Enjoying the forest

Evidently streams and rivers were not as polluted when I was young as they are now. We swam in Lawsonham "Crick" or better known as Redbank Creek, the whole time we were growing up and did not get some terrible disease and die.

Back then there were very few swimming pools, so if we wanted to cool off we either got out the garden hose or talked our parents into taking us somewhere.

When I lived in West Freedom, we went to the Parker Park. It was just a dammed up part of a little mountain stream. I swear there were ice cubes floating in the water.

Another very cold place to swim was the old swimming hole at Cook Forest. That, too, was a dammed up mountain stream.

And, while we are on the subject of cold water, another freezing place was Clear Creek. That one hurt to put your foot in the water. But, if we got the chance to go swimming, we did not complain about the temperature. We were just happy to go swimming.

Swimming at Cook Forest or Clear Creek usually included a family picnic. Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents and Cousins would pile into several cars and head to the forest. My Aunt Max always brought baked beans. She used those huge lima beans that nobody but my dad and uncle liked.

My Uncle Bill would get a watermelon from Salvo's Fruit Market and put it in the water in his spring house over night to get really cold. He was the best at picking out a good ripe melon.

Aunt Kay brought fried chicken and Grandma made her world famous potato salad. Mom was in charge of desserts since she was a world class baker. Dad was in charge of the charcoal grill. No picnic was complete without his hot dogs.

After eating, we kids would want to go swimming right away, but we had to wait an hour after eating. We were always told that if we went swimming too soon after eating we would get cramps and drown.

To make the time go faster we would have a watermelon seed spitting contest. There wasn't any monetary prize, just bragging rights.

When the hour was up we jumped in the pool and usually came back out faster than we went in. We should have gotten cramps from that.

Then we had another contest who could stay in the water the longest. It really wasn't much of a challenge because once you were in the water for a few minutes you got used to the cold.

That one hour rule was meant to keep us from drowning. The only thing is that while we were waiting for the hour to be up, we were constantly eating watermelon. No one ever got cramps and drowned.

While we were swimming, Grandpa and Uncle Bud would go up the river a ways to fish for catfish. That was about the only thing that could live in the Clarion River because of the pollution that came from a paper mill in Johnsonburg.

Grandpa had great expectations about a big catch, but Uncle Bud just wanted to drown worms. He let Grandpa catch all the fish. They had a cooler with them to keep the catch cold.

Grandpa would gut the fish right away and then throw them in the cooler to skin later. In the meantime, Uncle Bud was still drowning worms.

Grandpa usually caught 10 or more big catfish. He wanted to freeze them for winter eating, but Uncle Bud had other ideas.

When it was time to go home, Uncle Bud would tell Grandpa that he, the wife and kids would be over the next Sunday for a fish dinner. Grandpa's fish didn't stay in the freezer long.

Once we were home, Grandpa still had to fillet the fish. He nailed the fish to a tree, cut a horizontal slit just below the back of the head and a vertical slit from the back of the head down the spine to the tail.

He then made another horizontal slit at the tail. He used pliers to pull the skin back and with his filleting knife he cut the meat off.

He left the skin nailed to the tree for the birds. He said that was the easiest way to skin a catfish.

I loved those picnics in Cook Forest as a kid. But now I live six miles from the forest and haven't had a picnic there for at least 10 years.

The last time I had a picnic in the forest, my food was a bologna sandwich, a hard-boiled egg and an apple.

I really miss those family gatherings. I think I might even miss Aunt Max's baked beans. I didn't like them then, but maybe I would now.

The author is a retired English teacher. Originally from Rimersburg, she resides in Leeper. She can be reached at meblack2@zoominternet.net