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July 22, 2018

One Saturday afternoon, just after school was out for the summer, I was invited to go swimming at the Y.M.C.A. with five of our grandchildren. I enjoyed being in the water with these young ones who wanted their gray granddad to cheer them on in their newly developed aquatic skills. They especially took delight in shooting down the water slide and splashing the old man. Being with them in the water brought back recollections of distant times past when, as a boy, I went swimming on hot summer days.

Other folks of my vintage have similar memories. On a sweltering afternoon last week, a friend said, “I wish I could go swimming in Barr’s Pond back in Lexington County. On a scorching day like today,” he said, “Barr’s pond was the best place to cool off. We’d pile into the bed of a pickup truck. My father would back the truck right up to the water, and we’d all jump out and go swimming.”

Many folks have pleasant memories of a favorite swimming hole. A spot in a creek or a pond, one large enough and deep enough to go for a cooling dip provided blessed relief on a hot summer day.

In a time when there were few swimming pools, the old swimming hole was an important part of my growing-up years. Besides the swimming pool at Camp Croft, there were no public places to swim other than rivers and lakes.

In the popular television series, “The Beverly Hillbillies,” Jed Clampett and his mountaineer family relocated to Beverly Hills. The family was fascinated by their swimming pool, which they called a cement pond. The Clampetts never seemed to grasp the intended use of the pool. Granny sometimes did the laundry in it and set up her moonshine still next to it.

For the Beverly Hillbillies, the cement pond was a less than acceptable replacement for a mountain swimming hole. So, too, the high tech pools of our time are just not the same as those natural swimming places that afford such great pleasure.

Some of our best swimming holes were rendered unusable by those whose disregard for clean water turned our waterways into trash dumps. I remember cooling off as a boy in the North Tyger River. By my early adult years, industrial pollution had altered the alkaline content of the river enough to burn human skin.  In recent years, environmental efforts to clean up streams and rivers have resulted in cleaner water and healthier places to swim.

Rainbow Lake, north of Boiling Springs, was a popular place to swim in our area. The fancy swimming hole featured a three-story stone tower for diving. I remember going to Rainbow Lake on hot summer afternoon with my Little League baseball team.

Tommy Stokes, our second baseman, did a headfirst dive off the third story of the tower. Tommy narrowly missed swimmers leaping from the first and second levels as he plummeted into the deep water.

I did my first backflip off the tower at Rainbow Lake. I made a valiant attempt. I flipped and rotated too far. The backflip became a painful back flop.

Soon after I graduated from high school, Rainbow Lake was closed. In 1968, amid the controversy of racial integration, Spartanburg Water Works officials announced that the lake would not reopen for the summer season. A great swimming hole was lost.

When I recall places that I have been swimming, the lakes at scout camp and at Ridgecrest come to mind. What joy!

I have been swimming in the Pigeon River in the Smoky Mountains, Elk Shoals on the North Fork of the New River, and at Burrell Ford on the Chattooga River. I have enjoyed a refreshing dip in pools at the base of waterfalls like Big Bradley on the Green River and Kings Creek Falls in Sumter National Forest. Sliding Rock on the Davidson River in Pisgah National Forest is perhaps the coldest swimming hole I have endured.

Safety is always a concern when swimming in a natural setting. Never swim alone! There are no lifeguards. Use the buddy system. Currents can be swift. Rocks can be hazardous.  Do not dive! Diving is especially dangerous because the water may be shallow, or there may be hidden rocks below the surface. Slowly wade into the water.  Always wear shoes! Broken glass and discarded metal are often present.

One summer Saturday, my parents took us swimming with our cousins at Lake Lure. On Sunday morning, my mother received a telephone call notifying us that a cousin with whom we had been swimming had been stricken with polio. This was before the Salk vaccine had been introduced. All of us were quarantined for the rest of the summer. There was no more swimming that year.

There were two swimming holes I remember most fondly. One was a small pool my friends and I made in a creek behind our house. We dammed up the unnamed stream. A large vine hanging from a poplar tree provided a ready-made swing. With a running start down the hill, we could soar across the creek and back. At the right time we would turn loose, splashing into the muddy pool. The water was a pale yellow. It coated us from neck to toe with a thin layer of mud.

The second place dear to my heart was my grandfather’s farm pond. Skinny-dipping is a well-established tradition at some remote swimming holes. My grandfather’s pond was not the place for swimming sans swimsuit!

Pappy had built a small dock that gave us a perfect launching pad into the cool water. I often fished in this same pond. While swimming, we could feel small bream nibbling our legs.

After we hooked a couple of granddaddy catfish, we didn’t even let our feet touch the bottom. Catching a washtub-size snapping turtle made us still more leery. In that same pond, Rudy Mancke and I caught thirty-eight snakes one night. After that, I didn’t swim in that pond ever again.

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