I grew up on Bear Creek Road.
Back then we knew it only as HH highway. Today I reside on the same property I lived my entire life as a child. Bear Creek Road is about 10 miles north of Branson. Our family lived in a small home, about 1,000 square feet with three small bedrooms and one bathroom. Five of us kids packed two of the bedrooms (my sister in one and us four boys in the other), with Mom and Dad in the bedroom right across from us. Until my sister was a teenager none of our bedrooms had doors! Finally, Sis, after asking Dad over and over for a bedroom door, went and bought the door herself. Then finally Dad agreed to install it!
We never owned a pool. We lived too far from Table Rock Lake on hot summer days. We used empty Ivory dish soap containers for squirt guns or grabbed the hose and doused each other until we got yelled at for wasting our spring water.
But we had Bear Creek.
Bear Creek flowed gently about three miles from our home going downhill on HH. Of course, after heavy rains Bear Creek became an angry torrent of foam and splash, carving up the gravel bar and reshaping itself. On hot summer days for a special treat, we would all load into the back of Dad’s truck and head for the always cold, clear flowing stream. Cindy would usually sit up front with Mom and Dad, and us boys would navigate the back of the truck, always leery and watchful for Dad’s flying tobacco juice. A direct hit would elicit a cry from the victim, and a smirk from Dad.
When I say we swam at Bear Creek that’s not really accurate, because at its deepest point the water usually stood about waist deep when I was seven years old. So, you basically splashed around and pretended you were swimming, while your knees and feet dug into the gravel.
Dad would bring a bar of soap and towel and strip to his blue or while boxers, lather up and clean up. As kids we got weekly baths. Dad’s baths were mostly at Bear Creek, and we didn’t go there weekly, so we all secretly rejoiced seeing Dad with suds in his hair and back.
Sometimes we enjoyed family gatherings with relatives and neighbors at Bear Creek. We enjoyed cheap Shasta, Always Good or Vess-flavored sodas in the can, Mom’s famous fried chicken, watermelon, and a nice roaring fire on the gravel back off the creek. Adults would bring lawn chairs to swap stories and memories of yesteryear while us kids would shoot bottle rockets in the creek, catch small suckers to roast over the fire. (They were not very tasty.) We would also look for snakes and crawdads. We enjoyed many epic crawdad fights. Truth be told, I never liked catching crawdads. I envisioned a mean one jumping out of the water suddenly and pinching my eyeball. Grandpa would sometimes set up old cans on the bank on the far side of the creek, and we would try to hit them with rocks. Grandpa was dead-on. He could have been another Walter Johnson.
I remember the time my brother drove us boys down to the creek by ourselves with our neighbor Larry Allen. While there we noticed an abandoned mattress left on the gravel bar. We lifted the mattress and jumped back as a large Cottonmouth raised up and hissed at us, showcasing its milky white mouth. The poor snake was pelted with stones like Stephen in the Bible.
At a young age I remember us taking old metal water tanks in the back of the truck to the creek to siphon water when our spring had run dry from summer drought. It always amazed me watching Dad suck on the hose and then magically water started flowing from the creek through the hose to the tanks.
In all our trips to the creek my parents made sure we cleaned up and brought home all our trash. Sadly, years ago the owners of the land around Bear Creek closed off access to our regular spot because other visitors left broken beer bottles and trash strewn across the gravel bar, with the wind blowing paper trash into the creek. So, I don’t blame the landowners. It’s just sad to see that precious tradition gone.
The trips to Bear Creek were our primary “vacations” growing up. We didn’t know any different. We just enjoyed being with each other and nature, exploring the waters and rocks, hoping to find an arrowhead or piece of gold. My imagination had me swimming for Olympic Gold, while knees and feet drug the gravel bar. Minnows became hungry piranhas, rock skipping became the newest Olympic sport, and the cool breeze from the creek eased sunburned backs and legs.
They were glorious times.
I’m sad I didn’t take my own kids to Bear Creek when they were younger. Instead, we bought an above ground pool from Wal Mart, filled it with chemicals, invited our boys’ friends over, and had some fun memories until the Ozark Mountain rocks rose from the depths of the earth to puncture hundreds of tiny holes in the bottom of the pool. The pool is now a patio.
The pool, while nice, was tame compared to the mighty ankle to waist deep waters of Bear Creek. I wish we would have spent more time exploring, wrestling with minnows and large logs disguised as pythons, sitting around a fire listening to the evening whippoorwills and frog orchestras, telling stories of when we came to Bear Creek.
God gave us great places like Bear Creek to help us slow down, relax, and refresh. Lord knows we need more of this in today’s world.
What creeks or other places of nature bring back special memories to you?