Part 9 of the Growing Up Kansas Series

The best way to foster world peace is to get all the kings, queens, presidents, dictators and their hench-people together at a good ol’ Kansas swimmin’ hole. Putin could strut bare-chested in his Speedo; Merkel could hold the NSA director’s head under water; Kim Jong Un could do cannonballs and splash everyone in reach; China would loan everyone money to buy trinkets at their kiosks; John Boehner could show off his fake-bake and everyone would hold ISIS’s head under water until the bubbles stopped. I’m now probably on the black list of at least a half-a-dozen countries.

The best eight words we ever heard as kids were, Load up! We’re going to the swimmin’ hole! We’d drop everything, grab a couple of inner tubes, jump in the back of Dad’s old pickup and putter down a graveled road to heaven on a creek bank.

Our swimmin’ hole was a pool of water where Shady Creek widened under an old limestone arched bridge along Price Road. Shady Creek snuck through the pastures and wheat fields until it was the color of a mocha latte. It wound lazily through the pasture like a fat kid eating chips in front of a T.V. except during the spring rains when it screamed like me trying to outrun the cows in Hobson’s Pasture.

Looking back, I divide my time in the Swimmin’ Hole into two distinctive eras:

  1. Before I had hair on my body
  2. After I had hair on my body

Something dreadful happens when hair starts growing on a little boy’s body; his perception of reality is altered. Truths about the female species he formerly held as self-evident and universal soon become suspect and relative. Former enemies- namely all members of the female species – now become someone for whom they will go great lengths to impress. Those same females whom they formerly regarded with contempt and scorn soon become cherished for every word they say and eye they bat.

Here are a few examples of this transformation:

Jumping Off the Bridge

The top of the arched bridge was 17 feet from the ledge to the water. To give you perspective, 17 horizontal feet is like the distance between a basketball goal and the free-throw line (actually, it’s only 15 feet but you get my drift). However, when you’re ten years old, 17 vertical feet is like the distance between the top of the Chrysler Building and the street below.

Jumping off the bridge was an exhilarating activity that proved one’s bravado to other male species. We jumped off the bridge into inner tubes; we jumped off the bridge trying to catch balls thrown at us; we jumped off the bridge beating our chest like Tarzan; we jumped off the bridge doing cannonballs and can-openers.

We continued jumping until puberty took over; then we started diving.As the levels of testosterone elevated in our little bodies, the capacity to make reasonable decisions diminished proportionately; with each new hair that sprung up, dozens of brain cells died.  Suddenly, jumping was not sufficient; we needed to dive.

The problem with diving off the bridge was that the water was too shallow. When we jumped off the bridge, we buckled our legs soon as we hit the water to provide a cushion when we hit the bottom. If we dove off, then we’d be like a torpedo headed straight to the rocks below and we would die.

However, we came up with a solution. The diver had to hit with water and immediately curve upward like a dolphin leaping out of water. Timing was critical because if you started too soon, well, the pain of belly-flop from 17 feet is excruciating.


Swimmin’ With The Water Snakes

Before hair started growing on our little bodies, we lived in peaceful co-habitation with the water snakes that lived in the bushes on the south bank of the creek. We signed an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with them; the snakes were to stay in the bushes and we were to stay away from the bushes. This also insured that the girls who were our relatives wouldn’t go swimming with us. On the off chance we arrived to find neighbor girls in our swimmin’ hole, we immediately called their attention to the snakes. This cleared people out faster than a preacher walking into the local brothel on Saturday night.

But let a little hair start growing on our bodies and we suddenly wanted all the neighbor girls to go swimming. The three girls in our family heretofore unwanted now served a particularly useful purpose; they had friends they could bring along.

However, soon all the girls quit going because of the snakes. We called for a meeting with the snakes and asked if they would vacate the premises and move on downstream. Their Attorney General, a defiant litigator who made his living defending serial killers, contended that they were there first and we had no right asking them to leave ancestral lands, er, waters.

Being good American citizens, we invoked historical precedents like Manifest Destiny, Eminent Domain, and the Just War Theory. Then we threatened them. Being snakes and doing what snakes do, they rallied their forces and slithered around the swimming hole until it looked like spaghetti boiling in water. Naturally, we shot at them with BB guns like an old gunslinger making a cowpoke dance. The cause and effect was what we predicted; the snakes disappeared and the girls returned.


Co-Ed Chicken Wars

Before hair started growing on our little bodies, the only reason to have physical contact with girls was to dunk them. We dunked them for two reasons:

  1. To make life unpleasant enough they would want to stay home next time
  2. To shut them up because they were annoying

Much to our dismay, Dad wouldn’t let us hold them under too long for fear the bubbles would stop. We knew that dunking them was going to result in punishment handed out later by the matriarchs – the Three Generals- but it was worth it. But as soon as the girls hit the back door of the house, they’d blab about being dunked. I’ll have it be known that I never once tried to dunk my nemesis and niece, Colleen Miller. Others who tried dunking her walked around with a hitch in their git-a-long for the rest of their lives or found dead horse heads on their pillows at night.

However, after our body chemistry changed, we found the game of co-ed chicken wars exceedingly likeable. When we played chicken wars with another guy on top of our shoulders, the goal to end as quickly as possible so the result usually ended in carnage and name-calling. However, we discovered playing co-ed chicken wars with girls on our shoulders was far more pleasurable if we played it slowly so no one got injured.

Being experienced chicken war strategists, we boys determined that the girls needed a particular style of uniform, you know, to encourage morale, set one’s self apart from others in battle, and be worn with all the dignity incumbent upon a soldier-at-war. After a series of grueling product tests including fabric strength and camouflage design, we determined the most appropriate combat-ready uniform was (roll call, please): Daisy Duke shorts with a bikini top!

Many years later, I firmly believe that all the world’s problems can be solved at a good ol’ Kansas swimming hole. Congress could grab the mud off the bottom and literally sling it at each other; Israel and the Palestinians could have a who-can-hold-their-breath-underwater-the-longest contest; the African tribes could build a campfire on the evening shore and sing Kum-ba-yah.

And who knows, maybe all it would take for Kim Jong Un to take his itchy finger off his doomsday trigger is to see Queen Elizabeth in a pair of Daisy Duke shorts and a bikini top


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