Just Keep Rollin’ Along…

Submitted into Contest #98 in response to: Set your story on (or in) a winding river.... view prompt


Fiction Creative Nonfiction Coming of Age

I was walking along the Androscoggin River with a companion, someone very close to me. Our conversation flowed, keeping with the river current from Lewiston, Lisbon, Lisbon Falls. Our words rode the waves. This was where we had both grown up, although not together nor at the same time, nor even in same generation. We were different, yet close.

Our feet were walking on the riverbed. We played with the ragged pebbles as well as the smooth ones. We were going with the flow of the river that is born over the Maine state line, in a faraway place called New Hampshire. The river that has quite a bend in New Hampshire, then flows by Bethel, Rumford, and Dixfield before heading on to Lewiston and Auburn, then on to Brunswick.

Western Maine was not our thing, but we loved the river than was about a hundred eighty miles long, give or take a few miles. We liked that it was born elsewhere, came running into Maine, and gushed out into Merrymeeting Bay along with maybe five other rivers before they all churned their way into the part of the coast known as The Gulf of Maine. We also loved the name Merrymeeting and the perhaps inaccurate theories as to the origin of the name. Androscoggin was different, though. We checked on the internet and found (on Wikipedia) that:

The name "Androscoggin" comes from the Eastern Abenaki term /aləssíkɑntəkw/ or /alsíkɑntəkw/, meaning "river of cliff rock shelters" (literally "thus-deep-dwelling-river"); or perhaps from Penobscot /aləsstkɑtəkʷ/, meaning "river of rock shelters". The Anglicization of the Abenaki term is likely an analogical contamination with the colonial governor Edmund Andros.

We were from Maine, so we knew there might be even more translations of the name. We knew that Penobscot as a language might not exist, that it is really a dialect of the Passamaquoddy language, according to some speakers of the latter. We also thought it was rather ironic, if not impossible, that a governor’s name would be so similar. Andros? Anybody who knows his history with the native residents in the eastern region would not consider him worthy of having his name on a river.

We were aware that some people also have no sense of history whatsoever.

Neither of us knew how long the river was, nor had we given much thought to all the little knots of population that laced its shores at the time we began our hike. We were attached to our part of Maine, which is really quite big and varies greatly if you travel from north to south or from east to west. It was enough for us.

We had decided to hike whatever distance we could because we had randomly remembered one day in Spanish class at Brunswick High School, where we had made it to fourth year and were in fact really getting the hang of the language. We were walking along the big river of our childhood and there were those famous lines from the famous poem by Jorge Manrique… I began to recite with my best fifteenth century Castilian accent:

Nuestras vidas son los ríos 

que van a dar en la mar, 

 qu'es el morir; 

allí van los señoríos 

derechos a se acabar 

 e consumir; 

 allí los ríos caudales, 

allí los otros medianos 

 e más chicos, 

allegados, son iguales 

los que viven por sus manos 

 e los ricos.

To that my companion responded, in the best Maine pronunciation ever, ayuh:

Our lives are rivers, gliding free

To that unfathomed, boundless sea,

The silent grave!

Thither all earthly pomp and boast

Roll, to be swallowed up and lost

In one dark wave. 

Thither the mighty torrents stray,

Thither the brook pursues its way,

And tinkling rill,

There all are equal; side by side

The poor man and the son of pride

Lie calm and still.

Then we both doubled over in laughter, because we were walking and our thoughts were moving downstream, we had the river and our lives to live.

One of us then had an interesting idea. Not original nor brilliant, just interesting (to us): We would hike along in the direction of Merrymeeting Bay, thinking of, and singing, songs related to rivers. They could be songs from any era. We would weave them together in freeform time. The tunes would likely be accompanied by a memory, but that memory might be one somebody had invented. Maybe it belonged to somebody other than the singer. 

Probably long before the Spanish poet Jorge Manrique wrote his famous Couplets on the Death of his Father, people were associating rivers with lives that run out and rivers with strings of memories flowing through them like endless algae. I say this because it was almost scary how many songs we came up with between the two of us, and we were barely trying. 

A river. Flows like blood. Artery of the land. Rivers. Arteries flowing. And so we sang. We had to sing. Our feet, when we could walk close to the shore - which wasn’t always possible due to certain constructions, walls, or private property - kept time with our voices. Or maybe our voices followed our soles and toes.

