Memories old & new on the Big Piney River

“I did not know that stories of life are often more like rivers than books.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

This quote certainly applies to the story of my life. Thanks to my maternal grandmother’s influence I have met and enjoyed my fair share of books, but it is my biological father’s influence that has led to my enjoyment of Missouri’s finest rivers and creeks. 

Yet, there is one that ranks #1 in my book. It is the Big Piney River. 

The Big Piney River twists and turns for 110 miles before emptying into the Gasconade River. 

From its humble beginnings in Texas County this clear, cool river makes its way through places like Boiling Springs, Slabtown, Ross Bridge, and Devil’s Elbow. 

Steep bluffs and seemingly endless forests of pine often flank the stream, with sand and gravel bars aplenty. 

Yet, this river is much more than another pretty part of Missouri. It has in many ways told the story of my life. 

Upon finding out they were expecting, my young parents decided not only to have and keep me, but they attempted life as a married couple.

Mom told me several times how their wedding “reception” was just the two of them sitting on the bank of the Big Piney River having a soda as their champagne and a pack of Ding-Dongs as their cake while they discussed their hopes for me, their unborn child.

That river wasn’t just where they discussed who I could become, it is where they took me for hours of enjoyment once I made my entrance into the world. 

Many of my earliest childhood memories revolve around time spent on that river. From float trips to gigging, I do not recall ever feeling bored. It was a constant adventure. 

Mom’s cousin, Pete, would sometimes join us. I was amazed that while camping Pete would literally throw a piece of plywood on a gravel bar and sleep on it. 

He even showed me out to cook a fish over an open flame that still had its head attached.

There’s nothing like being a small child and having to look your food in its eyes! 

When I was in the 3rd grade, my parents’ marriage ended. That is when I realized that much of our time spent at the river was my dad’s doing. 

It isn’t that mom didn’t enjoy the time we spent together there, it’s that she had many other interests, too. 

She helped me learn to love movies, literature, art, historical sites, and travel. However, with my dad it was always the Big Piney River.

We often camped out near Mayfield, located between Spring Creek and Devil’s Elbow. We ran the river in that area pretty hard! To mix it up, we’d head down to Slabtown or even Ross. 

Dad loved that river so much that when a small place came up for sale with a view and access to it, his excitement could NOT be contained. 

Just like each time he found some great camping and fishing spot for us on the Piney, he took me to look at what he was itching to own and asked me his usual question, “What do you think, Michelle?”   

Of course, I loved it. It was so “him.” It was so “us.” And, for a brief moment, we were in a very good place. 

Sadly, that river wasn’t the only thing my dad loved. As more and more self-destructive choices were made and the man I once knew as my father became almost unrecognizable, for my own well-being I had to step away. 
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Tough love is supposed to work, right? Even his own father was in on it with me. Grandpa and I agreed this would be the kind of wake-up call Dad needed. It didn’t work, to say the least.

Years turned into decades of a stalemate with my dad, but it didn’t keep me away from that river. 

I went on float trips kicking off at Cantrell Ford and ending at Boiling Springs with friends and family. I introduced the Ross area to my closest friends.

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