Feel free to read, to laugh with me, to cry when appropriate, and to, as Lil’ Abner (whom I quote often) says “angrify” if it fits.
When We Cross Over
By Homer Hirt
I grew up in Chattahoochee, Florida, a small town that overlooks the confluence of the Chattahoochee, Flint and Apalachicola Rivers. The Florida State Hospital is there. It had once been a fort in the time of the American Civil War. The largest employer, other that the Hospital, was Florida Gravel Company.
Florida Gravel Company was formed when the State called for bids to construct a bridge across the Apalachicola, and a shrewd Yankee came down from Ohio, found that the alluvial flow of the rivers had brought down quartz and flint rock and fine sand that was ideal for heavy construction. He bid and won and formed Florida Gravel Company. The bridge was completed in 1923, opening that area of Florida to automobile traffic.
I was born in 1929 and grew up in Chattahoochee. Until we were expected to work we boys had great experiences, mostly connected with the forests and the rivers. The best of times seemed to be when I was between the ages of nine and twelve. Here is how one of my days would go back then.
In the summer two or three of us boys would walk down to the river landing. Our favorite route carried us north on Morgan Avenue, west alongside Highway 90 and then, bearing off a side road, down to the river landing. We would pass the busy Florida Gravel Company operation, and out in front of the owner’s home would await Mike.
Mike was probably the most beautiful dog I have ever seen. He was an Irish setter, long russet hair, always with a big smile on his face and immaculately groomed. The grooming did not last long.
Mike would fall in with us, tail wagging, jumping with joy with great expectations of a day filled with fun at the landing. He would usually lead the way, looking back to hurry us along, and then he would hit the clear, cool water and swim out and back, and we would be close behind him.
After a time of fetching sticks, we threw for him, we would collapse on the white, quartz sand, and laugh and tumble with him. If there was an old bateaux there, one that had been abandoned, we would resurrect it, and, using boards for paddles and with Mike standing watch in the bow, our adventures would carry us upstream until we tired. Then we would swim back to the landing.
Occasionally we would be fortunate, and a slow-moving work boat, usually from the gravel company, would give us a ride up to the “point”, the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers. There we would dive off and, properly escorted by our canine companion, float back to the landing.
At noon or thereabouts we shared our lunches with Mike. A couple of sandwiches, made of light bread and maybe a slice of meat or a dab of peanut butter, and on occasion a cold baked sweet potato or a hard-boiled egg would divide quite well between boys and dog. A nap in the shade was appropriate afterwards.
The shadows would grow long, though, and we would reluctantly head for home. Mike would walk with us, then go to his door, with one last grin at his human friends. His coat would be matted and dirty, but he would always be clean and neat the next morning. I would put him, in those days, up against any dog at Westminster Dog Trials, and bet on Mike coming out as “Best in Show”.
I don’t know what happened to Mike in his later years. I do know that the rest of us found other interests, and went on to “people” careers, but none that gave us what we had found in those days alongside the river banks at Chattahoochee.
There is a poem called “The Rainbow Bridge”. It describes a beautiful meadow where our pets of the past await us, whole and young. When you arrive, one will look around and greet you joyously and you will walk together over the bridge to everlasting happiness.
I hope that, when I arrive there, and that time will not be too far away for me, Mike will be waiting, and his coat will be combed and shiny. We will walk across together, and find a river landing, laved by clear, pure water, and we will play and laugh and share lunches and remember good times… times that, from then on out… will never end for me and for Mike.