New Horizons Writers’ Group

Cooling off

Bob Hirt

Our society is moving at such a fast pace it’s sometimes difficult to keep abreast of the newest things, such as Pokemon and fantasy football, among others. Some children are now learning to swim by age three, sometimes earlier. That, of course, is a wonderful safety measure for all families, despite the fact that dozens of children drown in backyard pools nationwide each and every year.

When I was small we never had access to a swimming pool. Backyard pools were virtually unheard of in the ‘30s and early ‘40s. We never had running water in our home until the early ‘40s. My Dad would occasionally take us to a lake so we could paddle around but none of us except my dad could swim. On occasion my mother would drive us to the pond at the Girl Scout Camp in the evening after it closed for the season. There would be no one there on the premises at all and so we were technically trespassing on private property but the owners knew our family and apparently it was okay. Sadly, my mother couldn’t swim either and if any of us got into deep water carelessly it would have been a big problem! Looking back now it seems unbelievable for four kids all under 12 years old and a mother who could not swim to be at a pond having a grand time with nary a worry about drowning.

It all ended abruptly when one day my mother, who drove the family pickup, hit a cow on the way home after a swim. Mother was four-foot-nine-inches tall and she had trouble seeing over the hood of the truck. She cried and carried on and swore to never take us swimming again. There was no apparent injury to the animal but she abruptly stopped driving after that. No small wonder that she gave it up – she never took the stick shift out of low gear for the entire two miles to the pond because her foot could barely reach the clutch pedal.

Also, in those years there was no refrigeration as such on dairy farms and farmers had to keep the milk cold in the spring and summer until it was picked up and taken to a processing plant. To do that my dad and uncle would harvest ice from the pond in winter time. It was stored in an ice house commonly seen then on most dairy farms. Huge chunks of ice were cut from the lake with a monstrous ice saw, then skidded up onto a sleigh and taken home to the ice house by a team of horses. The ice was then unloaded, stacked, 12 blocks per layer, then covered with almost two inches of saw dust to preserve it.

It is hard to believe that those were the “good-old-days” but the memories abound in my brain as I recall some of the things that now seem so archaic but were practical, inexpensive and, of course, necessary. One of our more memorable days was, when after the men cut the first hole in the ice, a small wooden toy popped up. Its faded orange and yellow colors were still evident and we finally had to own up to my mother that we’d lost our little wooden duck, Quackers, in the lake some five months earlier. Wonderful, warm memories!