It doesn’t get much more Americana than this: When we go to Vermont, we actually take our dips at a place we call the swimming hole. Known as Lareau’s for the farmer who used to own the land, this deep bend in the river is a place where Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn might have jumped in or at least fished for minnows with cupped hands and tingling toes as Teddy and I did to no avail the one afternoon it was nice enough for us to go there this summer.
(When our minnow hunt proved unsuccessful, Teddy chose instead to follow the cat from across the street well up the shore , meowing at it all the while until it disappeared under a bush.)
The swimming hole is an important part of both the reality and myth of my childhood. From the time I was ten years old, I would rise early on summer mornings, put on my bathing suit and sneakers, make a sandwich and throw it and whatever I was reading in my backpack and peddle over there with my sister Sheila. Usually we would be the first people there and even though the water and air were painfully cold, we would usually be seduced by our sole ownership of the river and would dive in. Then we would sun ourselves on the small gravelly beach or on the warm smooth surface of the huge rock that drew people there. It was so high and slanted and at such a deep point in the river that you could run and dive off it, if you had the courage (Sheila did; I didn’t). Here we swam and lounged and read the day away, returning home only when hunger called us.
Of course, I now look back on these halcyon days with the longing of the perennially sleep-deprived and busy. In fact there were long afternoons when I was bored. And as I got older and hit puberty, I wished it was a swimming pool with boys around the edge to see me in my bikini. But even so, I always returned, always swam in the water and loved the way it made my hair feel cool and silky on my back.
I’ve mentioned elsewhere that there are two kinds of travel with children: the exploration of the new, and the return to familiar places. The former is undeniably alluring but there is something really special about the latter, especially when you return year after year and especially when your children embrace the place as fully as you once did. I’m well aware that parenting is a crapshoot and that my progeny might not have been enthusiastic about swimming in a frigid river, digging in the mud at its side, collecting rocks, and attempting to catch minnows. And yet they are.
Each year the boys experience the swimming hole more fully, edging farther and farther into the water. Tommy thought he wanted to jump off the rock this year. After swimming across to it and walking to the top, he peered over the edge and decided that perhaps he wasn’t quite ready. He didn’t enjoy the struggle back through the current to the beach, but he made it, blue-lipped and triumphant.
He then returned to supervising his construction crew as they dug a large series of canals that took up most of the small sandy shore.
I can’t wait until next summer, when hopefully it won’t rain so much and we’ll get more than one good swimming day. I won’t be surprised if next summer Tommy is doing cannonballs off the rock. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.