for a two-bedroom, tin-roofed CABIN. My wife is also prone to remind me that anyone with any sense would also lose the “river” part and just call it what it is, a ”lake house.” Which makes sense to the casual observer since, well, it is technically on a lake. But if you want to get technical about it, it’s technically a reservoir, and last I checked reservoirs are TECHNICALLY just dammed up rivers. So, as far as I’m concerned, it will always be known as it has always been known (at least to my family), the RIVER CABIN. My grandmother, Nonnie, made up a song that we would sing as kids on the way to the river from town…it’s a clever little tune creatively titled…you ready for this…“We’re Goin’ to the River.” (Perhaps that was the beginning of my own journey towards songwriting…inspired by the deep and introspective rhyming of words like “sun” and “fun”). So seriously, would Roshare really have me turn my back on something like that…on the very words of my late grandmother? After all, the song wasn’t called “We’re Goin’ to the Lake House.” When my dad bought this place back in 1976, it really was the true definition of a cabin – there was no real running water, only a pump that pumped water from the river up a long black hosepipe that lead under the cabin and into the toilets and the two sinks (yes, we had toilets…still do, in fact). Lord knows you didn’t want to brush your teeth with any of that water, but believe it or not, we did. My parents did, however, know well enough to forbid us from drinking any of it, so one of my least favorite chores as a kid was hauling the dozens of Nehi Soda jugs filled with fresh water from home into the cabin from the car. Now that I think about it, we also had a rusted out metal shower in the bathroom fed with the same river water, but I can’t really remember anyone except my grandmother ever using it. My father always kept a bar of Ivory soap on the dock near the shallow end so we all just bathed in the river. The good thing about Ivory Soap is that it floats, which comes in handy when it inevitably slipped from your hands it into the muddy river water (lake water, whatever). And even though most of you probably think of Georgia as a really backwoods place, it wasn’t like the whole family got naked and took baths in the river together…we all kept our bathing suits on – giving literality to the term. And the truth is, it’s a ritual that all these years later, despite the ever-available accoutrements like indoor plumbing, I’ve been unwilling to give up on…much to my wife’s chagrin. Another one of my least favorite chores as a kid was picking up literally tens of thousands of pinecones in the yard with my brother and sisters – we had a father-enforced 30-minute pinecone pick-up every weekend we were here (and that included any friends that we might have brought with us). And even though we dumped wheelbarrows full of pinecones onto the burn pile, I SWEAR there were more on the ground when we finished than when we started. My father would disagree, but I think it was just a cruel joke he and God were playing on us. The hard part was dodging the nettles (little white flowers that had itchy thorns on them) with our bare feet. You’d think we would have learned to put shoes on, but as far as I was concerned, shoes and shirts didn’t exist when you were at the river. My dad decided one summer that he wanted grass in the yard instead of all rocks and pine straw, so he made a deal with our neighbor Mr. Haynes for my older brother and I to dig up sprigs of St. Augustine from his yard and transplant them into ours. So on my father’s prodding, Chris and I would head to Mr. Haynes place every Saturday that summer each armed with a 5-Gallon Buckets and a 9-inch steel tree spike. We would use the tree spikes to dig up the sprigs of grass by the roots one-by-one and then throw them in our buckets until they were full, then head back to our place to reverse the process. My dad and Mr. Haynes insisted that St. Augustine was some sort of a “runner-grass” that would spread out over time and we’d have a beautiful full lawn, but as far as my brother and I were concerned it was like trying to put out a house fire one spoonful of water at a time – just another exercise in futility that we were certain my dad and Mr. Haynes had cooked up just to get a good laugh. After Hurricane Opal came through back in the early 90’s my dad and I planted a handful of Maple trees to replace the two-dozen or so pines that we lost in the storm. By that time I was old enough to actually enjoy the idea of doing work with my hands, and especially doing that sort of work alongside my father. My brother, my dad, and I built the docks here as well – they’ve since been resurfaced many times over, but several of the old creosote posts that we planted in the lakebed over 25 years ago are still in place. The retaining wall that we built out of old railroad crossties and the old boathouse have both long since been replaced as well, but I can still remember the songs on the radio that we sang to and drinking water from those Nehi jugs when we’d take a break and sit in the shade for a few minutes. At the time, I remember feeling like so many of those jobs were torture, and the truth is, it really was hard work for a little kid. But I also remember feeling more like a man than a little kid sweating and working there next to my big brother and doing what little I could to help my dad hold a two-by-four in place. I’m notorious to this day for telling all those stories over and over again to anyone who comes here to stay with us…it usually happens when we go out for our daily sunset boat ride so if you happen to be one of the unfortunate souls who picks a seat back near the captains chair you get an earful whether you like it or not. The really amazing thing is that I can ride up and down this river and point out an old stone retaining wall here or a boathouse there that my dad built with his dad back when he was just a kid. I never got to meet my father’s father, but when I can see with my own eyes a thing or two that he built, that are still standing after all this time, it makes me feel proud to be his grandson. And oddly enough, telling those stories makes me feel like he’d be proud of me too. I think part of what I love so much about this place is that there are stories everywhere I look. I feel more a part of this place than anywhere else I’ve been in this world. I feel more at peace here than anywhere else. And I think it’s because I am literally IN this place. Just like my big brother. And my father. And his father.

