Warmer weather brings back memories the creek

Published 1:56 pm Wednesday, April 17, 2024

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By Lloyd Albritton


When I was a young boy growing up in Nokomis, the early spring sun always provoked joyous thoughts of going swimming at the creek. Creek water is shockingly cold and though many southerners have fond childhood memories of frolicsome times at the local “swimming hole,” the attraction usually loses its appeal for most of us by the end of our teen years.  But, when we were young, we plunged in without compunction, climbed out shivering and screaming and covered with goose bumps, then jumped right back in, again and again, until our skinny bodies were acclimated.  Swimming at the creek was my favorite summer past time.  I faintly recall one early spring day in my preschool years when I fell asleep in the warm sun on a pallet Mama had spread out in the back yard.  When I woke up, I discovered that it was just me and Mama there.  Where were the others?  She said Daddy had taken the rest of the children to the creek to swim.  I was so upset that I cried and cried until they returned.  I loved going to the creek and Mama never let them leave me again.

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During those early years, our entire family often went to the creek and picnicked on the grassy banks.  Daddy would sometimes take a watermelon from the garden and tie it up in an old corn sack underneath the water to let it get cold.  When we were through swimming and were all tuckered out and ravenous, we would eat fried chicken and potato salad that Mama had prepared and then pig out on watermelon. We never ate watermelon in slices.  Daddy would just bust it into halves and we would dig in with our hands like a bunch of wild puppies.  I always loved eating watermelon that way.  Years later when I got married, my wife had to retrain me to a more civilized way of eating watermelon.   When I’m not under supervision, I still love to bust open a watermelon and dig right into the heart of it.  That’s the best part and is worth fighting over.

Later in my teen years, the creek was where all the boys of Nokomis hung out during the hot summer months.  These places were called swimming holes, or sometimes wash holes.  We played games of chase and tag until we were exhausted.  When we were young, Daddy took us to popular community swimming holes where families picnicked together on grassy banks.  These spots were well cleared and often had diving boards and ropes swinging from tree limbs.  Some of our later swimming holes were ad hoc clearings deep in the swamp full of stumps and snakes where no one would have ever thought of looking for us if a Taneybogus or a Wampus Cathad had eaten us up.

Adult men would sometimes gather on the banks at these places to drink whiskey and shoot craps.  Sometimes they ended up shooting one another.  I remember a certain old wino who was so drunk he couldn’t stand up.  He just rolled himself off the creek bank into the icy water with all his clothes on.  After a moment or so underneath the cold water he sprang to the surface, climbed out all refreshed, and started drinking again from his whiskey bottle again.  In those days Nokomis seemed filled with drunkards and winos who stumbled up and down the dirt roads drunk on moonshine liquor or cheap wine.  My brothers and I often stumbled upon these men passed out in a ditch or on a woods trail.  Many were older men of the Depression Era, but others were fairly young men of World War II vintage.

The story is told in my family about a time my paternal Great Grandmother Albritton went along with the family to the creek to tend the baby while the young parents swam in the creek.  They say Grandma was quite a colorful personality and she cursed a lot.  As Grandma sat in a chair on the edge of the creek bank holding the baby, the child became excited at the sight of all the other children frolicking in the water and began to bounce around in Grandma’s lap screaming “ME WANNA GO WAWA!  ME WANNA GO WAWA!”  Grandma finally got so agitated that she angrily flung the youngster out into the middle of the creek and blurted, “Alright you little Bastard, you want to swim so bad, go swim, Damn You!”  Daddy said Grandma was a sweet old woman most of the time, but when got mad she could be pretty mean.

There were a lot of post World War II babies in Nokomis and, as I grew older, I had many friends in the community about my age.  We later became known as the Baby Boomer generation.  In Nokomis we Baby Boomer boys roamed the woods freely, camped out, played ball on the dirt roads and in the open fields between crops, and went swimming together at the creek during the summer months.  During these years we hacked clandestine trails through the thick swamps to find good swimming spots along the creek which we commandeered as our private swimming holes.  We cleared off the banks, but they usually remained muddy and slippery with plenty of stumps to dodge.  We all incurred lots of cuts and scrapes and stubbed toes on our feet as well as bruises, scrapes and cuts from jagged tree stumps in the water.  These muddy creek waters were home to lots of snakes and other varmits, but all the splashing and commotion we created seemed to scare them away.  I never saw anyone get bitten by a snake or attacked by a wild animal.  I did, however, hear of one boy getting bit on his thumb by a snake while out in the woods alone.  As fate would have it, he happened to have his trusty Davy Crocket hatchet with him and he quickly chopped off his own thumb and made his way home in good stead and afterward lived a long life, minus one thumb.

In spite of the many hours we spent swimming at the creek, most of us country boys were not very good swimmers, having never had a lesson.  One could generally dive off one bank and come up on the other side without much swimming involved.  We swam underwater a lot too.  The water was black and murky, and it was easy to hide underwater during chase games.  My cousin from Mobile came to visit one summer and we took him swimming with us down at the swimming hole.  He had taken swimming lessons at the city pool and I was amazed at how fast and smoothly he could swim.  My own inefficient, self-taught swimming techniques were more like thrashing about than smooth swimming.  I was, however, a pretty good floater.

Diving was a big part of creek swimming.  Like our swimming, our diving technique also left a lot to be desired.  We did a lot of belly-busters, turned flips off logs and such, and dived from overhanging tree limbs.  Some boys were more daring than others and many of them dove from high tree limbs into shallow water.  Occasionally, they would hit bottom and get a little banged up, but rarely did anyone get seriously hurt.  There were exceptions.  Rastus Johnson was in his 30’s when he dove from a tree limb and broke his neck.  They loaded Rastus in a car and took him off to the hospital, where he died later that day.  Not realizing how serious his brother’s injuries were, Rastus’ 16-year-old brother, Tony, climbed up into the same tree and tried the dive.  Tony hit bottom and broke his neck too.  Tony Johnson was a paraplegic for the rest of his life.  I never saw Tony after his accident and will always remember him as a handsome little blonde-haired, sun-tanned boy playing in the hot summer sun with my younger brothers.  Tony took his own life many years later.

I have gone swimming in the creek occasionally as an adult and the icy, swampy-smelling water never fails to conjure up memories of those fun times in my youth.  No more flips off logs or diving from tree limbs for me though.  I’m usually content to sit on the bank and cool my feet in the shallow water, lie on my back, and dream of those wonderful days gone by.