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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

Marya: Over the River and Through the Wood

Durgin Bridge, Sandwich, NH - Fine Art America
Durgin Bridge, Sandwich, NH - Fine Art America

Here in the deep woods, the children know about safety precautions and wear red or orange during hunting season. At least that was common knowledge once.

My father often wore his red plaid flannel shirt during this time. On the field, court, and outdoors, he was an avid sportsman. I always observed that about him. He didn't talk about his actions; he simply carried them out.

We seemed to always be somewhere between Sandwich, Holderness, or Campton. The roads may have been in better shape then; I'm not sure if my memory is reliable. My father was in the business of roads, so my awareness of them is probably more advanced than the average person. He used to tell me that they are cutting corners, plopping down mounds of asphalt to fill in the holes. The problems go deeper than that, but right now? It hardly matters.

I liked that my sisters and I sang Over the River and Through the Wood at least once a week. All of our grandparents lived in such places—Holderness and Campton. I recall thinking that this was indeed a true story and that everyone had to take such a trip to see their grandparents.

Passing by certain places here evokes many memories. There is a field past the big family farm in Holderness where my father got one of his bears. I have a photograph of him with that one.

He was an excellent hunter. This was not because he had tricks up his sleeve, ran dogs, or used bait. My father was an honest hunter. It was always fair game with him. In any situation, if you wanted a truthful answer, you would get that from my father.

He grew up on a steady diet of big and small game and fish. His father carried on traditions from his mother, Nellie. Life wasn't easy, but it was more sustainable because of his knowledge of outdoor survival skills. My uncle told me that my grandmother was an excellent game cook.

I was never one for fishing, but I did, and still do, enjoy being near the water. I loved to go fishing just to sit on the dock, boat, or edge of the river. I didn't complain about squishing a worm on a hook. Anyone who knows me gets that I would likely help it to escape. I faked my way through it and gave thanks when I did not catch anything.

I learned enough about it to teach my kids how to fish. A lot of my ways did rub off on them. One of my sons would carefully catch a fish and sit with it while thinking of a good name. When your son is fishing for pets, you know that you're not on your way to the pro bass fishing championship too soon. We had fun in the pedal boat and getting our lines caught in a tree. Of course, we released all of the potential pets before returning home.

The only unpleasant fishing memory for me was when I was a wee girl out on Squam Lake in the bob house. My father was ice fishing with his friend Cy and a few others. Cy's son decided to pop the eye out of a fish and chase me around with it on his finger. I'm not sure, but I believe that's why I cannot tolerate the scent of fresh-water fish. Yes, blame it on a guy named Larry that I never saw again.

Now I live near Durgin Bridge—a lovely covered bridge constructed (more than once) in the 1800s and was part of the Underground Railroad. It spans Cold River in Sandwich, New Hampshire. It's a unique example of a Paddleford truss bridge and one of the state's few surviving nineteenth-century covered bridges.

I pass by it often. When I do, I look as far as the eye can see, and I imagine him, my father, wearing his fishing gear, knee-deep in the river, fly fishing. I used to accompany him so that I could climb on the rocks along the river banks. I remember that the water was so clean and clear, you could see the yellow sandy bottom.

When I moved back to Sandwich, one of the first things I wanted to do was check that out. Logically, there is no reason why the river would be polluted, but it had been such a long time, I wanted to see for myself. I am grateful to know that Cold River is pristine. I hike often, and so far, all of the rivers in this fair land have remained gloriously clear.

One of my favorite melodies comes from a river. I celebrate how it occupies my essence as it flows harmoniously over rocks of all sizes, creating various pitches that I carry with me. How could I not have loved being a girl under such circumstances?

My father always knew the real me. I would not want to sacrifice a worm on a hook for a fish that I would rather set free. However, I would do whatever is necessary if faced with challenges that necessitate doing those things that made me cringe. As the farmer and farmer's wife, I have come a long way since those innocent days of lingering along the riverbanks.

The world is ablaze with autumn. It is time to don my red plaid flannel shirt and set out for Cold River, where I will sit beneath Durgin Bridge—the threshold of two worlds meeting at the water's edge. I will not only hear the wild river song, but I will know it by heart as I sing and imagine days gone by. Any fragmented parts of my soul that had unknowingly departed will find me there. It's a place of becoming whole. I have seen it so many times in my dreams.

Give thanks. All of the old stories wait for us to remember. The river continues to weave its way through the thick woods, searching. We will find each other again and again, suspended between the wildness of Heaven and Earth, with no fear, only love in various phases of coming and going. Excerpt from Ballad of a Sandwich Girl (unpublished).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Over the River and Through the Woods

Thanksgiving Song by Lydia Maria Child (1844)

Over the river and through the woods,

To grandfather's* house we go;

The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh,

Thru the white and drifted snow, oh!

Over the river and thru the woods,

Oh, how the wind does blow!

It stings the toes and bites the nose,

As over the ground we go.

Over the river and thru the wood,

To have a first-rate play;

Oh, hear the bell ring, "Ting-a-ling-ling!"

Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day-ay!

Over the river and thru the woods,

Trot fast my dapple gray!

Spring over the ground like a hunting hound,

For this is Thanksgiving Day!

Over the river and through the woods,

And straight through the barnyard gate.

We seem to go extremely slow,

It is so hard to wait!

Over the river and through the woods,

Now, Grandmother's cap I spy!

Hurrah for fun! Is the pudding done?

Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

Public Domain


Barbara Sinclair
Barbara Sinclair
Oct 23, 2021

Hey! I thought that was my secret spot under the bridge! :) My perspective has changed a great deal, too, especially in the past two years and since relocating to the country. Thanks for sharing your story, MJ. I did the exact same thing with my dad when I went "not fishing" with him. :)

Mj Pettengill
Mj Pettengill
Oct 24, 2021
Replying to

Warm memories. 🙏🏼

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