Summer is still hanging around the hills, but the school term starts this week anyway. Blending in with the yellow of the goldenrod, the blue of the gentian and the purple of the ironweed are the bright yellow school buses as they travel our ridges and hollers gathering up the school children.
As most of our population is in rural areas, the majority of our children have to be transported by school bus to the various elementary schools, and to the middle and high school. If children think going to school is traumatic, they should trade places with the mothers. (Eventually they will as time passes.)
After all these years, I still have nightmares of trying to get the kids ready in order to catch the school bus on time. We did have six children in school at one time, and it was a madhouse with all of them trying to get dressed and eat breakfast. In my dreams, I can’t find their clothes, or their shoes or books. The bus is coming down the road and they’re not ready!
That stressful part of my life is over. Thank the Lord. There are some compensations in growing older, and that is one blessing. I wish I could say that I am blissfully snoozing in bed while my daughters-in-law are coping with dressing sleepy children and shooing them out the door—but Grandpa Criss gets up at six o’clock every morning. I guess I should be thankful—his dad used to get up at four, even after he was old.
Even though autumn is on the way, and school is starting, hot August days linger still. The children seek relief from the heat in the swimming pool, and the hound dog crawls under the porch seeking a cool spot.
We didn’t have swimming pools when I was a youngster, but we had “swimming holes.” The creeks were clean back in those days and seemed much bigger—or was it that we were so much smaller? At any rate, there was nothing like spending a whole afternoon in the swimming hole on a blistering day.
Sometimes the prospect of swimming awaited us when we returned from the blackberry field, hot and sweating. I can think of no greater enticement to finish our chores than the thought of submerging our tired and hot bodies in the cool creek. We always had a hole of water dammed up with rocks, logs and brush that was deep enough to get wet all over—especially in a horizontal position.
Sometimes after a rainy spell, the water would be almost waist deep. This is where we held our pseudo baptismal services, at least until Mom heard the shouting and we would have to cut the service short. The water may not have been deep, but it was right there, and it was wet.
There was a deeper hole of water on down the holler, where Summers Fork Creek met Little Laurel Creek. It was called the Dee Short Hole, and was where the older boys headed, for the water was deep enough there to actually swim. It was a most pleasant place, with rhododendron bushes and hemlocks overshadowing the creek.
Oh, the thrill of that first delicious plunge into the clear, cool water! We didn’t gingerly dip our toe into it, or gradually submerge ourselves either. It was a scrambling run down the path, and then a quick plunge into the water, usually feet-first. Sometimes we would do “belly-smackers” when we would try to do a graceful swan dive.
We would compete to see who could stay under water the longest; exhale our breath and sink to the bottom like a rock. We would frolic and play for hours. The place we loved best was Big Laurel Creek, where Mom grew up. It seemed the water there was clearer, and more sparkling—and secluded. There was the Rock Hole, the Scorpion Hole—the same places where Mom swam as a girl.
I wonder if it still looks the same on Big Laurel Creek—if the water is still clear and clean? And do the water honeysuckles still bloom along the banks? If it has changed, don’t tell me. I have such good memories.
We had some reader inquiries this week, and this one is intriguing. Bob Craft, of Texas asked about the “ironweed” comment in last week’s column. When he was young he spent time with his grandmother out in the country. She used a weed that they called “ironweed” only it had a yellow blossom with a raised, brown center. (That sounds a little bit like a coneflower or sneezeweed.)
The leaves were slim and grew all the way to the ground.
She would rub the leaves on her hand, and then rub his skin to keep the mosquitoes away. While he was touring a historical site (Sutter’s Mill, CA) one time, the tour guide showed him a “cooling pit” or a spring fed place where butter, milk and eggs were stored in the past. He noticed this weed growing there, and rubbed the leaves and showed the tour guide that the smell that it exuded was an insect repellant.
This is something new to me, and I wonder if anyone knows what this weed is. It would be invaluable on these summer evenings when the mosquitoes are looking for a bite. We used a low-growing vine that contained a milky substance that we called “toe itch weed.” We used it to rub on the rash between our toes, which was probably poison ivy. I can identify the plant, but don’t know the name of it. It did cure the rash.
ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN
By Robert Fulghum
Most of what I really need
To know about how to live
And what to know and how to be
I learned in kindergarten.
Wisdom was not at the top
Of the graduate school mountain,
But there in the sandpile at Sunday School.
These are the things I learned:
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life.
Learn some and think some.
And draw and paint and sing and dance.
And play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.