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The Rowboat (Part 5: Thou Shalt Not Steal)

November 21, 2016

Brian Ka-- stole our rowboat.  I can't remember exactly when it happened. I remember there were no leaves on the trees, but I don't know if it was in the fall or early winter. There wasn't any ice and it wasn't very cold. I sort of lost track of our rowboat after school started. It was just sitting over at the Tohickon full of water, tied to a tree in front of Dead-eye's place. I got distracted: changing classrooms for the first time, going to junior high dances, to Friday night football games and having crushes on girls. Paddling around on the Tohickon, going to the same old places all the time, didn't seem as much fun, anymore.

I don't remember why (maybe to check on the rowboat), but I went over to the Tohickon one day, and our boat was gone. I saw a bunch of kids across the creek up by the dilapidated Tohickon Park treat stand building. On the grassy area in front of it, where the cement slab along the creek at the old swimming hole was, they had a rowboat. I knew it had to be ours, since it was the only one around. I walked up the lane toward Hainzie's store and saw it was Ka-- and some of his gang.

Looking up the lane toward Tohickon Bridge

"Hey, that's our rowboat," I hollered across the creek at them. I was brave enough to do it because they'd have to run up the hill and across the bridge to get at me.

"Not anymore it isn't!" Ka-- hollered back. "It's mine now." One of his guys gave me the finger and laughed real loud.

Ka-- wasn't afraid of Dead-eye. One time, I heard him say that he'd beat him up and knock out his other eye if he ever gave him trouble. He was the only one brave enough to steal our rowboat from right in front of Dead-eye's house. Ka-- was big and strong and could run faster than anybody else so, he got to do whatever he wanted. That he was mean and always bullied and threatened to beat-up me and my friends, made it even worse.

Dead-eye's house and the dam

I was upset about losing our rowboat, but there was nothing I could do about it . . . then. I pretended to go home, but actually hid down by the dam and watched. When they left, I crossed the dam and sneaked through the woods along the opposite side of the creek. The rowboat was chained to a tree with a padlock. Ka-- was using a pick with a broken handle for an anchor. I used the pick to break the lock and, since I was all hyped up because I was so scared, I got the rowboat into the Tohickon by myself. I stole one of their (real) canoe paddles and quick rowed down to the dam.

The old swimming hole

I was a lot stronger by then, from football practice, and still being all hyped up so, I was able to get the rowboat over the dam by myself. I was out of breath, my heart was pounding and I had a strained muscle in my back after doing it. I was really nervous, too. I kept listening and looking to see if Ka-- had come back and was following me. If he got me alone, down there in the woods along the Tohickon, I was dead for sure.

The water was kind of cold, but I dragged the boat by the chain right down the middle of the creek, through the shallows and on down past the fishing hole. It was starting to get dark and I didn't hear anybody coming so, I got it part way up onto the gravel bar where it got stuck in the flood before. I was too weak and tired to get it into the woods and hide it by myself. I just tied it to a willow sapling. To get home, I cut across the stubbled cornfield and around the back of Kelly's barn, hoping Ka-- didn't see me crossing the school field and chase me down. I had to wait till Saturday to do anything else.

I don't know when Ka-- found out I stole our rowboat back. At least I didn't have to worry about seeing him in school. He went to St. Isadora's. I heard it was because he caused so much trouble in the regular school that they threw him out and he had to go there. It could have only been a rumor, he might have just been a Catholic, but me and everybody else I knew believed it was true.

The Junior High

Some of his gang did go to our junior high, though. Ezzie and Dan were still in sixth grade and down at the Neidig. Dusie and Harry and Billy and me were in seventh. Dusie (much to our surprise, because everybody thought he acted goofy), was assigned to the real smart kids' section. Harry and Billy and I had a lot of classes together, though. A couple of days later one of Ka--'s gang came up to me at lunch and said he was going to kill me for breaking his lock and stealing his rowboat. All four of us (me, Dusie and Harry and Billy) were sitting together so, I was brave enough to be mouthy to him. Later, I thought it might have been stupid and got nervous.

