Thursday, February 10, 2011

... with no concern, not caring if I drowned ...

at least a half mile deepWe kids spent many happy hours swimming in the pond.  Daddy dug it to provide irrigation.  The other benefits were many!
George with the box on back of the tractor.

I don't remember the farm without a pond.  'The pond' was always there, like the shop and the house.  I was 5 when it was dug.  I do remember the box on the back of the tractor, filling up with dirt as Daddy and my brothers were digging the pond.  Dirt was dumped around the pond, on all sides.  To a little 5 year old gal, these piles of dirt were mountains!  HUGE, they were.  In reality, they were fairly small.  As the dirt was piled, the dirt was spread.  

Some little piles of dirt were on the house side of the farm as they worked.  I would find frogs (toad frogs) regularly at the farm.  Their first reaction was to pee.  It didn't take long for us little kids to learn how to pick up a frog and avoid the pee. We'd pick it up from the top, around the middle, and wait for it to pee. When it was through, we'd carry it in our hand.  I'd carry a frog around and with my hand and arm, make long tunnels in a pile of dirt, all the way to the middle.  These piles of dirt couldn't have been more than 2 feet across and 30 inches tall, at the most.  After making the first tunnel, I'd go 1/4 or 1/3 way around the pile and make another tunnel to meet the first one.  Then around a bit more I'd go, making tunnel after tunnel.  All the tunnels would meet in the middle.  Then the poor toad frog was placed into a tunnel and the mouth of the tunnel stopped up. I'd wait impatiently, going from side to side, tunnel to tunnel, to see which hole the frog would choose to exit the dirt pile.  Being smart, the frogs rarely exited the dirt pile.  After a 5 year old gal had been toting it around and digging tunnels and toting it around for a long time more, being placed in a tunnel in the dark in a pile of sand had to be the best thing to happen to it.  Eventually, I'd pull the dirt out of the mouth of the tunnel and push the frog farther into the tunnel and try again.  

Mother, me, and someone I can't identify.(Does anyone know who?)

Harold and Donald

Harold, Donald, and me

I don't remember this boat. The boat I remember was larger.  I would sit on the dock or stand in shallow water, watching my older siblings play with the boat.  Yes, play WITH the boat, not play IN the boat.  They'd all get on one side, push and pull, causing the boat to flip.  The goal was to keep it going, over and over, over and over, continually.  I was too young to join in for a few years then finally the day came when they decided I could swim well enough to join in.  Looking back, it was a dumb 'game' with no purpose but it was fun!

Another game we played with the boat began the same way for me.  I was too little, couldn't swim, and wasn't allowed to play.  I could only watch.  The oldest male always seemed to win 'King of the Mountain' - I mean - 'King of the Boat'.  When Donald and Harold played, though, the game never seemed to end.  No one would give up.  When I could swim well enough to join it, it wasn't fun.  I was simply too small to do anything other than climb up the first time and be knocked off.  The rest of the time I just tried to climb on but was continually pushed away and never allowed back on.  After all, that was what the game was about!  If someone couldn't knock someone else off, they'd simply rock the boat far enough for the 'king' to fall off.

When the larger boat was left upside down, sometimes Harold and Donald would swim under it and come up underneath it, breathing the air trapped under the boat.  To strangers and guests, it was scary.  Although we knew where the brother disappeared to, no one else would know. Guests would become nervous, scanning the water, holding their breaths, waiting to see a head pop up for air.  This was another one of the games we thought was fun but I'm sure that others didn't think it was funny!

The windmill

The windmill was eventually put up over the well.  The well was a deep hole in the ground, at least a half mile deep, that had a pump in the bottom.  Well, to me it was a half mile deep.  Actually it was pretty shallow, probably about 15 or 20 feet deep.  It was only on rare occasions we younger kids were allowed to go down into the well.  There was always a chance that a critter would be caught down there.  The behavior of a rattle snake loose in the field compared to trapped for days/weeks in a well would be quite different.  A rattlesnake that was trapped would be more apt to strike.  Once we were teens, we could go down into the well at times.  It was fun to go down but when we were older and we climbed down the ladder, we realized that the magic was gone.  After all, it was just a hole in the ground, covered with wide metal grating, with weeds and a pump in the bottom.  What could be special about that?

Even more exciting was the opportunity to climb UP the windmill ladder.  We were permitted to do that less often than we were allowed to go down into the well.  From the top of the windmill, you could see for miles around.  Well, it seemed like miles to a little girl.  

