Uncle Cran's Tales: "The Old Swimming Hole"
Uncle Cran has finally graced us with yet another of his Ozark childhood stories, which he prefaces with the photo above -- provided by his wife's brother -- along with a brag about his youngest son:
Recently Gay's brother loaned me some photos of James Hodges, age 13, cavorting in Little Creek, near our present home.What Uncle Cran leaves unsaid (in a moment of curiously uncharacteristic modesty) is that Colonel James Hodges is now stationed in Europe, where he heads the NATO forces. Yeah, I know that you've heard that Jaap de Hoop Scheffer of the Netherlands is the current Secretary General of NATO, soon to be followed by Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, but neither a dike-loving Lowlander nor a melancholy-baby Dane really heads NATO. Not the way Uncle Cran usually tells it. The true Secretary General of NATO is none other than Colonel James Hodges.
Wildman James is now Colonel Hodges, USAF, and has calmed down some.
Anyway, back to Uncle Cran and his photogenic memories, which I reckon date to about the latter 1940s:
[These photos of James cavorting in Little Creek] brought [back] memories of my youth, and our swimming hole located on our Hodges family farm on Big Creek, between Viola and Elizabeth, Arkansas.And that's Uncle Cran's meandering anecdote about his adventures of the latter 1940s in a swimming hole that I also recall, though from the 1960s. Readers may be wondering why I've been so kind as to leave Uncle Cran's tale relatively untouched by my trademark cutting remarks. After all, I do have my reputation to uphold as the Simon Cowell of 'Bloggers-Got-Talent' performances!
Big Creek meandered through our farm, eventually flowing into the Norfolk Lake, some 10 miles downstream. The waters were clear and clean flowing in those days, with the shady banks shielded by trees on each side. In those days, before much of the hilly countryside was stripped of trees and turned into pastureland, the water supply was plentiful, with side streams (called 'branches') and flowing springs keeping the water fresh and cool. The many deep holes at that time were filled with an assortment of bass, bream, perch, rock bass, goggle-eyes, as well as flathead, blue and channel catfish.
In early spring a variety of delicious, but bony fish, known by residents as suckers, red horse, and buffalo, would migrate up the creeks from Norfolk Lake by the thousands to lay and fertilize their eggs. With us smaller guys driving the bottom feeders by throwing rocks, the older boys would snag them with "grab hooks." We would eat both them and the eggs (roe), and mom would fill quart jars of the fish, cut up into chunks, and pressure cooked for winter eating, usually made up into breaded fish patties.
The fishing was great, but the best recreation for us youngsters was "The Old Swimming Hole."In those days many of the holes along the route of the creek were long, broad, and deep enough for groups of youth to bring their horses, and in in some places it was deep enough to swim the horses. One in particular, called the "Blue Hole," two miles upstream from our own "Evans Hole,"was really big and deep.
Our swimming spot was about 1/4 mile from our house. At the place we got into the water, there was a two-level ledge of rock, where you could remove your clothes, lay them on the clean rocks, and step right into the water. At that point, the water was about two feet deep, but the 30 feet wide and 60 feet long pool reached a depth of about seven feet in the middle, and reached a gravel shoal at the lower end where you could wade out. Near the lower end where the water was still deep, a cottonwood (I believe) leaned out over the pool, and the older boys climbed up, tied a rope to a high limb, then tied a short piece of limb on the lower end of the rope so that you could swing from the tree trunk to the middle, and drop off with a big splash.
My brothers and I, just about every summer day, and on the weekends, friends, would come and join in the fun. Can you picture a bunch of skinny-dipping boys . . . whooping, yelling, swimming, splashing, climbing the tree, taking the swing, jumping out away from the tree, then turning loose and hitting the water? . . . On second thought, try to get rid of that vision . . . it wasn't a sight for refined and delicate eyes!
The older boys had learned to swim before Dad bought this farm, but Bradley and I learned to do so here. Big brother Buel would let Bradley and me take turns climbing on his back, and then he would slowly swim into the deeper water, and sink down so we could try to use our arms and legs. When we panicked, he would come up so we could rest, then try again. I think brother James [-- uncle to Colonel James --] was too busy splashing water in our faces, dunking us, or lifting us up high in the air and flinging us out over the water, to be much help. When they thought we were ready, they would take us to the bank, first Bradley, then me. One would grab us by the shoulders, the other by the heels, swing us back and forth, and on the count of three, toss us out into the deepest part. Desiring to live another day, we always made it to shore.
Our sisters, Kathryn and Virginia, were seldom permitted to go swimming with us boys, and as a result of little practice, they never learned to swim very well. (Of course, when they were permitted to come and swim, we all wore bathing suits.) I always thought we could swim faster without them, as there wasn't much to slow us down then. But as a result of little practice, they never learned to swim very well. In fact, Kathryn never really learned. On two occasions she almost drowned. Once was near Elizabeth, 5 miles downstream, in a place called "The Tunnel." The other time was in our swimming hole, which I will relate:
After the older boys had grown and moved away, Bradley, Kathryn, Virginia and I would occasionally all go swimming. On this day Bradley was helping Kathryn learn to swim, Virginia playing in the shallow water, and I "dog paddling" ahead of Brad and Kathryn. She managed to make it out to the deep water (about 7 feet . . . 2 & 1/3 meters?). Then she panicked and started screaming, "HELP!", and going under. I swam to the bank . . . Ginny & I screaming and crying. Bradley tried to help, but Kathryn grabbed him and shoved him under. He could only think of one way to rescue her. He would sink to the bottom, shove her as far toward the bank as he could, come up for air, and keep doing this. He finally got her to the bank, helped her climb out . . . then they both just lay awhile, absolutely exhausted. Once again, Big Brave Brother Bradley, our hero, saved the day.
One of my and Brad's most embarrassing moments was . . . on a hot summer day we were in the swimming hole, in our usual "birthday suits," having a great time. We were swimming, yelling, splashing, climbing the tree trunk, swinging out on the rope as far and high as we could, then turning loose, with a ferocious Tarzan yell. Can you picture this? . . . Never Mind . . . please don't!
Just then we heard someone laughing and shouting, 'WHOOPEE!
We looked, and THERE WAS MOM, STANDING ON THE SOUTH BANK, WATCHING US! We dropped into the water, hiding ourselves as best we could, reminiscent of another event in the garden of Eden, ages ago. But we had no fig leaves for aprons! We begged Mom to go. She did, but laughed about that for a long time.
These are just a few memories of days long gone by. Unfortunately, with many of the trees gone from the creek banks and surrounding hills, many of the swimming holes are filled with gravel, but the Evans Hole is still there.
And in visions I return there occasionally.
The truth is that I feel sorry for Uncle Cran. Yes, even I have a heart. Granted, it's a reptilian heart and has only three chambers, but it beats like a long-thumping softshell-turtle heart for relatives like Uncle Cran who have entered their second childhood and are signing off as "Your loving nephew, Cran."
Yes, Uncle Cran really did sign off as my nephew. Even he, in a 'junior' moment, dimly recalled who he is supposed to be, attempted to muster up his dignity, and sent me another email:
Jeffery, I woke up this morning at 4:00 am, and thought to myself: I SIGNED BELOW . . . "Your Loving nephew."Alzheimers is kicking in again!Yes, Alzheimers. I agree. As I also 'thought to myself' (for I cannot think any other way) upon reading his closing words, that very term "Alzheimers" having expressed my diagnosis, too.
Let us therefore humor 'Nephew' Cran. Not the laughing sort of humor. That would be cruel. No, I mean the pitiful kind. Pity him in kindness.