by Claude Jones
It was July; the cotton was laid by. It was hot, dry and dusty, but we had a day off, no cotton to hoe. Larry was 12, I was 10, Steve was 8. We had finished our morning chores, feeding and watering the hogs, calves, dogs and chickens, and even though we were boys and most considered it woman's work, we had washed the dishes and swept the floors in the house.
Outside under the big oak shade tree in the front yard where no grass grew because of the constant foot traffic and restricted sunlight, we had graded roads with a broken hoe and were pushing our play cars, zig zagging through the holes dug for marble games. We sweated in the Mississippi summer heat, the dusty red dirt sticking to our knees and hands as we crawled, and even though it was still morning and we were clad only in cut off jeans, the sweat ran in rivulets down our sun browned skin making trails through the dust clinging to our skin.
The day seemed destined to be boring, uneventful. Suddenly we heard it. Jackie Leach, our neighbor, was “blowing his fist.” We heard three shorts and three longs tooted from Jackie’s talented, clasped hands. This was our signal to come to his house. Something was up. Jackie had a plan.
Jackie was 14, full of ideas, plans and ways of doing old things differently to make them fun. We dropped our cars and “lit out” for Jackie’s.
“Let’s go to the trestle and dam up the creek,” Jackie said when we arrived. “We’ll make it deep enough have a swimming hole and we can dive from the trestle into it.”
The “trestle” Jackie spoke of was the GM&O Railroad Bridge across the north fork of the Lappatuby Channel. The Lappatuby flowed across our place going south. It turned west where Miller Creek ran into it at the Highway 345 Bridge, then turned north to flow into the Tallahatchie River at Lone Star. The trestle was a favorite gathering place for the neighborhood boys. The oaks, hickories, hackberries and sweet gums along the channel not only stabilized the banks, they provided shade to make playing there more pleasant and cool.
Our trip, “cutting across” to the trestle, was not just travel, it was an adventure, and included stopping to eat the ripe plums and blackberries found near the path with an occasional war of thrown fruit breaking out. Hits were undeniable with the telltale stain of berry juice making purple spots on our tanned bodies. Our single file column would suddenly lose a member, only to see him reappear in a surprise attack with missiles of corncobs, horse apples or mock oranges.
There was also a slight detour to visit Mr. I .T. Inmon’s watermelon patch to “pick up” a watermelon and two cantaloupes, to cool in the channel for our lunch.
We stopped at the old hand pump well behind Mr. Josh Mont's house. The water was the clearest and coldest in the whole community, but since no one now used the pump regularly, you really had to jerk it hard and fast for several minutes to fill the sucker rod pipe to the top of the well -- and only then would you be able to drink the cold water out of the rusty spout.
Our much-delayed arrival at the trestle had not dampened our enthusiasm to construct our dam to raise the water level in the creek to make our swimming hole. Jackie was a born engineer; he had great visions as to how the dam should be constructed to form the perfect swimming hole. He carefully stood under the edge of the trestle to be sure we got the deepest part in the proper place for the dives we would perform. He planned and organized our group into action -- mostly our action and his watching, planning and directing.
With a few old crossties, some railroad spikes and a half rotted cattle gap washed down in a recent overflow, we began to frame the structure to support our dam. We quickly had the framework in place. Now the dirt had to be moved. Our dirt moving equipment consisted of a 49 (or maybe a 50) model Nash hubcap, a broken disc blade and a rusty five gallon bucket with a hole in the bottom that left a noticeable trail of sand with each trip carrying the fill dirt to our dam. Our best tool seemed to be Jackie’s enthusiasm and constant encouragement.
We toiled and sweated, but as quickly as we dumped the sand from the nearby sandbar into the dam’s framework, the current took it on downstream.
Jackie, after careful study, deducted we should create a series of dams to redirect and slow the current before it reached the main dam. We moved our equipment up stream and proceeded to construct, under Jackie’s careful eye, the series of conversion dams and a diversion canal to reroute the water to the backside of a long sandbar.
Things went well until we dug through the sandbar and into a gooey pocket of slimy mud. The yellow mud had just the right consistency to be squeezed into a mud ball, but remained soft enough to splatter when striking someone in the back or stomach. War quickly broke out with Jackie, the oldest, and Steven, the youngest, on one side and Larry and me on the other.
When all combatants were sufficiently covered with mud, and enemies were friends again, we lay in the cool water of the channel and let the current wash the mud from our bodies. We then retrieved the watermelon and cantaloupes we had borrowed from Mr. I. T., broke them open on a rock and reached in with our hands to bring out big hunks of heart to eat. We lay on the sandbar eating, with only the occasional seed spitting disturbing the quiet of the day, and watched our dams being washed away by the current of the channel.
A look at the sun told us our folks would soon be home from work and we had better be there when they arrived. We vowed to get that channel dammed up and our swimming hole completed before school started back in the fall.
We left for home. It had been a great day. We didn’t know we were making memories that would last a lifetime. We were just having fun.
Claude Jones writes:
"I have lived all my life in Pontotoc, Mississippi -- raised on a farm where we milked cows, raised cotton, corn, and had a peach orchard. I've worked for Pontototc Electric Power for 31 years. My wife Ann and I have two sons, both are pharmacists, and we have two grandchildren."
Who Has The Edge?
Two Poems - II
Young Dreams and Old Realities
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