It didn’t matter that the water was often cold, muddy and teeming with leeches — these river spots were the place to be
Behind our farmhouse during spring runoff, angry churning water boiled through the little riverbed in a vicious hurry downstream, taking with it everything that dared stand in its way.
When the water receded, my older brother scouted along the edge for a deep pool carved out of the riverbank. He usually found one. We caught a few fish in it while the weather was still cool enough for them to bite, but not yet warm enough for us to swim.
Having depleted the hole of suckers, bullfrogs, turtles and whatever other wildlife had laid claim to it, word went out about the beginning of July that we had a good swimming hole. A steady stream of community kids made their way down our country lane in search of a cool, refreshing swim.
Cool it was.
The little river originated from ice cold springs up in the hills, and the water hadn’t warmed much by the time it reached our farm. To plunge in headlong took more courage than I could muster. I waded in slowly, watching my legs turn from a bright shade of sunburned pink to a pale shade of freezing blue.
Refreshing? I’m not so sure. The river bottom was soft, squishy mud, and within a few minutes, a playful water fight had riled things up considerably. I came out of the water wearing more grit than I had when I went in, especially in my hair.
The girls’ “change room” was in fact the cool, shadowy enclosure of an overhanging grape vine, where a friend stood guard in case some mischievous little boy tried to peek in on us. He did so at his peril, our threats to drown him displaying our wrath.
We relented at the last minute, flogging him instead with a switch of fiddlehead ferns. They grew in abundance along the river and little did we know back in those days that they were considered a delicacy by top chefs. All we knew is that they stained the bottoms of our bare feet a bright green as we tramped through them going back and forth to the swimming hole.
Over the summer, a kind of community clothesline sprung up in our big front yard, where the girls in particular hung their swimsuits to dry. With not enough to go around, I always grabbed a swimsuit that fit on a first-come, first-served basis, afraid of dilly dallying for fear I’d be sitting on the riverbank sweltering in the heat while someone else my size splashed around in the water.
Minor apparel like swimsuits seldom bothered the boys. Using the ploy that we’d be sucked dry in a matter of minutes if so much as one leech fastened itself to our little toe, the boys managed to frighten us girls half to death. After that, all it took was one fellow standing on the riverbank peering into the depths and shouting “bloodsucker” to empty the swimming hole of pesky female siblings as if by magic. When we were safely out of sight, the boys stripped to their birthday suits and dove in.
Sometimes they stayed in much, much longer than they intended because a group of us giggling girls deliberately lined the riverbank and held them hostage by challenging their modesty.
The boys retaliated by vandalizing our grapevine dressing room. Stripped of leaves in strategic places, it had to be abandoned in favour of another secret location offering better privacy.
Come the hot, muggy days of July, I often think back to that little creek that ran through our farm and how delighted we were when we saw that the water had risen — enough water to swim in.