This is a follow-up entry to my previous posting on memory, wherein I dug far back into my online journal archives, as well as my old print journals, to retrieve writing on this most fascinating of subjects for me.
The essay below is based on one of the most powerful and satisfying memories from my childhood, a golden era in the late Fifties when youth and innocence were interchangeable terms. Alas, childhood innocence, joy and naïveté are stamped out of us as we get older and advance up the rungs of institutionalized education and emerging need-for-conformism adulthood. But for brief periods when I was a kid, happiness reigned supreme.
This piece is truly a classic example of an enduringly permanent long-term memory.
Unforgettable Second Mill Pond
Years ago, when I was around 9 or 10, my whole family spent our summer vacations at my aunt’s house. It was here that longing for escape from the seemingly interminable school year was realized, and I could go swimming in a mill pond just outside of town.
I remember how the water smelled. It was a fresh and earthy smell. The waters that backed up behind the dam had come from black water streams and swamps, darkened by tannin from tree leaves that had fallen into the water. There was a stationary platform just beyond the shallow section near the shore, a hundred yards from the grassy edge.
Here my brother and I, swimmers since an early age, would swim out and dive into the deep, cool waters. I wouldn’t go too far down because the deeper I dived, the colder and darker the water became, and there seemed to us no bottom to it at all. Stroking hard back up toward the surface, we’d burst through once again into the fresh air and sunlight and pull ourselves up onto the diving platform, which rested flat on the water, anchored to the bottom of the pond.
After a morning swimming at the mill pond, we’d head home, my brother, father and I, and come in to a kitchen table filled with the most delicious Southern food: fried bream, rice and gravy, biscuits, black-eye peas, freshly-sliced tomatoes, poll beans with fatback, and iced tea. I’d eat until I couldn’t possibly hold any more. That was the tradition of those days of summer vacation. Swim at the pond, maybe go fishing later in the afternoon. Just have fun doing things we could never do at home.
That is why those memories are so deeply etched in my mind. Each new school year, filled with worries and anxieties, my thoughts would return to the summer just past. By that time in September, and more so in later years, those vacations assumed the rosiest of glows. They became golden ages in my young life. I’d daydream about the jukebox on the dance stand by the shore of the pond and hear the old Fats Domino tunes, “Blueberry Hill” and “Walkin’ to New Orleans.” I’d wish I was back there because it seemed to me, several months later, a very long time ago. And life was oh so much more complicated and difficult.
Today, the pond is still there, the cypress trees beautiful around the perimeter of the pond and back toward where the feeder creek begins to back up behind the dam. But a four-lane highway crosses right next to where we used to go swimming, and the beach is closed to the public.
People still fish along the banks, but it’s a different place. When I drive across the pond, I often find myself looking to the side to where the shallow water began and we used to wade as children out toward the diving platform. I look from my car window at the dark water, and it still looks clean and fresh and inviting, and I wonder what it would feel like now to dive down into its depths and come up, stroking hard to clear the surface and hauling myself up onto a now non-existent platform, breathless from the exertion but exhilarated and happy.
Last updated August 09, 2020