Ice Cold Swimming Hole
When my brother Ken and I were in our preteen and early teen years we would walk with the neighbor boys about an eighth of a mile to a deep spot in the stream of Poplar Run. It was a spot under the bridge between Normalville and Indian Head, Pennsylvania along route 711. The waters that fed this stream emanated from underground springs and the melt off of the just ending winter’s snow and ice. The creek was for the most part, flowed through shaded wooded areas with sunlight only filtering through the leaves and branches of the huge trees and laurel bushes that lined its banks. The swift flowing water stayed cold all year long.
Each year a basic dare progressed into an annual challenge, we would make the trek to get into the frigid water beneath the bridge before the end of April. We weren’t quite the Polar Bear club, but it isn’t a sunny day on the beach either.
On one side, beneath the bridge, there was a sand and rocky beach and before we would make our first exploration of the water we would build a fire. We already knew that the water would be cold so we gathered driftwood to keep the fire going as we swam. It would be our salvation from hypothermia and it would be needed.
Under the bridge, the stream made a turn and the current was what created the deep swimming hole. Other places in the stream the water may have been knee high. The deepest part of the hole was in the shade of the bridge, so there was little heating of the water on the trip from the springs and melted snow to our pool.
Once the fire was built and going well, we stripped down to our white briefs and slowly move to the water’s edge. We knew full well what awaited us. There was always the test of toes, praying that a miracle would have happened and the water had warmed. We hoped against all hope that it wouldn’t be as cold as it invariably was.
Everyone had their own way of getting into the water and finally immersing themselves in the runoff of melted snow and the flow from the springs. Some eased in; toes, ankles, calves, mid thighs, and then the part that took your breath away: the family jewels. Now use going slow now and we’d dive right in. Others were more daring and took the plunge, popping out of the water with a savage scream that echoes from the arched walls of the concrete bridge.
One thing that was the same for all of the swimmers, after they took the plunge and possibly a few strokes back to shore, they ran for the fire to get warm. Huddled and shivering, we crouched close to the red hot coals and added more wood so we would dry and try to get warm before hypothermia could set in.
Once we warmed a bit, we would open a sleeve of saltines and toast them one at a time on a forked stick by holding it over the hot coals. Retrieving the plastic knife we had hidden, we would smear some of the stick of oleo on the warm crackers and have a feast until the last crumb was devoured.
It was a time of male bravado and bonding. About this time, we were dry and warm. Climbing into our clothes we would head for home. All through the summer we would return to swim. When the dog days of summer and its hot sweltering temperatures engulfed our world, the swimming hole would become an oasis and refuge with its cool, refreshing water.