Summertime Swimming

Original Airdate: August 7 (2012)

This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Kim Patterson.

Swimming is a favorite summer activity in Texas, as it provides respite from sweltering temperatures.

Charles Armstrong grew up in the Bell's Hill area of Waco and describes where he and other boys would go to cool off:

"And from Twenty-ninth Street over where the Baylor stadium is now, there was a fence across there, and it wasn't anything but mesquite patch up there where the stadium is. And it had a little—back over there by the railroad track, had a creek come through there, and it was pretty clear water and had swimming hole up there called Little Lake. And we'd go up there and go swimming in Little Lake. And it was—you had to cut across that pasture there by where the stadium is now to get down to it."

The swimming hole was isolated, and the boys were very informal, as Armstrong explains:

"If you had some swimming trunks, fine. If you didn't, fine. You could just go in naked, whatever. (laughter) And when a train come along, we all got up and paraded for them as they come by. They'd [be] sitting there with white tablecloths on them tables and little things like we keeps on the table here, little—look like a little lamp there with a candle in it, you know, sitting on a table and people all dressed up in suits and everything. We'd stand out there naked [and] wave at them. (laughter) But we did that—we did that many, many times."

Alva Stem, former director of Waco Parks and Recreation, remembers the role of swimming in his childhood in Waco:

"My father worked for the police department as a detective, and they were given a pass to the municipal swimming pool, or ‘the beach,' over on North Fourth Street. This was a season pass to go swimming free, and so my brother and I—my brother Jack and I—always went down to the swimming pool once a day to go swimming. Later on in the years, when I became about twelve years old, I was hired as the basket boy, and the basket boy is a young man that takes the baskets that they had there and they would give to the patrons to put their clothes in when they changed into their bathing suits. Then it was my job to put their baskets in the proper numbers in the proper location in the basket room with the swimming pool, and to give the patrons their basket when they came back."

John Lott Jr. of Goliad recalls that escaping the heat was sometimes a family affair:

"Well, we went to the river every summer for about a month: Cousin Henry and Cousin Ella and Virginia Mae, Aunt Helen and Happy and Butch and our family and Aunt Hattie and Atch. And we had tents, and we'd camp down there at the bend, and Cousin Willy even came down and made a swimming suit out of a gunny sack: cut holes in it and put his feet in it and rolled it up and tied it around here. And we had a diving board and a swing. I know we had a—Dad made them a canvas house, partition with canvas, to where women and men could put on their bathing suits."

Swimming helps make the summers in Texas bearable and more enjoyable. That initial splash every time erases all discomfort from the stifling heat.

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