Thursday, July 25, 2002

EAST BEND – Junior Matthews likes to drive the truck over the pasture behind his house, down to the clearing he has made beside the river.

He used to fish here a lot, with baskets baited with elderberries and possum grapes. He kept a wooden boat tied up to a low branch hanging out over the water and irrigated his fields with water pumped from the Yadkin.
He still fishes some. But mostly Matthews sits here and listens.

“I come down every once in awhile and just set down,” he said. “In the late of evening you can hear the turkeys a hollering and the hoot owls a hooting…. I got a place up yonder where I go up and sit, too, and look.”

There’s so much to see here, so much to remember.

We couldn’t live without the Yadkin River in Winston-Salem, either. That is, after all, where we get our water – 60 million gallons a day.

Turn on the tap. That’s the Yadkin, cleaned up some, but the same muddy water that you cross on the way to the mountains.

We can’t hear the river lap against its banks in Winston-Salem. The river is 10 miles away, at least. But thanks to the Yadkin, we have escaped the worst of the region’s water crisis. City officials have asked us to conserve, but they haven’t imposed mandatory restrictions. We’ve got a river to fall back on – overlooked until we need it.

Matthews moved here, just east of the Siloam Bridge, when he returned home from the war in 1946. He bought the farm on Friendship Circle Road from his wife’s grandmother. They raised their three boys, and grew tobacco and grains in the bottomland below the house. Matthews was a carpenter, and his wife worked in the school cafeteria. Eventually, he built a new house with timber that he cut from his own woods – always with the river at his back door.

It rained Tuesday afternoon, half an inch, according to the meter hanging in the yard. Up the road where the rest of the farm lies, the rainfall hadn’t been enough even to smooth the dust.

The truck bumped over the rutted farm road, past a dried-up stream and over a ridge. Some years, the river would flood. That’s what made the bottomland so fertile.

‘I’ve never seen it this low’

Matthews has a photo of his son (born the day he reached the front lines in Germany) taken in 1947, standing there at the water’s edge.

“I’ve seen all this right in here covered plumb up with water,” Matthews said. “But not lately.”

City officials say that plenty of water is left in the Yadkin, even at a quarter of its normal flow.

The river is low, but there is plenty for drinking and making cigarettes and washing blue jeans at the Lee Apparel jeans plant. Plenty even to sell to Greensboro. No cause for alarm yet.

But Matthews knows trouble when he sees it. The river he sees these days flows over rocks. They were always there.

He could see the ripples in the water before, but he couldn’t see the rocks until the drought came.

“When the river’s running normal, you don’t see no rocks,” Matthews said. “It’s usually up above the tree down yonder. I used to have fish baskets all down in there, and you couldn’t see a rock nowhere.

“I’ve never seen it this low. I’ve been living over here 55 years, and that’s the lowest I’ve ever seen it.”