The phrase Down to the River brings to mind two very fond memories. The first from my early teenage years living in northern Indiana on a real family farm as opposed to most of the corporate conglomerates of today and the second I believe occurred in my sophomore year while at the University of Illinois.
The first memory involves the Kankakee River, which is a tributary of the Illinois River and is located in northwestern Indiana and northeastern Illinois. The river actually formed the northern boundary of my Uncle Jerry’s farm located down the road about a mile or two from my family’s acreage.
My Uncle Jerry’s offspring were double cousins to my siblings and me. Two sisters married two bothers and a bunch of us kids resulted. This may sound at first blush like rural Indiana incest but its not. It does though make you more closely related than just ordinary first cousins would be. The total offspring of the two families numbered about thirteen as I recall and the oldest five boys were inseparable. My two bothers, two cousins and myself were quite the gang and overall spent many great years together especially our summers. We were all within a few years of being the same age and all seemed to discover our dicks and their wonderful ability to become erect at about the same time. Much of this exciting discovery seemed to occur Down by the River.
Several summers in particular, 1963 and 1964 I believe, involved our discovery of the fine art of skinny-dipping in the muddy waters of the Kankakee River. Why we didn’t all get meningitis from that water and die slow agonizing deaths I don’t know, but we didn’t. At the time I was enthralled with the adventures of Huckleberry Finn and we had several rather lame endeavors to build rafts but they all seemed to sink rather quickly. All of our attempts to float down to the Mississippi were for naught.
After a few hours of futile attempts at raft building we often wound up laying in a row on the muddy embankment all nude frequently with hard-ons and discussing where babies came from. Needless to say I already didn’t give a fuck where babies came from but had an extreme interest in the erect penis.
As our budding sexual exploration advanced during these summers there was a move towards jacking off. For some reason not totally clear to me I backed off rather dramatically from this especially with cousins. In large part I suppose I withdrew into the dark shadows of Catholic guilt around pleasuring oneself in such a matter. This exploration largely came to a halt when my family moved from Indiana to another farm north of Chicago. The new farm was nowhere near any river.
My sexual evolution though was only delayed for a short time after our family move. I soon had the pleasure to hook up with an older male mentor. My relationship with that man was not a grooming exercise or recruitment effort on his part but I would prefer to think real love.
My second Down to the River experience occurred one lovely fall afternoon in 1969. Several friends hopped in my dear friend Don’s car and headed out of Champaign-Urbana for Kickapoo State Park located some miles to the east on the banks of the middle fork of the Vermillion River. The agenda of course included enjoying the magnificent fall weather but more to the point an opportunity to drop acid and trip our brains out and absorb nature’s beauty in hallucinogenic bliss.
We dropped as soon as we arrived and unfortunately we didn’t pay careful attention to where we parked the car, which about six hours later proved to be a problem. The next few hours though were spent in one of our, in those days, favorite activities tripping: laughing, giggling and laughing some more while totally engrossed in the sights and smells of Midwestern fall foliage. The vast majority on my best hallucinogenic adventures occurred in the outdoors and the season didn’t matter. These trips were for me wonderful experiences. I might say even religious in nature but that may be putting too hifalutin a spin on what was actually just hedonism, at the least though very enjoyable hedonism. If there is a Divine I was often staring her right in the face and we enjoyed endless mutual smiles.
At some point that afternoon we felt it would be great fun to go wading in the Vermillion River. On our way down to the river we managed to get quite muddy and once in the waist high slow moving stream were busy trying to clean off the mud. Skinny-dipping in a busy park was not something thought to be wise even by a bunch of tripping hippies so we essentially remained clothed. My friend Don though decided to take his pants off and there by better rinse out all the dirt. Underwear was not part of our attire in those days and we would probably have described it as too middle class. The reality being no one had the money for underwear in those days’ and second hand stores didn’t tend to sell undergarments.
After several more minutes of frolicking and splashing it occurred to us that Don was pretty naked. I said to him “Don, where are your pants”? He very calmly replied that he had set them over here on the river to dry in the sun. A statement that made perfect sense to a bunch of tripping idiots but the reality was that his pants had just floated downstream.
So we were far enough into the LSD adventure to realize that it might be a challenge to get our naked friend back to the car, wherever the hell that was, by walking through the many nuclear families also enjoying the park that day.
At that moment we hear a rather disembodied voice shouting at us from up the riverbank in the trees. I am sure we at first thought this must be God, he was yelling Don’s name. Turns out it was an old high school budding of his named Greg. Greg seemed much more soundly rooted in realty at the time and quickly grasped the situation and asked where his pants were. For some strange reason the explanation offered didn’t seem to faze Greg, which in hindsight may bring Greg’s state of mind into question?
When tripping you often focus in great detail on minutia. The bigger picture though often gets lost. Thanks to Gregg and his girlfriend’s help we were able to piece together a few pieces of clothing to wrap around Don’s waist and begin the search for the car! Many hours later we were safely back on campus and already reliving the adventure that would take on mythic status among our group of friends. The day that Don laid his pants on the river to dry would become local hippie urban myth.