My 3-year old son, Smith, just came out on the porch with me because he wanted me to “hold you” for a few minutes before he went down for his nap. And as I looked out at our old silver wood docks running out from a beautiful lawn thick with St. Augustine and shaded by fully grown Maples, I kept thinking how much I hope he can come here someday and tell stories about the things that he built and the things that he planted with his father.

16 Responses

  • Tweets that mention The River | Bebo Norman -- wrote on April 6, 2010

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bebo Norman. Bebo Norman said: new blog up - [...]

  • Kim wrote on April 6, 2010

    Bebo - maybe you should write a book. I love the author Charles Martin. I think you would too. Check him out sometime.

  • Joni B. wrote on April 6, 2010

    As we already know, you have a wonderful way with words. Thanks for sharing your special place... your vivid wordsmithing helps me feel the grass under my feet, the soap slip from my hands and a gentle Georgia breeze as it whooshes through the maples...

  • Raymond wrote on April 6, 2010

    Fantastic insight. I love the fact that you used the term "hosepipe". That's such a Southern thing.

  • Luke Carter wrote on April 20, 2010

    Bebo the storyteller! Where is the cabin in Georgia? A county would be sufficient....

  • Chad wrote on July 1, 2010

    Funny, we have a lot of the same memories. My parents have a place right by yours on the point. Next time I kayak by your dock I am going to look for that Soap. We still take "baths" in the river too just cause it is fun. Thanks for sharing your stories.

  • Heather Dawn wrote on July 4, 2010

    The end made me tear up a bit. I love reading your writing, I laugh and imagine you telling it with such fervor as if I was sitting there listening. Bravo, Bebo.

  • Isaac wrote on July 30, 2010

    Loved the father-son tradition you wrote about. Reminded me of what John Eldridge wrote in 'Fathered By God' about the importance of being fathered through doing everyday stuff together, which was a great read.

  • improve vision wrote on September 1, 2010

    amazing stuff thanx

  • Sheila Anderson wrote on September 1, 2010

    Bebo - It is time to write that book - call it "At Home With Bebo" or "Getting Down to Our Roots". Sorry you are not coming to Houston this time - I would have loved to see you. All my love and prayers - love the new CD! Sheila Anderson Houston - Sweeny, Tx - your oldest fan

  • Maia Nebred wrote on September 12, 2010

    good read nice site

  • Hollie Donisi wrote on November 10, 2010

    Bebo, I bought your CD with I Will Lift My Eyes,3 years ago. I did not play but the one song. After 3years of tilt-a-whirl and roller coaster rides in life changes, I put it on and have continued replaying it. In each season of our life God sends someone to speak to our heart and He sent your words. It was the quality of your voice and the honesty of emotion that reverberated within my soul. I DO intend to increase my Bebo cd collection. Reading your written words at times are like rereading my hit & miss journals. Our God is awesome! Thank you for sharing the gift He gave you.

  • oseni omozojie wrote on November 20, 2010

    impressive for i read .cherers.oseni omozojie

  • Brenda K King wrote on December 1, 2010

    Thank you for the stories of your life. I am a Northwestern Pennsylvania country girl and I love the great outdoors, water, mountains, cabins.... It was a pleasure to read about your family. Blessings!

  • aguavert wrote on October 6, 2013

    Hi, Glad to hear you're doing so well Arielle, I've been waiting for an update! Ugh, beer spilling dancers are the worst!

  • friv 8 wrote on June 27, 2014

    Your story and everything happening what we can learn from when you were small for the stars. Everything looks good.

Leave a Reply