Everything started to run together suddenly, in what was really a surge from somewhere deep, vast, and distant, somewhere beyond the Androscoggin for sure. We persisted in our game, however. We didn’t take turns, but instead allowed the melodies to bubble up and, besides, we weren’t competing. We never did that.

Oh, Shenandoah, sang Pete Seeger, my companion and I, plus a lot of others who had made the song popular.

Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you,

Away, you rolling river

Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you

Away, I'm bound away, cross the wide Missouri.

That second line doesn’t make much sense. We agreed that all we could figure out was there was distance between the person and the loved one, that the separation needs to end.

Oh, Shenandoah, I love your daughter,

Away, you rolling river

Oh, Shenandoah, I love your daughter

Away, I'm bound away, cross the wide Missouri.

Oh, Shenandoah, I'm bound to leave you,

Away, you rolling river

Neither of us was sure of Shenandoah’s identity. Is it the name of a man, a woman, or a river? So many things have been confused or forgotten in this country, the history all jumbled up because people were taking too much time conquering and colonizing. So many words lost forever, whitewashed.

Oh, Shenandoah, I'm bound to leave you

Away, I'm bound away, cross the wide Missouri

How far away do you think the Missouri River is? My companion was thoughtful.

I am not sure it matters, I replied, looking at the waves lapping near my feet, near being less than twelve inches away. Gleamy, cool, Prussian blue. Our Androscoggin. Surely the Missouri, wide or not, couldn’t hold a candle to our river.

Ol’ Man River emerges from the gentle licks of the tongue of our Androscoggin, and reminds as as we sing it, that even though Ol’ Man is the far-off Mississippi, it has something in common with us. We who don’t know or who have forgotten, who will be forgotten because that was what was created when the first immigrants from England and France came to grab all the could. They could not stop the rivers from flowing, but they took many lives that stood in their way, the ferocious current of colonialism.

Ol' man river, that ol' man river

He don't say nothin', but he must know somethin'

He just keeps rollin', he keeps on rollin' along

He don't plant taters, and he don't plant cotton

And them what plants em, are soon forgotten

But ol' man river, just keeps rollin' along

My companion and I fell silent, listening at last to the ache of our river whose name’s meaning and origin is still unknown. We recalled that in Brunswick there had been a small burial ground for the original residents, but there’s a small underpass in its place now. They threw a few bones, so to say, to the museum of the local college. Maybe somebody had half a conscience. 

We had felt very disturbed by the murky history being dredged up by our game of songs, which might be why my companion slipped in a different type: Erie Canal. Despite the melody, it’s a rather happy version of what might be termed a cousin to a river:

I’ve got an old mule and her name is Sal, 

Fifteen years on the Erie Canal

She’s a good old worker and a good old pal, 

Fifteen years on the Erie Canal

We’ve hauled some barges in our day, 

Filled with lumber, coal and hay

And ev’ry inch of the way I know, 

From Albany to Buffalo

Hey, did you ever hear Bruce Springsteen’s version of this song? No, he’s from New Jersey. What does he care about a canal built from east to west in New York? Well, it’s just a song and anybody can sing it. Yes, you’re right. Let’s sing it again. See how it improved our mood?

So we sang it again, and then a third time. We repeated the chorus five more times after that, for good measure.


Low bridge, ev’rybody down, 

Low bridge, we must be getting near a town

You can always tell your neighbor, 

You can always tell your pal

If he’s ever navigated on the Erie Canal

I thought it was “If YOU’VE ever navigated, not HE’S ever. We argued over this detail, but not too much. After all, this was a canal and maybe shouldn’t have been included in our medley. We decided not to worry any more. Spirits were high.

Now that things were running on a more positive note, we were fortunate to happen on Proud Mary and at least two versions of the song, one by Creedence Clearwater Revival and its composer, the other by the insanely energetic Tina Turner. Oh, did we have fun, because we took turns being CCR, then Tina, changing our accents and our moves. Nobody can listen to Proud Mary without smiling and, in some cases, getting shivers down the spine just thinking about Tina’s gorgeous fringe dress. 

We couldn’t work it like Tina did, but we sure tried. At one point we were laughing so hard and so close to the water, it could have gotten dangerous. We sobered up (no, we hadn’t had anything to drink but water) and felt good again.

You know that big wheel keep on turning

Proud Mary keep on burning

And we're rolling, rolling, rolling yeah

Rolling on the river

Moon River was a logical, cool-down option, so we were happy to croon along to the current. One of us had a parent or grandparent who had used the song as a lullaby, which was kind of nice.

