Midway into second grade we moved to the outskirts of town....new school, new house and a creek. Oh yeah...a creek. Wild and woolly, through the ages Joe Creek had carved out the perfect proving ground for three young boys. There wasn’t much water in it most of the time, but the carving was deep and wide, full of mature oaks, cottonwoods and small game of all sorts. Armed with Daisy Red Riders, my brothers Bruce and Tom and I made the creek our private preserve. Saturday mornings were the best. Rising at dawn I would pack a peanut butter sandwich, grab my canteen, my trusty BB gun and head out for a day of shooting. Mom and Dad had a rule about the birds though. Sparrows were fair game, but don’t get caught pluggin’ a Cardinal, Robin or Blue Jay.
Ours was just the third house in the neighborhood and it set right on the edge of the gorge. Everything on the other side of the creek, that distant land, was undeveloped. Nothing but scrub brush and oil pumpers all the way to Southern Hills Country Club of PGA fame. Occasionally we would explore that foreign land but the creek had too many undiscovered wonders...too many nooks and crannies...too many places just around the bend for us to venture into the oil fields very often.
The best spot was right behind the house. On Joe Creek a “large” pool was only about thirty feet across and we had one a stones throw away. Inhabited with little catfish, it couldn’t have been more that four foot deep at the center. You know how certain smells can inspire a memory? Uncooked bacon does that for me. With our Zebco 33’s and a supply of Oscar Meyer, I doubt we ever caught anything bigger than five or six inches. But to have a fishin’ hole right out your backdoor, well it was great, and every time I open a pack of bacon it brings back the memory of that pool and the happy days spent there.
We built forts, we set box traps and snares for rabbits...we even stocked it with trout. That’s right, trout. Returning one weekend from Roaring River, we had convinced Dad to let us bring a few live trout home. We justified it by science. It was a science experiment...an experiment in survival. Even as a ten year old, I had no doubt that the trout would die in the warmth of the creek, but it might be interesting to see how long it took. We placed three of them in a bucket of clear, cold water and headed for home. After a couple of hours in the car the water was no longer cold, but at least it was still clear and the trout were alive...sort of. Talk about culture shock! I don’t recall how long they lasted but I’m sure they were belly up before we made it back to the house to get our fly rods.
When in Tulsa, if I have the time, I try to drive through the old neighborhood...and it’s sad. That giant house we lived in isn’t so large and the yard across the street where Scotty and I, along with my brothers played football is so small it’s a wonder that every pass wasn’t through the end zone. The only things bigger are the trees...especially that big Oak right on the edge of the gorge. Mom’s Oak tree is about all that’s left of Joe Creek as we knew it.
In 1959 Joe Creek flooded. Our neighborhood had turned into a river. Every house that was built on a slab had three feet of very muddy water in it. Ours was on a good foundation, so it was spared. Dad’s new Chevy wagon wasn’t so lucky. The water was up to its windows and completely covered those gorgeous red fins.
Come to find out, Ol’ Joe had done this before, so it was decided that Joe would cease to be a creek and become a ditch. Our playground was straightened and paved from top to bottom. Gone were the forts we had built, the paths, the hideouts and the catfish pool. The playground of my youth is now only suited for skate boarders and those bicycle jumpin’ X-Game crazies you see on TV. But mom’s Oak tree still stands.
The day the bulldozers arrived to clear the stream banks was a sad day in the Folger house. Mom and dad (not to mention, their indentured servant children) had spent countless hours landscaping our section of the creek and the thought of it being scraped slick and clean was hard to accept. By the time the diesels were unleashed on our section of paradise my brothers and I had grown a bit and the lure of the creek had lost its pull on us. Not so with mom. Armed with dad’s Winchester .22 WRF Rimfire, she stood her ground and demanded that that one tree be left alone. Whether it was the fear of a round through the radiator, or just kindness on the contractor’s part, it doesn’t matter...the driver found other trees to knock down.
Every now and then I pull up Google Earth and take a look at the tree. Yes, from that satellite on high it can be seen...perhaps like it was seen from above on that long ago day when mom fought to save it.