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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Old Fools Journal: Brown's Hole and Naked Boys or A Time of Innocence

Brown's Hole 1948. If you look close you can see the diving board just below the center.

At the end of 1948 or 1949 there was a major achievement in my life. In those days there was no school bus so since we lived only two miles from the Brady elementary school we walked. The school was located at the intersection of Markam Street and Rodney Parham Road. Both at the time were gravel roads. Markam Street was a straight east/west road leading into the heart of Little Rock, Arkansas. Rodney Parham was like a snake between 12th Street on the south and and Highway 10 on the north. We lived on Rodney Parham about a half mile northwest of Judge Parham's place. Once off Markam and past Andy Arans sawmill the second curve was a 90 degree turn to the west and a half mile or so further on would cross Rock Creek one of three time on this stretch between Markam St and Cantrell Road(hwy 10). We called this turn Browns curve because when coming from town if you went straight instead of turning you went to Brown's house. My aunt Wanda tells me they once had a slaughter house there.

That curve had no other distinction when there was little traffic but as cars became more plentiful and became faster eventually a combination of booze, gasoline, speed and mechanical brakes took its toll. When I think of it now I always remember it with a burning car wreck. During the time of this tale it was where I left the road on the way home from school in the spring and autumn . I'd pass Browns house and pick up a well hidden trail through the trees that followed along the bank of Rock Creek.

It was rough trail and not suitable for a bicycle but I took mine back there anyway in the summer riding some and carrying some. No easy task as I was small and this was a 1940 vintage single speed 26" Hawthorne and not known for lightness. I was a little shrimp. In the sketch above the trail crosses the stream and a little further on turns west and becoming many trails going to all corners of the world. For me one led to another then to another and then to Rodney Parham Road not far from home. I never saw anyone else in this part of the woods not even the other boys so I sort of considered it mine. I thought I was a native Indian (we didn't yet know the term native american) and strode along barefoot with the supreme confidence of belonging. There was no danger except those a young boy can conjure up when adventuring and the occasional broken whiskey bottle the enemy white man had used as traps waiting for the unaware barefoot boy. I still carry a scar on my foot from when I learned that many whiskey drinkers had traveled these trails before me.

In the sketch where the path crosses the contributing brook and to the right out of sight is a relatively wide sandy bottomed slow moving basin. The water would get warm there. One day while lolling around naked in that pool washing the summer sweat and stink of preteen boys off and discussing the intricacies of swimming a dare was made. It had to do with deeper water. The water we were in was maybe ten inches deep. Deep enough for twerps like us to float in, almost. "I can swim", "You can't either", "Yes I can", back and forth until those dreaded words "prove it" were uttered followed by "I dare you". Those are powerful words.

As far as I was concerned I could swim starting on the day I was born. I had no fear of the water and never felt threatened by it. If I was on land I could walk, in a tree I could climb, in the water I could swim. I even believed I could fly. I was a little snot that didn't yet know I could be killed. I had not been in water over my head but I had dog paddled in shallow water and could stay under water swimming for quite a long time so how hard could it be.

The Big Boys were over in the deep spot by the diving board. The deep part was probably 12 to 15 feet across and quite long but I don't think it was more than six feet deep. It had a firm mud bottom with the mud only being a couple of inches deep. Just enough to be icky and give you incentive to swim.

So we traipsed our scrawny white asses over to where the big boys were. They were running and diving off an improvise diving board. I don't remember how we got around to it but the big boys got in on it and egged me on. I started to wade in off the bank but they all started yelling that I had to dive in. Oh oh! I hadn't bargained for that but I was not about to lose face so I walked out on the board and jumped. It wasn't as deep as I thought and I found I could bounce off the bottom and not have to swim a lick but I was there to show I could swim. Dog paddling over to the bank I climbed out and ran back to the diving board to jump in again. I did not yet know what adrenaline was but I know now that at that young age I was already a adrenaline junky and my brain was getting a fix.

The big boys were yelling dive, dive. I said I couldn't so one of them came over to me and said don't be silly, come on I'll show you and he did. I did not like to be the center of attention but that day I was and it felt great. After getting over the initial fear of jumping head first into the unknown those guys kept me at it until I could get my butt then my feet higher than my head before entering the water. What a day. I slept well that night.

