Yesterday's Magazette

15 – The Swimming Hole

The nefarious Blue Creek where I broke my promise to my mother.

The Swimming Hole

By Carrillee Collins Burke

A broken promise almost killed me.

The event haunted me through my teen years. And even now remembering it, shakes me to my very core.

It was August, 1949, I was fifteen years old. The day was hot and humid and I had a swimming date with my friend Chuck   at a location I’d heard about but never visited. I wore a new one-piece, pale blue swimming suit—one of those made of elastic threads, stretchable in all directions. It was quite sexy, I thought.

“Where’re you kids going,” my mother asked.

“Rock Lake,” I said.

“Okay, just as long as you don’t go near Blue Creek.”

“We won’t.”

“You promise?”  My mother hugged me as I promised.

Rock Lake was the only legit and parent-approved swimming pool in the city area. I covered up with a blouse and pair of shorts and waited for Chuck.

“Have fun and be careful,” my mother said.

As Chuck drove his black Plymouth Coupe to Blue Creek, I felt guilty but reasoned it was just a  teenager’s little white lie. My spirits lifted when we joined several of Chuck’s friends at what was referred to as the “swimming hole.”  The hole was created by cement companies dredging gravel from the creek bed. Many older people said it was a dangerous place to swim, and that a “No Swimming” sign should be posted there. I guess that’s what made the place so exciting to us.

Anyway, we parked along the highway at the end of a long line of cars and pickup trucks near a deserted white farmhouse and a dilapidated red barn with the familiar Mail Pouch sign painted on the side. Weeds were waist high along the beaten path leading to the creek. We fought off mosquitoes and gnats and watched for snakes. Screams from catbirds flitting about trees aped the human screams of delight and laughter at the hole.

The path ended and suddenly we were at the site as if we had bursted right into a Grandma Moses painting. Blue Creek was as blue as its name. And overhead was a deep blue sky with marshmallow clouds. On the bank at the shallow end of the hole, big, round boulders bleached white from the sun stood at attention like giant lifeguards.

The creek was lined with aged maple, oak, gum and white-bark beech trees. Near the water on a low knoll stood a tall, old sycamore tree intertwined with wild grapevines. The narrow beach was covered with colorful pea gravel.

In the water, a game of volley ball with a red beach ball, without a net, of course, was in session. While I took in the scenery, Chuck answered the call to swing on the grapevine out over the water and drop in.

He was a good swimmer. I was a novice with little experience. So I had no intention of dropping into the hole. I would let them see me bravely swing on the vine, go the full stretch then ride it back to the tree.

Unnoticed, I would wade into the water, up to my waist and join the game only if the ball should come to me. But my careful plan soon met with disaster.

I took off my shorts and blouse and draped them over a bush, adjusted my swim suit and grabbed the grapevine. After two long steps back I pulled my legs up and began to glide across the water. The swimmers were too busy playing to notice my bravery.

So far, so good. Now to ride it back.

However at the center of the pool, my elastic swim suit slipped to my waist and my hands slipped down the vine. I dropped like a torpedo into the deep well-like hole as if bricks were tied to my feet. Feet that still wore canvas shoes.

When I hit bottom my breath whooshed out as if I’d been punched in the stomach. I kicked and pushed upward, pumping my arms up and down but barely got above the water. I had barely time to gulp an ounce of air before I was sucked back down.

Dog paddle and save yourself, a silent voice said. It was my only talent for swimming, but I couldn’t do it. A suction force gripped my feet and held me. I stiffened my body and kicked, finally going straight to the top. I shot almost head high above the water. I could see the red ball flying through the air, hands reaching out, and the sounds of boisterous voices. Voices too loud to hear my screams, if I indeed did scream. I filled my lungs again before the force pulled me under. I can’t keep doing this. I held my nose to fight the urge to breathe under water.

Promise me you’ll never go to Blue Creek. It’s a dangerous place.

Mother’s words came back to haunt me.

Oh Momma, I thought, you’ll know I lied and broke my promise and you’ll be so embarrassed that they found me half-naked. I’m sorry.

I let go of my nose and with both hands tried to pull my suit up and ramrod myself to the top again. I tried to tread water like I’d learned at 4-H camp years before. But it was a weak effort. My feet felt too heavy to move. So while my left hand held up my suit I forced my right to stay above the water.  Movement above me of colorful suits and a red ball looked like a smeared rainbow. My eyes burned. I expelled air to ease the pain in my lungs and then I had to take a breath. When I did my lungs filled with water.

I was told that a drowning person rises to the top three times before drowning. Well, I had done that and was so tired I could no longer help myself. It was time to give up. I no longer fought it. I just relaxed and went to sleep. My last thoughts were about my favorite aunt who intentionally drowned herself in the Ohio River a year earlier.

Is this how she did it? Letting go is very peaceful.

I awoke amid hacking coughs and loud moaning. The odor of sour vomit turned my stomach, and the moaning unnerved me. Voices whispered about someone drowning and seeing fingers above the water.

When I finally became fully conscious, I realized that I was the one moaning and the odor was me gushing out streams of stale creek water. Chuck was rolling me back and forth over a rough log. After a while, I sat up and leaned against a boulder and watched everyone, except Chuck, silently drift away.

I never spoke of the incident again and to my knowledge none of those at Blue Creek that day ever went back.  And, of course, I never told my parents.

Years later, I visited the site. By then, the creek had dried up and on the ground among the weeds I found a broken, wooden sign covered with moss and grass.

The sign read: “No Swimming.”

Vol. 37 No. 2 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Summer- 2010

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