Pooh Sticks


When the sun slowly disappears below the horizon, a struggle begins in the heavens. Orange and purple hues streak across the sky, fighting against the coming night. There’s only an hour left before the battle is lost. Just enough time for a walk with the one you love. It was on one of these walks with The Wife that we came upon an old wooden bridge.

She picked up a stick and walked to the center of the bridge and then did the oddest thing. Dropping the stick over the upstream side, she scampered to the downstream side and leaned over the railing so far I thought she would fall in, potentially lost to me forever. I ran over and tried to pull her back to safety, but there was no need. She wasn’t in any real danger.

I watched as she searched the gently flowing water beneath the bridge. For what, I did not know. I watched as the lady I loved turned into the 7-year-old pigtailed girl from Virginia I’ve seen every now and then during our marriage. Revisiting a role she’d played many times before in the heat of midsummer days, her normally quiet voice suddenly filled with excitement, and she shouted, “Pooh sticks!”

She had spied the stick escaping the grasp of the shadows beneath the bridge. A smile slowly spread across my lips, and I watched as she ran, collecting more sticks, only to throw them one at a time over the railing.

It was a childhood game – one I didn’t understand. After 15 minutes, the laughter of the little girl finally subsided and reality set back in, but not before exhausting the supply of sticks, and the lady I love. For as much as she may want to be, she’s no longer that 7-year-old pigtailed girl from Virginia.

On the slow walk back home, The Wife explained the game. Whenever Winnie the Pooh and Tigger would cross a bridge, they’d take turns tossing sticks over the edge and watch as they disappeared, only to reappear on the downstream side. Then they’d yell, “Pooh Sticks!”

With a bridge right down the street from where they lived, The Wife and her sister played Pooh Sticks every day during the summer. Somehow the game made the oppressive heat of a Virginia summer bearable for a while.

I explained to her that down here in Georgia, we had done things a little different to escape the heat. My brothers and I hurled dirt clods at little green army men. They were the enemy hunkered down in bunkers dug deep into clay banks under the football stadium where the sun didn’t shine and there was always a breeze.

At least we thought it was a breeze. The wind could’ve come from Bubby Hanks. He did eat beans most every day for lunch during the summer.
When we were young, those dirt clod wars lasted for hours. Afterwards, the victors (and that was always us and not the little green army men) would make a trip to the Dairy Queen for a Mister Misty Brain Freeze ice-cream float. And then hike down behind Old Mrs. Crabtree’s house and dive into the ice blue swimming hole of Cripple Creek.

Years later, when we attended Briarwood High, the wars continued, only lasting 20 minutes before each home game of the mighty Buccaneers.
I’m proud to say in our five years spent at Briarwood the stadium was never taken, and we big strong football players suffered no casualties.

Unfortunately the same could not be said for the opposing side. Many an army man was left on that battlefield.

Be it games of Pooh Sticks or defending an entire football stadium from an army of little green men, playing games are an excellent way of keeping kids’ minds off of the oppressive heat of these long summer days.

With sweat pouring off of us, we finally made it back to our home. I told The Wife I would see her in an hour and headed to the coolness of the basement. She called after me as I walked down the steps, “What are you going to do down there for an hour?”

I answered, “I’m going to play my favorite adult summer game. It’s called Enjoy the Basement Air-Conditioning.”

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is saferick@bellsouth.net.]