When I look back on that event several questions come to mind. Like why can't I remember any of the boys names not even the one that made the dare? Why was it OK for boys to go off into the forest, all carrying knives, get naked outdoors together and swim in an unsupervised stream? My only restriction was be home at dinner time. There was no TV and some in these woods had no electricity. The roads weren't paved. We didn't have a phone yet but we had cold running water in the kitchen. There was no bathroom. The out house didn't have a door and no light. Contrary to popular belief we had toilet paper. Catalogs were not suitable because they were too slick. When did calling the places where we swam "swimming holes" go out of favor? I'm sure there were varying thoughts about the title of this post that has nothing to do with swimming.

That place is still there but it is buried under layers of concrete and ticky tacky houses waiting for the readjustment. I spent a afternoon traveling around that area about 12 years ago. I found that no one knew that the drainage ditch that went behind their house was really Rock Creek. No one knew that it was the same ditch that was bridged three times on Rodney Parham Road. No one knew that the graveyard further down the road used to have a little white church called "Pilgram Rest Baptist Church" next to it. Many do not know the cemetery is there even though it is right next to the street. I didn't see any boys anywhere outside and it was summer.
My aunt pointed out that the church sat out closer to the road but this is from the perspective of a five year old which is my strongest memory. I am unable to sketch a credible mule and wagon or a T model Ford but they should be in the shade of that tree. I hope that someday I can make that sketch happen.
The church still exist I'm told but has been moved. I walked in this cemetery last in 1993.
The driveway, such as it is, turns into a trail through the woods and comes out at
Mr. Little's.

Further down stream there was another "Browns Hole" on the south side of Markam Street. It was much larger and had a rope swing. It was a very social place.

The major achievement? Learning to dive of course. I may not remember the names of the other boys but I clearly remember that day and learning to dive.

There was one other major event there on another day and that was the day the girls showed up to see all the nekkid boys. Most of that story goes like this "suddenly there was a hoard (more than three) of dresses (females wore dresses in those days) parading up and down the bank. Giggle, giggle, giggle, giggle, giggle,giggle, screech, I saw it, giggle, giggle, giggle,etc." I would have recorded it but wire recorders didn't really come out for another 10 years.


Emmy said...

What an amazing story! I really enjoyed reading it, and your illustrations helped me to visualize even better. As one growing up in a generation where I can be a girl and still wear pants, and where my brother and the boys don't go to swimming holes, but the local rec center pool, I can only wonder what it must be like. But whenever I read about these times, I feel this strange combination of nostalgia and jealousy, because I wish that I could have lived then, too.

PaddyAnne said...

Your sketches have a Van Gogh type quality to them. Have you ever tried to do any painting? I think you should paint, I'd bet you'd be good at it. I enjoyed your story very much. I too grew up where you ran around outside all the time, everyone knew the lay of the land, and you just had to be in and washed for dinner at 6.

I have no idea what sort of 'good memory' stories the kids of today will have, but if they are lucky, they will have some that hopefully, are half as good as yours.

Steve A said...

Is your REAL name Tom Sawyer?

Gunnar Berg said...

Nice work. Seven or eight years later we were dipping in an old gravel quarry, about a 3 mile bicycle ride from town carrying our rods, reels and tackle. It was not the worst time of my life.

Factoid: Prairie Home, as in 'Prairie Home Companion' is a small rural cemetery in west central Minnesota.

limom said...


John Romeo Alpha said...

All of those unsupervised "play dates", I don't know how you made it all these years. The reason you didn't see any boys outside in the summer was that they were all inside playing video games. Steve's right, this does have a Tom Sawyer quality to it, including the possibility of real adventures and independent exploration and learning, things largely missing from kids' lives today, as tightly scheduled and supervised as their lives are.

Anonymous said...

Your recollections are fascinating-I really enjoy your writings. Many thanks for enlightening me about winglets in a previous post. I am not very computer proficient, and it really makes me happy to find something useful here.

Jon said...

We used to ride our motorbikes, or drive our old cars (when we were 13 years old, until we graduated high school) 5 miles down to an abandoned bridge over Horse Creek and jump 12 feet down into the creek to swim. There's a feedlot a half mile upstream, now, and you'd be better off swimming in a cesspool.

Seems like the sun shined brighter, back in those days...

Lord Wellbourne said...

What a wonderful journey down memory lane! They're your memories but very similar in scope to my own and you helped me to revisit them. Wonderful post!

VHJM van Neerven said...

Thank you.
May I post a link to this writing on Facebook? Some of my friends there, especially the poets, would love it.

Oldfool said...

Of course you may. It is on facebook at Richard T Swaim Herrington.

Baby Names said...

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