Saturday, July 4, 2009

Milltown Pond

The Cooper Mill – an old grist mill right across the road from our swimming pond – as it is preserved as a historic site today. It wasn’t restored in our swimming days and it was pretty run down.

Swimming down by the Old Mill
by Charlie Leck

It’s July and it’s the heart of summer; however, here in Minnesota, it’s quite fair. It hasn’t risen above the 70s for the last few days and it is pleasant to go out walking or to work in the yard. I’m not jiving you either. Sure, it’s usually hotter than Hades here at this time of year and it can be mighty muggy, too. So, we’ll just take this weather and be grateful for it and enjoy the great outdoors, wearing a sweater in the evenings. The newspapers are telling folks they may need sweaters for fireworks displays on the night of the 4th of July. Aah, that’s living.

Some of my readers are asking me to continue to let my mind wander backwards to those childhood years in the little borough of Chester – to a time when I lived above my old man’s general store – to July days in the very early 1950s.

I was 10 years old in the summer of 1951. Baseball dominated my summer days. There was nothing I preferred than to go to the ball field to throw, hit and catch. I spent a lot of wonderful hours up there on the dirt diamond with Buddy Thompson, Hank Meyers, Charlie Adams, Allan Lum, Toby Barkman and a number of other guys. Usually there was some big guy or adult around who would hit flies and grounders to us and we honed our defense by the hour.

Our great reward for a couple of good hours on the ball field was a hike down to Milltown Pond for an hour of swimming and diving off the big rock along the stream that flowed under Highway 24 and then ran along past the Old Mill. Lordsy, these were good times for most of us. Some of the guys wouldn’t make the trip down to the pond because it was a long walk from the heart of town down to our swimming hole. It was the walk back home that frightened away most of the kids because the first third of the hike was up a long, steep hill before the plateau that led into town was reached.

There was nothing like stretching out on that big rock along the stream in the bright sunshine of July. The boulder was large enough to allow five or six of us to spread out. Then, when the moment was just right, a bunch of us would rise and jog to the edge of the stream and jump off the rock together and into the cold, running water.

It was on that very rock that I first heard our buddy Sonny describe peeping at a naked girl. It was a teenage cousin of his who was staying at his house and Sonny knew of a way of getting out on the porch roof and peeking through a crack beneath the drawn down, but slightly too short, window shade. How clearly I remember – to this day I remember – the stirring it caused inside me. He described her luscious breasts and her curving hips and the nothingness at her crotch. From his room he could hear the shower running across the hallway and he knew it was time to position himself on the roof of the porch because his cousin would rush from the bathroom, wrapped in a big towel, and allow the wrap to fall away just as soon as she had safely gotten into the bedroom and locked the door.

We all had dozens of questions for Sonny, but we really just wanted him to repeat the visuals and use the tantalizing words again and again. The heat of the afternoon sun seemed to penetrate us as we listened to him and how each of us envied him so very much.

The two mile walk back home wasn’t so bad because there were a couple of adventures along the way that broke the monotony. The first was a stop at the Old Mill Tavern, a little joint just 50 yards up the hill. Kids weren’t really allowed in the drinking establishment, but my father had cleared the way for me to pop my head in the door to purchase a hunk of salty, smoked herring that I could share with my buddies on the trek back home. The fish made us immediately and desperately thirsty, but another quarter mile along the way we went by a home that had a lovely, refreshing natural spring right in the front yard. It was a pretty, convenient little place. One had to bend way down into the hole in order to lap at the quickly running water or, if lucky enough to have a cup along, to reach down and scoop up the cold, delightful liquid. There was watercress growing all around on the edges of the water hole and some of the kids enjoyed picking it and chewing on it. I always found its taste too strong and I avoided it.

Refreshed, the last leg of the hill wasn’t too bad. Once we reached the crest of the hill and flat ground it was only an easy mile back into our little, country town. The walk led us past the Mennen Farm, the beautiful estate of the family that owned the company that produced dozens of kinds of soaps and creams and deodorants for the human body. They and the Chubb family (of the big insurance company) were the very wealthy folks of our little town and everyone envied and respected the families a great deal. Further on we passed the little and multifaceted business owned by the Itailian Morelli family. Right across the highway from there was the wonderful Maple Tree Inn, where my parents liked to go on weekend evenings to meet up with friends. And, finally, when we got up even with the old coal yards, we knew we had only to use caution to cross the busy Highway 206 and then we could saunter right up Main Street, dropping off kids as we went until, usually, only Buddy Thompson and I were left as we passed the firehouse and the little town park with its honor roll to the local boys who died in World War I and II.

I tried to fall asleep in the warm darkness of the night, with the window wide open, thinking in wonder about Sonny’s description of his naked girl cousin.

Geez, he was a lucky guy to see such a sight! It was a good thought to drag with me into my slumber.

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way…

Those were the days, oh yes those were the days

[lyrics by Gene Raskin]

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