On Saturday, nobody else could help with the rowboat. It was just me and Dan and Ezzie (Ezzie had to tell his mom some story about where he was going again, or he wouldn't have been allowed to help). We decided to take the boat way downstream to where the Licking Run joined the Tohickon. From there (we thought), we could get it back up to our house on that creek. My Grandpop Hinkel told us that the two creeks met somewhere this side of Axe Handle Bridge near Dragon Hill Quarry on Thatcher Road. The Licking Run then came back up into Quakertown and right past our house. We'd never been downstream that far, but figured we'd have to try it. We didn't want to risk taking it across the school field again, with Ka-- looking for us.

From just below the fishing hole, where I'd stashed the rowboat, on down through Hager's Woods to Erie Road Bridge, it was pretty easy going. We had a long piece of rope we got from Ezzie's garage. For most of the way we didn't have to wade in the creek, just dragged it along from the bank. At The Narrows, where the current was really fast, we just let it go and ran down through the woods to catch up to it at the fishing hole at Hager's. We were able to get hold of the rope again with a long stick, but I slipped on the muddy bank and fell in, anyway.

By the time we got to the Erie Road Bridge the rowboat was filling with water again. It was really shallow under the bridge so we tipped it on its side to get most of the water out. It was still really heavy and we had trouble dragging it over the rocks under the bridge. It was like going through a tunnel and, while we were under there, we heard kids who stopped on the bridge with their bikes. Ezzie and Dan were sure it was Ka--. It turned out to be one of the Wilsons and a couple of his friends from over on Elm Street. They wondered what we were doing under the bridge so we told them about the rowboat and Ka--. They were afraid of him, too, and said they wouldn't tell anybody.

Below Erie Road, we didn't know much about the Tohickon. It started out narrower and faster. First, it crossed a grassy pasture and, if anybody was looking, they could have seen us. In the middle of the pasture we found a big cement wall. It turned out to be an old dam (smaller than Eickner's), that the creek had washed out around and changed course. Then, the Tohickon went through a patch of woods and stickers. We got in and paddled down to where the sewer plant dumped its water into the creek.

Below the sewer plant pipe, before we hit shallows again, we sailed past the ruins of an old farm that was up on a knoll. We could see the sharp bends in Erie Road from there and a little creek joined the Tohickon just past it. It went over toward Richlandtown, where we could see the church steeple way off in the distance. We knew it couldn't be the Licking Run.

We parked the boat there to rest, and because Dan wanted to check out the old farm. It was just a hole in the ground where the house had been. A ramp and a pile of rocks was all that was left of the barn. There was a big slab of flagstone covering a well. We dropped stones down through a crack around the edge and heard that it was deep and there was still water in it. Through the trees, and across the stubbled cornfields we could see cars driving along 313.

Beyond the first little creek (Richlandtown Creek, we learned later), the Tohickon got deeper again. We slowly sailed past a spooky patch that looked like an over grown apple orchard. The trees seemed dead, were twisted and gray. Inside the orchard it was dark and thick with stickers, vines and bushes. It gave us the creeps. Just past it, another small, shallow creek joined the Tohickon from the right. We guessed it had to be the Licking Run.

We were tired, wet and dirty. Ezzie was worried he'd be in big trouble if he didn't get home soon. He wasn't sure of the way back by himself, though, so we got him to stay with us (I might have bullied him a little). We dragged the rowboat up the Licking Run till we found a big sand bar.  We flipped it over, upside down. Dan always carried a pocket knife, so we cut branches and stickers and tall grass. We camouflaged the boat as best as we could, but when I stepped back to see, it still looked like an upside down rowboat with branches and weeds thrown on top of it.

We were a mile from home and it was way closer to supper than lunchtime. We took a couple of long-cuts around thickets and bogs, instead of just following the Tohickon back. When we got to the bridge, we hiked up Erie Road to the Rocking Horse Bridge over the Licking Run near Elm Street. We followed the bike trail along the creek. When we came out of the woods into the school field across from our house, we saw my mom and Ezzie's mom standing on the corner of Forest Ave. talking. We knew that meant big trouble.

I was in junior high school and my mom worried more about me being with girls than being over at the Tohickon all day. It was sort of a relief to her when she found out that Dan and Ezzie were with me and what we'd been up to. Even though Ezzie was in sixth grade, his mom still treated him like a little kid a lot of times. He had four younger brothers and sisters (including the new baby), so, I could maybe understand why his mom was grumpy a lot and really strict with him. It was quite a while till Ezzie got to help us with the rowboat (or anything else), again.



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