Summer’s ragged petticoat is showing as we slowly but surely drift toward autumn. Cornstalks are dying and turning brown, while purple ironweed makes its appearance in fields and meadows. The grandchildren are boarding the big yellow school buses, eagerly or reluctantly, bound for institutions of learning.
It seems that the summer was so short. A few weeks of freedom, picnics and pool parties, and vacation is over. August drifted into our hills, bringing hot days of sunshine and cool refreshing nights. Morning mist crowds the valleys and coves and hovers over the hollers, but the rising sun soon puts the fog to rout.
This is summer’s last fling before fall begins, and already there are warning signs along the way. There is a feeling of urgency in the air as nature hurries to wrap up the tag ends of summer while there is yet time. Although the days are hot and steamy, the katydids are shouting a warning that this will not last.
When I was a kid, we knew that our days of freedom were numbered before the grind of the school term began. We hurried to wring the last bit of summer enjoyment from our days, endeavoring to cram each day full. On hot days like these, the creek drew us like a magnet.
During Dog Days (they went out the 11th) Mom would warn us not to play in the creek. Because the water got stagnant and we would get “fall sores” on our legs. We sneaked and played in the creek anyway. And we did get fall sores. The general treatment was gentian violet, that wildly purple medicine that dotted our legs when school began. Of course, we weren’t the only ones with purple spots. You never hear the term fall sores (impetigo?) anymore, but then we rarely hear the word “bealing” either. A bealing was merely a boil, but there’s fancy medical terms now, such as “staph infections” etc. What we suffered was fall sores and bealings.
We did love the creek though, and spent many long days playing in it. It was much deeper then, clear and clean. We made aquariums, and caught tiny minnows (minners) crawdads, and the wee shellfish that we called “penny-winkles.” I have not seen a penny-winkle here in the creek for many years, but then I don’t play in it as much as I used to. Tadpoles also graced our rocky aquariums, as well as the little lizards that darted under submerged rocks.
The creek was not really big enough to swim in, but we would spend days damming up the biggest hole of water with rocks, logs, tree branches and mud. We would succeed in creating a thigh-high pool of water to “swim” in, and there we would conduct our occasional “baptismal services,” accompanied by lots of jumping and shouting. This was frowned upon by Mom.
The highlight of our summer days, however, was when we got to go to a hole of water deep enough to really swim. The D. Short hole was deep at that time, and we were permitted to go there once in a while. The Jim Wayne hole was farther away, and although the boys were allowed to go there, we girls were not. Our trips to Elk River were always accompanied by Mom and Daddy.
There is nothing to compare with that cool hole of water on a hot day. The creeks and streams were not polluted then, and the water was clear and clean. No matter where it was located, there is no thrill to a kid quite like “the old swimming’ hole.” Weary days of berry picking, long hot days of gardening chores–these were all sweetened with the promise of “I’ll take you in swimming when you get finished!”
One special swimming hole stands out in my mind. Located “up on Lilly,” it was a child’s dream of perfection. (We always went “up on Lilly,” but “down on Leatherwood.”) Lilly’s Fork of Buffalo Creek must surely be one of the most beautiful places in our hills that was ever created by God. It was a place of thickly wooded slopes, cold mountain streams, deep hollows and dense rhododendron thickets. Wild and isolated, it was scented with the piney fragrance of hemlock and sweet fern.
Down the path to the swimming hole we would run, springy pine needles deep underfoot, to plunge into the deep, clear water. “Last one in is a rotten egg!” we would yell to one another. No matter how warm the air, the water was always cold enough to take your breath. After the first gasp, our bodies grew used to the cool temperature and the water felt delightful. We splashed one another, dog-paddled and played. No fancy swan dives for us, we jumped off the bank in clumsy “belly-smackers.” We had contests to see who could stay underwater the longest, and practiced floating on our backs.
After a long afternoon of water antics, we were reluctantly pulled from the swimming hole to return home. Water-soaked and wrinkled, we usually piled into the back of a pick-up truck, wet swimming clothes and all. We felt that it was a day well spent. (How I would love to do it again!)
Backyard pools and public pools have taken the place of the old swimming’ hole, as many of our streams are polluted and dirty now. Yet, all the man-made concrete and vinyl pools, blue chlorine water, and redwood decks can never take the place of that old swimming’ hole back in the woods, where the cold water ran clear and clean.
We received a letter from Kim Davis of Cottageville, asking for a recipe for tomato ketchup. I found one in my old “Mountain Recipes” cookbook, but I haven’t tried it. Our tomato crop practically failed, so I won’t be canning any tomatoes this year.
1 gallon ripe tomatoes
1 quart vinegar (use less if too strong)
1 quart sugar
½ teaspoon red pepper
1 teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
Crush tomatoes through colander or sieve. Combine all ingredients in a large pan and cook slowly until thick enough. Can in sterilized jars.
Here is a little poem that I like–it’s good advice for all of us.
When the weather suits you not,
When your coffee isn’t hot,
When your neighbors don’t do right,
Or your relatives all fight,
Sure ‘tis hard, but then you might
Doesn’t change the things, of course–
But it cannot make them worse–
And it seems to help your case,
Brightens up a gloomy place,
Then, it sort o’ rests your face–