Great Granny and I stood on the raised walkway that connected the back porch to the car port. We watched as the brown water juggled sticks and whole limbs, their wooden fingers still clutching clumps of leaves. Occasionally, a pair of odd hubcaps clanged to the surface. Once, an old plastic Halloween bucket sloshed out of the frothy waves, its painted jack-o-lantern face grinning like a fool.
"The water's on the rise when the debris floats down the middle," Great Granny said. She called it 'deb-riss,' pronouncing the "s."
We were quiet as we watched the garish parade of flotsam rolling dead center down the North Fork.
The river never flooded Galley Street, though it climbed the banks and menaced us, jerking saplings off the side of the hill below Great Granny's house, leaving Papaw's garden covered in a layer of sludge.
"I learned how to swim in the river," Great Granny told me. "My brother threw me in and said, 'Swim or drown.' Right away, I began to drown."
"What happened, Granny?" I asked.
"Same brother who threw me in reached out a fist and grabbed my braid." She stopped and tugged my braided pigtails.
"He dragged me by the hair back to the river bank. He nearly killed me, but he saved my life. I'd be dead if not for this head of hair." She patted the thick coil of snow white hair pinned in a low bun at the nape of her neck.
I imagined the river, pulling at Great Granny's legs while her brother pulled her ponytail...a game of tug o' war, with Great Granny as the prize.
The river was our moody neighbor, lazy and handsome one day, ugly and fierce the next. He was not to be trusted, wielding the power to baptize or drown.
We watched him that day, spitting white caps. We were half disgusted and half awestruck. He churned the debris madly, yet methodically, revealing an empty milk jug, a kitchen chair with two legs missing. He waved what looked like a plastic red-checked tablecloth. He was a bullfighter, tempting us to charge.
We watched silently as our neighbor the river rolled past, showing off the trash that had become his treasure.