The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Summer Memories

By Deidre M. Thigpen © 1996

Issue: Summer, 1996

Some of my fondest memories of growing up in rural Virginia are those of the summer weekends. On the weekends we got to spend time with Daddy. It seemed that during the week he wasn't around much. Summer weekends were best because Winter weekends were usually spent cutting firewood, my most dreaded chore!

During the Summer we would get together with other families from the community and have cookouts and play baseball or roll-a-bat. It always seemed that the adults would try to hit the ball into the pasture, which meant one of the kids would have to go climbing over the fence to get the ball. We took turns at this and it always seemed to me that when it was my turn, the ball had landed in a manure pile.

The best times were when we would all load up in various cars and pickups and head to the river. We would cookout over an open fire and swim in the freezing cold water. It never did warm up even when the temperature would get above 95°. After we ate we kids weren't allowed to go back into the water for an hour, but luckily there were tadpoles to try and catch, tiny little snail shells to collect and plenty of beautiful wild flowers to pick. We also had contests to see who could skip a rock the farthest. We never did have to wait the full hour before swimming again though, we usually bugged our different mothers to pieces until they relented.

One swimming venture in particular stands out in my memory though. The day we learned the true meaning of "Do as I say, not as I do."

It was after lunch and Daddy was taking us kids down the road a little piece to a tree that hung out over the water with a rope tied to one of its limbs. Before we could try this daredevil contraption, we got a lecture on how to do it right.

"Pull back as far as you can and swing out to the middle of the river where it's deepest. When you let go, grab your knees to your chest and go in like a cannon ball. If you go in like you're standing straight you could get hurt." Daddy told us sternly. "I'll go first to show you how to do it properly."

My ten year old mind just knew he wasn't doing it first just to show us how. He just wanted to do it. Sometimes he was a bigger kid than the rest of us.

Daddy climbed up the slanted trunk and grabbed the rope, pulled back and swung out. He got right in the middle of the river and let go perfectly. We were all cheering. Then Daddy went straight in like a jack-knife. We all laughed because we thought he was showing us how not to do it.

Daddy came back up out of the water just a cussing and swam to shore. When he got to shore he hobbled up the bank and told us never to do it that way. Daddy hobbled back to the cookout site still muttering cuss words, leaving the oldest teenagers in charge.

Daddy swore he was all right all that day and night. His foot was swollen and bruised. It seemed he hit a rock when he went into the water.

We finally convinced him to go to the doctor and sure enough, it was broken! It took a long time to get him to go back swimming in the river after that.

Today I still go back to the river with my own child. We still cookout, swim, gather shells and flowers, all of the things I did when I was little. The only change is that the limb on the tree has been broken off so there is no more swinging out into the water.