Water was pumped from the well to the pond to keep it full for irrigation.  When we swam, sometimes we'd go by and stick our heads under the flow of water.  Compared to the hot water of the pond, the well water was cold.  For me, putting my head under the water was enough.  It was just too cold.  We didn't drink the pond water.  Cows would walk into the water, people were in the water, ducks were in the water, fish were in the water, turtles were in the water ... no, we didn't drink the water.  But the fresh clear water coming from the well was another story.  We'd drink deep from that flow.

Daddy had cows in a field that joined to two sides of the pond.  Two sides of the field's fence went about 15 feet out into the pond, keeping the cows on their side of the pond and out of the side where we played and away from the well.  

A bit of water in the pond

Digging and digging - the dock is beginning to take shape at the left
The farm is full of rocks, part flint and part lime rock.  We spent many hours picking up rocks.  Later I'll share some of the rock stories that make up a huge part of our farm life.  Rocks from the farm were used to make the docks.  The size of the windmill is better illustrated with this photo.  You can see the tractors and people in the foreground.  In the background, left, is the windmill.  
Waiting for the water, leaning against the dock as it's being built
Judy, Sandra, Edith

When the pond was finished and we played around it and swam in it, there was a good deal of blood added to the water.  Flint rock is as sharp as a knife.  Because the bottom of the pond was clay (we slipped and fell a lot until we learned how to walk on clay) little bits of flint rock would be trapped and cut our feet.  It was rare for a bleeding cut to stop us.  Although there were a few cuts that were so bad that we couldn't continue to swim, in most cases we'd play and swim and only complain after we were told to get out of the water.  Bees and wasps would gather at the edge of the pond.  We had as many bee and wasp stings as cuts from flint rock.  Rarely did anything keep us out of the water.

Many years later, the dock is being used for fishing

The pond was full of bream, bass, and speckled perch.  It seemed like there were millions of minnows in the pond.  We kids used bread, cheese, or hot dogs as bait most of the time.  Mother would clean the fish and fry them up for supper.  The crisp friend bream tail was something we really liked to eat.  Mother loved to eat fish roe, something for which I never developed a taste.  Mother simply dipped cleaned fish into cornmeal with a pinch of salt and fry them. Simple cooking that was absolutely delicious.

My swimming lessons were the same swimming lessons that most younger sisters found themselves as UNwilling participants.  I would be on the dock or shore and suddenly found myself flying through the air.  Landing in the water, I'd dog paddle, keeping my head above water, yelling that I was drowning.  As everyone laughed and watched me with no concern, not caring if I drowned or not, as I dog paddled my way to the dock.  (Of course they were watching to be sure I made it back safely, but you couldn't have convinced me of that for anything!)  I would complain to Mother but it continued to happen again and again until one day I realized that they weren't throwing me into the pond any longer.  Instead, I'd always be in the pond swimming before they had a chance to toss me in the water.  

Daddy built a diving board on the dock.  He painted it and placed sand in the wet paint so it wouldn't be slick when it dried.  No matter how wet it was, our feet always had a good grip on that diving board.  When the sand began to wear off, Daddy would repaint it again and add more sand.  The 24 - 48 hours it took for the paint to dry were rough days; no diving board access! A few feet out from the end of the diving board was the deep part of the pond, dug 12 feet deep, to allow for safe diving.  

The metal railing at the top of the diving board was the spot for the most daring of swimming feats.  Again, I wasn't allowed to do this major daring trick when I was young.  With so many older brothers and sisters, I didn't dare disobey. There were too many of them that would tattle on me.  It began with my older brothers balancing on the metal railing and jumping off into the water.  Then they were diving off into the water.  One day I was allowed, with Mother standing right there by me, to climb up and jump off by myself.  I thought I was the most daring swimmer in the world!  "Look at me" had to be something everyone was very tired of hearing.  Looking back at photos, I have to laugh.  Daring?  No.  But it was a highlight of my life!
Mother was from Long Island New York, moved to Florida for good when she was 11, and could swim extremely well.  When she was in New York, she swam in a public swimming pool with Johnny Weissmuller (who played Tarzan in the movies).  Well, he was swimming in the same pool as she was at the same time, anyway!  Actually, it was just a public pool with quite a few people swimming in it at the same time but it was a highlight of Mother's swimming life. 

Aerial view of the farm.  Both docks are visible in this photo.

In the middle of the summer, we'd often take a bar of soap, wash cloths, and bottle of shampoo to the pond.  At the end of the day we'd wash the parts of our bodies outside our swimsuits and shampoo our hair before going in to supper.  That was plenty clean enough for the night's sleep and the next day’s work and fun on the farm.  We swam almost every day in the summer when school was out.  

No comments:

Post a Comment