The Legend of Perkins MacGhee

“Grandpa, can we walk over to the river?” Emmy asked. “It’s not too hot and it’s not super far to go since we’re at Darby’s.”

“I suppose we can. Why do you want to see the river?” Grandpa asked as he finished his frosted mug of root beer.

“I just like to see it and watch the boats go by,” eight-year-old Emmy answered. “Thanks for the root beer. It was yummy.”

They returned their mugs and set out on their walk.

“I’ve been in there before,” Emmy said pointing to a storefront.

“You have? When?” Grandpa asked noticing the iron bars over the windows of the pawnshop.

“Daddy brought me one time. He needed some money.”

Grandpa shook his head. “That’s no place for a child.”

“I saw an electric piano and asked how much it cost. Daddy said it was too expensive.”

They continued along the commercial street for several minutes. Emmy would run ahead of Grandpa Colasanti and peer inside the shops.

“Who were you waving at?” Grandpa asked.

“That’s the lady who does Mom’s hair.”

“Has she ever cut yours?” Grandpa asked.

“Mom let her trim it last year,” Emmy answered as she ran her fingers through her long ponytail. “Just a little. She said I had split ends.”

They crossed Broadmoor Avenue and turned to walk south.

“I know where we’re going,” Emmy said skipping ahead of Grandpa again. “There’s a park over here where you can see the river.”

A few minutes later they reached Pilchner Park.

“Can we go to the lookout and watch the boats?” Emmy asked.

Grandpa paused to catch his breath and waved for Emmy to go ahead. She dashed along the uphill gravel path that wound through the trees. She stopped when she heard the loud horn of one of the tugboats that pushed the barges up and down the river. When Grandpa arrived at the top of the bluff, Emmy was standing on the bottom wooden rail of the fence to get a better view.

“There are three boats going downriver and I can see one over there waiting for them to pass,” she said while pointing.

Grandpa gazed across the river, past the buildings of downtown South Hampshire to a bluff nearly a mile away.

“Do you know how the river got its name?” Emmy asked. “I’ve never heard of anything called Kinmundy before. It’s a weird name.”

Grandpa sat on the bench facing the river, removed his sweaty, baseball cap and ran a hand through his wiry gray hair. “According to the stories I’ve heard, it got its name from one of the early explorers who traveled up and down the river.”

Emmy’s eyes sparkled as she jumped jumped down from the railing and sat next to her grandfather. “Tell me more.”

He squinted while following a plane heading toward the airport on the other side of the city, rubbed his jaw for a moment and began, “Back in the late 1600s or so, this part of the country was pretty wild and unknown.”

“Didn’t they have maps?” Emmy interrupted.

Grandpa chuckled and said, “Not like we do today. Anyway, the only way people could get around was by canoe on the rivers, streams and lakes.”

“Were there Indians?” she asked.

“I suppose so, because people have lived on the bluffs along the river for a long, long time. Sometimes they would exchange goods with the traders who were brave enough to get to know the natives. According to local legend, one of the traders was named Perkins MacGhee.”

Emmy turned on the bench to face her grandfather. She put her hands under her knees and gazed into his eyes.

“He was a giant of a man. Several inches over six feet tall with long flowing hair under a hat made from beaver hides and had a full bushy beard. He dressed in animal skins and spoke in a strange language.”

Emmy inched closer.

“MacGhee came from Scotland to seek his fortune. No one knows just why or how he got to this area, but he traded with the Indians for several years. He would come and go up and down the river. He would camp along the far side of the river.” Grandpa stood up and pointed to the east. “Can you see where the land rises?”

Emmy stood up and peered across the valley. “I think I can.”

“Thousands, or maybe millions of years ago, all that land was under a large lake. The river might have been a lot wider, too.” He sat down and continued, “So this MacGhee decided to name the river after a place where he grew up. Loch Kinmundy. Loch means lake in Scottish.”

Emmy stood up for a moment longer as two of the boats were passing each other.

“So he named this the Kinmundy River, and the name has stuck for all these years.”

“Whatever happened to him?” she asked after sitting down.

Grandpa smiled and said, “That’s where the story gets interesting.”

Emmy’s eyes sparkled again.

“According to the legend, one spring day MacGhee was heading down the river with a load of goods, and he kinda disappeared into the mist. Poof! He vanished into the fog. None of the locals ever saw him again, but they did find an empty canoe several weeks later. It had washed up on the island that’s just before the big highway bridge.”

“Did he drown? Did some mean people get him?”

Grandpa shrugged. “No one knows for sure, but they never found a body, or any of the goods he was carrying.” Grandpa paused, and when he started again, his voice was just above a whisper, “This is where it gets spooky. Over the years, whenever there’s a lot of fog and mist on the river, some of the boat captains swear they’ve seen a giant, bearded man in old-fashioned animal skins paddling a loaded canoe in and out of the mist.”

“Are you making that up, Grandpa?” she asked sitting up and crossing her arms over her chest.

He waved a finger and said, “I’m not making it up. That’s the true story of how the river got its name and the legend of Perkins MacGhee.”

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