When We Were Young
Swimming with Snakes
from the pen of Marsha L Burris
Baby, it’s cold outside! Christmas hasn’t even arrived yet and it’s seventeen (17) degrees! My gloves are asking for gloves. Reflecting on the summers of my youth warms my heart – and that warmth sticks with me longer than a cup of hot cocoa.
Who else can claim to have grown up with the most wonderful friends ever? For those of us who call Newell ‘home’, this is an often heard boast. I see many of these old friends still but more and more our reunions take place at funeral services for beloved family and friends. Chatting about the old days on Facebook is quickly surpassing cemeteries as the location for our gathering of the minds, though, and that suits me just fine. We repeat our stories to each other and I’m glad to know that my recollections of the good old days match theirs. We got ourselves in some fixes way back then that we did not necessarily want our mothers to know about. But for many of us, sadly, it’s now safe to tell the tales.
I record one such account here.
Visiting my friend Mimi at her house was an adventure and not just because she had horses that roamed the green rolling hills of the Roberts family pasture, but because of the pond. Mimi had a great ‘swimming pond’. Most of us had ponds in Newell and each pond had its own personality. Our pond was especially good for getting us stuck in muck and mud. And in a made-up game of ‘Tarzan’ we pretended that the mud was quick sand. Those of us who adopted the roles of Natives dramatically sunk ourselves up to our ankles in the ooze while begging Tarzan (usually played by my brother Robert because he could do the yell just like Johnny Weissmuller) to come and save our lives. And then there were a few times when my sibs and I ice-skated on our pond if the temperatures dipped low enough and long enough to freeze it over. Our dad led the way on such a winter excursion and we knew no harm would come to us when he was there.
But back to Mimi’s pond!
Mimi’s pond was an official swimming pond. It had a pier built on the shore line which extended out over the water several feet so that when we jumped off it we landed in deep enough water to be safe.
Let’s remember here that ‘safe’ is a relative term in Newellese. Before safe swimming could take place in Mimi’s pond, a little pre-dip ritual had to be performed. We had to splash the water enthusiastically. Yes, we beat the water with sticks and made all manner of wild sloshing movements from the shore or the pier before jumping into the water. Why? Well, to disperse the snakes and turtles and fish that gathered around the supports of the pier of course. You read that right… to scare away the SNAKES and turtles and fish.
As Mimi herself admitted only recently, “we usually tried not to tell our friends much about the critters in the pond or they might chicken out on swimming. We never got bit except by nibbling fish.”
We, her friends, could suffer being called just about any name except ‘chicken’. So we splashed. And then we jumped. We swam around like little tadpoles. Tadpoles in clothes that is. Cut-offs and tee shirts made the preferred summer uniform. Rarely did we think ahead enough to prepare for various activities such as swimming – but it was probably best to have on as much protective clothing as possible anyway in case something other than the fishes decided to nibble at us.
The most vivid part of this memory? IT WAS WARM!
Bundle up dear friends.