Sunday, July 21, 2013

"The Old Swimmin' Hole"

We went to the old swimmin' hole last evening. Myron called and said they were taking the boys down and wondered if we wanted to stop by.

I didn't actually swim, but man, did the memories ever come back thick and fast about the place. I realized how privilaged we were growing up to have our "own" personal swimming hole. (well, it wasn't ours exactly. It was on Uncle Robert's farm, later to be cousin Dwayne's) And how, at the time we might not have been able to verbalize it, we thought anyone who didn't have a creek was dreadfully deprived.

As the crow flies, over the field and down the ridge it was less than a quarter-mile from our place. And in the summer we made it there almost every day. I have no doubt but that some of those years you could have found my DNA in a sample of Albemarle Sound water, which is where the water from Seneca Creek eventually ends up.

In the spring of the year one of the main things on our young minds was, "When will it be warm enough to begin swimming?" The hotter the forecast got, the better it sounded. Actually, I should rephrase that. I should have said it was our parents that were concerned about when it was "warm enough".

For us, if it wasn't frozen over, swimming was fair game. In fact,one year several friends and I made a solemn pact that we would swim in every month of the year. I don't think we quite got it accomplished; I think we may have missed Jan. and Feb., but I'm pretty sure we got all the rest. Some of those months like Nov. and Dec. you absolutely couldn't make yourself get in the water by just wading in. The only way was to jump or dive in off the "rock". (you know, you couldn't change your  mind once you were in midair) The transformation was amazing. You would dive off the rock a quiet and serene Mennonite kid and come up a shouting charismatic. But you felt deliciously good after it was all said and done.

One of my earlier memories of the swimming hole was a time before I knew how to swim. The hole seemed big, deep and scary. I was innocently standing on the rock watching the older boys swim when all of a sudden two of my cousins, Joe and Howard picked me up from behind. One had my feet and another my legs. They swung me back and forth several times like a sack of potatoes and then gave me a heave into the deep.
Looking upstream at the swimming hole, which begins on the upstream side of the big rock. Actually, the rock we dived off of is hidden by the rock in the picture.

I forgave Howard quicker because he jumped in alongside me and plucked me out of the water before I had taken in a lethal dose of Seneca Creek water. It took a little longer to forgive Joe, as he just looked down from the rock and laughed.

I said earlier that we looked at it as "our" swimming hole. Well, it didn't end up quite that way in real life. This spot in the creek was well known in the community and sometimes other people were there, much to our dismay. We always hoped on the way down that nobody would be there that day.

One time there were some other boys there who we didn't know and we decided on a plan. (I'm guessing the plan was mine, since I was the oldest that day) Dwayne's cows were grazing in the field alongside the creek, so we got in behind them and began herding them towards the swimming hole, shouting and raising a ruckus. "Watch out for the bull!", we shouted to each other. I'll have to admit that's about as close as I ever came to telling a bald-faced lie, as the truth was, there was no bull there at all.

We did manage to get the cows all herded right into the swimming hole. It definitely  got the other boys out, but they just sat on the bank and looked at the cows and looked at us. I can't remember if we got to swim that day or not!

One game we used to love to play was a game of points that used cans. We would gather up cans along the road on the way down and come up with a points system. Common cans like Miller High Life or Old Milwaukee were one point apiece. Some rarer cans might have been worth five or ten points. There would be one can, say a Shlitz Malt Lager, that would be worth twenty-five points.

Then we would fill all cans with water, to make them sink, and randomly throw them all over the swimming hole. (Although the randomness could be disputed; just recently at our last family reunion, my brother Robbie accused me of throwing the "valuable" cans in the "deep part" where the younger ones like him were too afraid to go) Then each of us would make a circle in the sand for our cans, and on the count of ready, set, go!, we dove furiously all over trying to find as many cans as possible. When that round was over we would add up our points to determine the winner. I'll put that game up alongside any computer game out there, even if it was played with beer cans.

We camped many nights on the bluff overlooking the swimming hole. Anybody for swimming at night? It was wonderful! There aren't many places as dark on a moonless night as a swimming hole with overhanging trees. But if you have a lantern on the rock..........

One night (I hope the statue of limitations has run out on getting into trouble with my folks over this one; it's been forty years ago) we found that if we took gas and threw it out over the water, it would, of course, float on top. Then you could light it and fire would float down the creek. We would dive in and swim under the fire. It was an amazing and spectacular show with the flames of the fire reflecting and bouncing around with the moving water. (Parents: warn your children never to do this; oh, that's right. Not to worry. They're playing computer games)

When I think of pure relaxation and contentment, I think of a scene from the old swimmin' hole. I came by one day and saw Johnny Irby in the hole. Now Johnny was one of those guys who shaved when he got around to it. It might go a week or two in between. (I was like that too, until I gave up altogether twenty-five years ago)

The day I went past it was was very hot and muggy. Old Johnny was in the swimming hole, right it the deepest part up next to the rock, with basically just his head sticking out. He had his soap, shampoo and towel laid out. He had a small mirror propped up on a ledge on the rock and he had himself all lathered up and he was shaving.

The sheer contentment of it all impressed me greatly. I thought to myself that there would be no better comfort on a hot muggy day to get deep into the swimming hole and drink a cold Dr. Pepper at the same time. So, sometime later, I tried it.

It wasn't as great as I expected. What makes a cold Dr. Pepper so good is the contrast between being so hot on the outside with the cool liquid going down the inside.