Patches… somebody started to sing, but we refused to let the song about a suicide in a river dampen our spirits. It was simply not going to happen. Teen lovers were not my companion’s style, nor mine. We knew about the “s#$% about the tree song” and it too was in bad taste. We would wait for another

Red River Valley surprised us both, but we were up for some more dance moves, so gladly belted out the lyrics. Except we had been mistaken and that song also had to be banned. We wanted nothing to do with sadness and separation on a lovely June day along the Androscoggin.

Ballad of Easy Rider by The Byrds or anybody else of the hundreds that have covered this classic. That was such a good year: 1969. Or so we’d been told.

The river flows

It flows to the sea

Wherever that river goes

That's where I want to be

Flow river flow

Let your waters wash down

Take me from this road

To some other town

Wait, I said. Does this have anything to do with Jorge Manrique? Because if it’s about rivers flowing to the sea which is death, then I’m out of here! This walk is over!

Flow river flow

Past the shaded tree

Go river, go

Go to the sea

Flow to the sea

Don’t go, begged my companion. We can find lots of happy river songs.

Watching the River Flow by Bob Dylan washed over us, but although my companion was real Dylan fan, I am not, and couldn’t put up with the jangling beat for long. We both nixed River by Joni Mitchell because it was based on something sad and personal. We were determined to keep our river happy.

Down by the River by Neil Young was also a huge no-go. You’ll understand if you’ve heard the song. Anyway, most of Neil Young’s stuff is borderline depressing, or just lost. We weren’t lost at all.

The River by Bruce Springsteen was borderline, because there is the interpretation that life doesn’t work out as we want. However, the river is also representative of hope for the future. Because both my companion and I really love Bruce, we decided we could sing it as long as we stuck to the happy take on it.

By now we had walked a million miles, gotten more than our feet wet, avoided getting any ticks on us, and had, in fact, reached Merrymeeting Bay with its six rivers and mysterious name. (Folk etymologies are really painful to some of us.) We had nothing more to do, nowhere that we’d planned to go. We had wound lots of hours of our lives together - so many that our trek now felt like it had taken days, maybe even years, but now it was over.

We weren’t certain what to do with the realization. There was only one way to bring the outing to an end, and we only came up with the idea because we knew Merrymeeting was also Merryleaving, that its delta-like formation had an outlet to the sea called the Lower Kennebec. 

We had no problem slipping into the bay waters right where our beloved Androscoggin-surely-with-an-indigenous-name joined its fluvial siblings. Right there, not any other place, where one life (the river’s) ends and another life (the ocean’s) is about to begin. Give up something and reach something perhaps even grander, freer.

We thought of Jorge Manrique’s couplets and Spanish class as we slipped into the coolness of Merrymeeting. We were happy. 

We all deserve unchained melodies.

June 19, 2021 03:23

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Tinu Baby
04:10 Jun 22, 2021

I loved the story a lot.


Kathleen March
12:59 Jun 22, 2021

Thank you very much.


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I loved this story and the happy memories it gave me. The detail in this story is great and the lyrics in it are even better. Great job! Breckin Northrup


Kathleen March
13:03 Jun 22, 2021

Thank you. I am glad the memories are good ones. As you can see, the characters were not willing to have a bad experience as they walked. Sometimes we have to think that way -allowing only positive thoughts.


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Shirley Medhurst
13:03 Jun 21, 2021

I love the peaceful element of your story & the happy memories it seems to evoke. The lyrics are very cleverly woven together & make the story flow "(like water haha...) "we were happy to croon along to the current." - liked this phrase.


Kathleen March
20:55 Jun 21, 2021

Thank you. I did try to make the narrative ‘flow’ by repetition and the moving forward in space.


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Jay Stormer
11:33 Jun 19, 2021

All the river songs bring back memories to me also. It is an interesting way to weave them into one story.


Kathleen March
11:57 Jun 19, 2021

The repetition of something, like walking and singing is very river-like. The big moment is when it all runs into something bigger…


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Svara Narasiah
10:53 Jun 23, 2021

I usually don’t like stories without dialogue, but this was amazing! The songs were beautiful and so were the descriptions; it had a certain magical touch to it that I love. Great job! By the way—would you mind reading (and perhaps giving some feedback too!) my most recent story, Wanderlust?


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