Popo’s Swimming Story

Grandpaw had lots of rules, especially when it came to Jimmy and me. This was probably due to the fact that neither of us stood taller than his belt buckle and our combined age was less than his dog’s. We knew the rule, but today was the hot, muggy West Virginia summer day that makes the rules melt right out of your head. Grandmaw and all the big kids were otherwise occupied, so we hiked down to the swimming hole on the Cheat River together. Like I said, this went cross-wise to Grandpaw’s rules, “No swimming alone.” Alone meant without the big kids or an adult, but no one was watching, so who would know? We’d spend the day in the cool water and be back by supper.

We reached the bank of the swimming hole and I stuck my big toe in the water. The cool feeling traveled up the bottom of my foot as I stepped in.

“Stop!” Jimmy hollered at me, “Are you stupid? You gotta take your clothes off so we don’t get all wet and get in trouble.”

Since he was a bit older than me, and a hair taller, I knew that his advice was sound. We stripped down to our skivvies, carefully laid our shorts and shirts on the bushes and then jumped into the cool stream. The water washed the sticky day off my skin. I splashed Jimmy and he dove under, in a flash my feet were pulled out from under me and I fell backwards into the drink. We swam and played like this without regard to the passing of the day. After a while my grumbling belly made me think that it was probably getting toward supper time. “Jimmy, I’m getting hungry. Maybe we should get home.” We reluctantly trudged up the bank and gingerly pulled our dry clothes off of the bushes. Our dripping skivvies would dry as we walked up toward home. We meandered along up the hill and started up the dirt road towards Grandmaw’s house. I heard a rumble behind us and turned to see Mr. Sidlinton in his Ford pickup coming up the road.

“You boys need a ride?” Mr. Sidlinton’s low slow voice rolled over his arm through the open window of the driver door.

“Yes, sir.” Jimmy immediately replied.

Looking us over, Mr. Sidlinton said. “Looks like you boys better jump in the back.”

We climbed into the bed of the truck. Once seated, we thought it best we get our clothes back on since we were now making very good time back up to Grandmaw’s house. It didn’t take long and the truck was rolling to a stop. I peeped over the side of the truck bed to see Grandpaw taking his boots off on the back porch.

“I believe I have something that belongs to you.” Mr. Sidlinton droned out the window to Grandpaw. “Take a look in the back.”

Grandpaw’s face appeared over the tailgate. His brow furrowed and his mouth moved into a deep frown. “You boys get out and meet me on the porch.” His voice was stern. He thanked Mr. Sidlinton and soon stood in front of Jimmy and me on the porch.

“You boys been swimming?” His voice was low and serious. I shook my head, no. I could feel my face tingling. The realization hit that my drawers were soaked – we didn’t have the drying time that was planned for the walk home. “Dickie? Jimmy? Are you boys fibbing to me? Why are your clothes all wet?” My head started to spin, I couldn’t keep up the lie, but Jimmy broke first, “But, but, Grandpaw it was so hot, and . . . “

“Jimmy, you know the rule. Get over to that apple tree and break me off a switch.”

Jimmy walked over and broke off a twig no bigger than his finger and presented it to Grandpaw.

Grandpaw frowned, “That won’t do and you know it, get me a better switch.” This time he followed Jimmy to the tree. I stood watching the show. This was getting good. I must have snickered, because Grandpaw shot back over his shoulder, “Dickie, you’re next.”

What!? Panic shot up from my feet to my head and back down again. I zipped into the kitchen where Grandmaw was still cooking supper.

“Save me, Grandmaw! Save me!” I cried mournfully all the while listening to Jimmie’s howling in the back yard. She didn’t have time to react, Grandpaw was through the door. I hid behind her skirt as he came in.

“That boy’s due for a switching so let me at him.”

I didn’t wait for the reply; I scurried under the kitchen table, my heart racing.

“Dickie, you come out and get what your due.” Grandpaw lumbered over to the end of the table, but I scrambled to the other side just as he reached under. I knew if he caught me, I was a gonner. He followed around the side, I could see his feet. So off I went, back to the other end. Back and forth this chase went on all the while I could hear Grandpaw’s deep, stern tone, “Dickie, you come out. When I catch you, I’m gonna tan your hide. Get out here and take your medicine.” It all ran together mixed with the thumping of my heart in my ears.

“You are never going to catch that boy and you know it.” Grandmaw chided. Little did I know that she was gasping with laughter at the scene.

“Well I’m hungry, and this is taking too long.” Grandpaw sat down in his chair to eat and I cowered on the other end of the table, watching for any movement toward me. The world slowed as I watched Grandpaw’s feet while he ate. I lay down on the floor and his feet started to blur.

I woke up to the dark, quiet of the house. Everyone was asleep. I climbed the stairs and slipped into bed next to Jimmy. My fanny didn’t sting, but the whole incident scared me near to death. My eyes fixed on the open window, I could smell the heat of the day coming off of the trees, and I thought of the cool water in the swimming hole as I drifted off to sleep.

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