I've thought of many life lessons with the old swimming hole in mind. The hole itself was in a bend in the creek and each year the topic of discussion in the spring would be how the hole would be this summer. Sometimes the current would come to one side of the bank and curl back upstream on the other side. Sometimes the current would be the other way. Sometimes the hole was filled in somewhat with sand, sometimes it was washed out and was deeper.

But "the rock" was always the same. It never changed. Hundreds of years ago when the Indians walked across that same trail alongside the bluff, I'm sure that rock looked exactly the same as it did yesterday.

I could go on and on. About the beauty of swimming in the rain. (underwater the raindrops make quite a loud sound) I could tell you about the cable we had fastened up in a leaning Birch tree and how you could swing way out over the swimming hole. Or of trying to get cousin Delvin out of the swimming hole when it was time to go home. (you couldn't)
The next generations having a blast in the creek. (grandsons Caleb and Clifton)
Long live swimming in the creek!

But I've got to stop. Let's just say if you're one of those terribly unfortunate ones who grew up without a creek in your childhood, I feel dreadfully sorry for you. You have been deprived of one of the greatest pleasures known to growing boys.

I'll pray, that God in His grace, will make it up to you some other way.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

"The Family Reunion"

Today we had our first annual Fourth of July week family reunion. We've decided getting together at Christmas time is often too complicated with so many family connections that we will do ours in the summer. When I say family reunion, I mean my mom and dad, us siblings, our children, and a growing number of our children's children.

The reunion will alternate between here and Floyd, VA with us siblings taking turns being in charge. My brother Calvin just may be out of luck (or maybe he gets off scott free, depending on how you feel about it) since he lives in Indiana.

This time Mary and I were in charge so we decided to keep the meal simple. We did. Domino's simple!As I was loading up the stacks of pizza boxes (about a dozen in all) a gentleman walks in behind me and was watching. I told him I was feeling a hungry spree coming on.

After eating we sat around for a time of sharing and fellowship. I told them of the strange thing that happened to me the other evening. Our Sunday evening program guy had planned a service for the "over 50" crowd. They had invited Papa to come speak to the gathering. I was going to help sing in an over 50 group. On the way to church I was thinking to myself that I never would have dreamed that my dad and I would be having part in the SAME old people's service. I thought he was permanently older than me. Or maybe that I was permanently younger.

I said also that growing up we didn't necessarily have a flamboyant  family life. Our  idea of a nice family evening was all of us sitting around the living room reading books. One evening Robbie wondered if anyone would notice if he came out in his blue long johns to read his book.

 Nobody did.

At this point Mary stood up and said that we had calm family life until I got married. She told how when we were first married we lived right beside Papa and Mama and she would borrow lots of things off  Mama. (we were poor as church mice and didn't have much) She said Mama was always so gracious and would loan her anything she wanted. Until one day she decided that I wasn't getting the brush and trees around our trailer cleaned up fast enough and she went up the hill and asked Mama if she could borrow the chain saw. Mama told her maybe she better wait until I get home.

 I said I did sort of envy some of my cousins at times. Uncle Bud's family and Uncle Robert's family both had boys that were very close in age (I think it's Donnie and Joe that are actually the same age for about a week every year) and could have fair fights and such things. I was always in awe of how cousin Jerry knocked out his brother Howard once in a fight.

I was the oldest in our family and then sister Judy came along 3 years later. So my closest brother is Robbie, who is five years younger than me. Now I told them that I was scrawny but Robbie was scrawnier. If I tried to fight with him, I was just seen as an older bully picking on him, and that was no fun at all. If I made him mad all I had to do was hold him at arm's length and he could swing all he wanted to and never hit me. About here Robbie spoke up and said he learned that the way to do was to get in one punch and run.

We took turns going down thru the families. Nephew Steven said if anyone wonders why he is the way he is, that he had a very traumatic thing happen to him when he was growing up. How when he was young he had this habit of picking his nose. He had a substitute teacher one day (Aunt Mary) and Mary was reading them a story. He was peacefully sitting in his desk minding his own business (and picking his nose)  when Mary stops right in the middle of her story and says, "And Steven, stop picking your nose!"

 Afterwards Mary (who didn't remember the incident at all) asked Steven if he would forgive her. He said he would if she would help him pay his Faith Builders counseling bill.

There were more memories shared and quite a bit of singing by different groups. I closed it by saying how when I think of growing up in our family, the things I think about most are peace and security. We took it for granted back then, but I'm afraid the percentage of homes today that have the peace and security we enjoyed are by far in the minority. Thank you, Papa and Mama!

We finished the day off with a softball game. And was it ever hot. At least 90 degrees and humid. We had a 47 year age range; the youngest player being 10 and the oldest 57. My brother Steve and his wife Joan were on different teams. Our team made a play at second (Joan was covering second) and got Steve out. So before he trots back in they have a quick hug. "No hugging on the field!", somebody shouts. "Fifteen yard penalty!", yells my brother Robbie.

It did me good to see my younger brothers getting more tired out and  red in the face than I was myself. We were going to play seven innings but along about the middle of the sixth Joan came over to me and said that Steve couldn't go anymore. So we decided to quit after we finished out the the sixth.

Our team was behind 24 to 22 but we had the last bat. We scored two runs to tie and someone else got on base.  Then the 57 year old hit a scorching line drive double over the shortstop's head to score the winning run and the game was over. (we won't mention his name here in case he would get the big head)

All in all, it was a lovely way to spend a hot July Saturday. For all of  you out there that are privileged, (as I am) to have family, be exceedingly grateful along with me.

There are multitudes out there who don't.