Sibling day

The coronavirus has given many extra time to tackle those tucked away projects or give their yard a fresh look, some are learning new languages and testing new recipes. While people who, like me, are considered essential workers are working now possibly more than ever.

Friday was National Sibling Day and I missed the chance to post to social media my favorite photo of my brother Jake and me as little children. It's not your typical photo. It was taken on my fifth birthday. We had cupcakes earlier. In it, I'm standing behind my brother, who was almost 2 years old at the time, and I am holding his little chin up with my left hand and in the other hand, I'm holding a Budweiser cup. I'm certain there was only Kool-Aid in the cup, but I still think it's funny and sums up our childhood very well.

My brother and I had a childhood that could have been taken straight from the pages of a Mark Twain novel. We didn't spend a lot of time on a river but we did spend a great deal of Sunday afternoons on the Uphapee Creek, just south of Tallassee in the Franklin community.

You may remember the Uphapee Club. I'm not talking about the old honkytonk on Highway 49.

Every weekend a group of close friends and family, members of the Uphapee Club, went to the campsite on the creek to kick back and have a good time.

The Millers and the Giles were families that were very musically talented. I think every member of the Giles family could pick a guitar and sing as well as any top 10 artists, ever. My pawpaw Buck was a Giles and he had three nieces, Linda, Mona and Becca Miller. Linda could and would sing while Pawpaw Buck played the guitar. He had a brother, Jerry Giles, who could sing and play the guitar as well. Jerry lived in Florida and when he came up to visit, everyone there enjoyed an acoustical folk concert like no other.

The singing and guitar playing went on day and night. During the day the kids played in the creek. The Uphapee Creek has steep red clay banks, some of which were 30- to 40-feet high.

These steep clay banks made the best slippery slide,— better than a slide at a waterpark. The trick, though, was getting the banks wet enough to slide down them with ease. It just didn't work on dry clay.

Our remedy? Jake and I filled buckets with as much water as we could carry to the top of the bank and pour it out so it ran down the red clay. It took several trips to the top of the clay bank to achieve the necessary amount of soak for the perfect slide. But once it was slippery enough, we slid down and hit the water so fast if we braced ourselves just right we would skip across the water like a pebble before going under. We did this for hours.

When we weren't sliding down clay banks, we were tubing. The campsite sat on a long sandbar.

Jake and I would carry our innertubes up the sandbar as far as we could and float down to the very tip of it. We didn't dare miss the farthest tip of the sand bar. Just past it was the bridge and the creek was deeper and more dangerous around the columns. I don't think we ever got tired.

We had some scary moments on the Uphapee. Pawpaw Buck liked to fish the creek and he ran trotlines up and down its banks. He ran them in the afternoon or evening and checked them first thing in the morning. Often, Jake and I would go with him to check the lines. We rode on the ATV to check the lines and most of the time that was fun. On this particular day, Earl Miller and Fred Meadows, two of my pawpaw's best friends, went along too. We checked the first few lines and collected a few catfish that had taken the bait overnight.

As we traveled farther up the creek, Pawpaw was checking a line when he started screaming words that are not appropriate for this column. There was a massive loggerhead turtle that had hooked its foot on the trotline. When Pawpaw Buck reached into the water to pull up the line, the turtle had latched on to his thumb. I say "latched on" because that's exactly what it did. There's an old saying when a turtle bites it does not let go until lightning strikes.

Fred and Earl ran over to help and it took both men to carry that turtle to the shore with my pawpaw's thumb still in its mouth. Lightning didn't strike and it turn outs two men with pocketknives can also make a turtle let go.

Keep in mind, I was maybe 7 years old and Jake was almost 4 years old when this happened. The turtle bite was not the scariest part of this particular misadventure. It was the ride back to the campsite. I don't know how fast an ATV can go but I am sure they were tested that day. We were going so fast. That was scary.

When we made it back, Pawpaw went straight to the hospital. Meanwhile, back at the campsite, they were cleaning the turtle. That's right… when he got back from the hospital with his thumb still attached, there was a big celebration and that turtle was part of the fixings.

Jake and I had some really good times on the Uphapee. We were lucky to be a part of this extended family.

We may not have been your average group of folks, but everyone there had a heart of gold, and we knew how to put fun in untraditional.

I did call Jake on National Sibling Day. He and his wife Courtney, like so many, are starting online schooling. I asked him, "What's it like to be a teacher?" he said, "Oh no, I'm not the teacher; I'm the principal."

He made me laugh, like always.

Carmen Rodgers is bureau chief of The Tribune.