As a kid, I always dreaded the beginning of school and, once it started, I dreamed of summertime. I loved being outside and free. Oh, I had jobs—mowing grass, trimming hedges, washing cars, helping Pop clean up at job sites—but I had a lot of leisure to enjoy not having to worry about tests, math problems or term projects.
My friends and I went for the first swim of the year usually by the end of February. One warm Sunday in February when I was 14, our gang was torn between two bodies of water with the same name: Salt Creek. There were probably more creeks so named, but we only knew about two of them. They both originated in the oil fields. One was out beyond Dumas pasture, the territory of ornery Brahma cows and an alert and very protective bull named Sammy. The other was almost to Smackover, a distance that required someone in our group to acquire a car or truck. That Sunday, Tommy sweet-talked his Mother with all kinds of promised domestic labor and came up with the family sedan.
No worries about Sammy the bull; we were headed to the Smackover Salt Creek. Nine of us arranged ourselves like sardines in the De Soto. We were full of advice for Tommy, whose driving skills had not fully matured. He put up with our banter for a while but, at length, pulled over and said, “If y’all don’t shut up, I’m putting you out.” That did it. We started singing “Do, Lord” disharmoniously and continued the adolescent praise service the rest of the way.
When we arrived at the Salt Creek bridge, Tommy pulled off onto a little two-rutted trail and drove up into a fairly thick canebrake. There, we shed clothing and made our way to the high bank. No one had to teach us to walk carefully in snake country. We just knew to watch the ground (and water) for any movement. That day, we only saw one moccasin, peacefully ingesting a bullfrog. At first it looked as if the snake had legs, but those appendages were the frog’s, on his way out of this corporeal realm. He looked so resigned to his fate, stoically accepting his role as nourishment for the ugly snake.
We had a blast cannonballing, belly flopping as well as creating other diving techniques, such as the alligator, the plank and the helicopter. It was so great to be back in a summertime mode, however prematurely, that we ignored the rather pungent odor emanating from the creek…and us.
I don’t know about the others, but when I got back home just enough before church time to eat some cheese and crackers and take a quick shower, Mother hit the ceiling about the smell. “Where have you been! Get some Lysol and wipe that chair down when you finish. You stink to high heaven!” she cried. “We went to Salt Creek, Mamma. I’m fixing to take a shower.” She could not believe that we would be so foolish as to go swimming in February, but, since it happened almost every year, she let it slide. She made me scrub the tub, though, and throw the washcloth and towel away.