(originally posted Jul 15, 2005)
I hope that everyone will reminisce a bit. It comes more naturally with age, but then so does forgetfulness. If you have fond memories, it might be best to write them down now.
My first trip to Jones Valley was when I was about eight years of age, as I recall. That’s been a while now. I went with my grandparents, Guilford and Jeannette. My cousin Mike (Michael Merriman) was along and I think his sister Jeannette may also have been but I’m not sure. I do recall distinctly, and with some relief at the time, that my own sister, Janet, was not there.
We arrived late having spent the previous night at the Highsmiths in Broken Bow, but it was still late and I don’t recall why. It’s not that far, really. But I do recall it that way and that we were shown to one of the cabins (no longer there) to bed down for the night. I thought it a strange place indeed, being only eight and it being my first trip and already having been mauled by great aunts and uncles and cousins and such.
Mike took the top bunk, exercising his “older cousin” authority. I really didn’t mind, until ….
No sooner had we closed our eyes than there came the most awful sound I had ever heard, bar none. The cabin we were in was on the North side of the valley, you know, that butts up to the hillside. My recollection now is that it was about half-way up the mountain but I know that not to be the case. But it was a cabin in the Arkansas woods of the Ouchita mountains, it was dark and a strange place, and I already knew there were critters in the woods.
The most blood-curdling scream emanated from the hillside right behind our cabin. Never in my life had I experienced anything like that. Having grown up in West Texas (Big Spring) I had no opportunity to hear anything like that — cows and pumpjacks really don’t make bad sounds. This one was awful. It sounded as if a woman (one with very healthy lungs!) was being tortured or that the very gates of hell had opened in agony. It was that awful.
Such is the scream of a panther, as I was told the next day. Now I wonder about the veracity of that report because I’ve done a little research on the internet about panthers in Arkansas and it appears that the reports are rare. But a panther was the explanation the day after I first arrived in the Valley, and I’ll never forget the sound, whatever it was.
I was only eight on this occasion, as I’ve said. And I had already flunked YMCA swimming classes twice. Although I proved later to be a good student at most things, swimming was so far not one of them. So where was one of the first trips we made? To Caddo Lake, of course (now, 2017, simply the Caddo River).
It is now my first full day at Jones Valley and I’m standing on the shores of this lake. Not a big one, but certainly bigger than the swimming pool in which I had already flunked swimming. Twice at that! My grandparents were on the shore, cousins were swimming, and I was looking.
One can only look at water so long without either leaving, or getting in it. I chose to get in it, being thoroughly cautioned along the way by my grandmother, Mimi (Aunt Jeannette to most of you). You see, the report of my having flunked swimming had already reached her.
The water was nice. I got brave and moved a bit deeper, about to the chest I imagine. I think I tussled with Mike or something, splashed about a bit, moved a bit deeper and was getting really comfortable in the water.
Suddenly, without warning, there was a hole. Now I don’t mean a hole that your foot just sort of slips into. I mean a hole. I mean, you see what it really was, was a chasm and suddenly I was in it and was not touching bottom. Under I went, up I came, and like a miracle I was swimming ashore!
That’s right, I was swimming. Now I rather think that it was not a pretty stroke nor a particularly strong one, but I was swimming for my life — literally. When I could touch bottom again I stood up to see my grandparents rushing toward me, now with a shocked but relieved look on their face for they had been enroute to my rescue, to save their favorite grandchild (aren’t we all?). Disappointed though I was that they had so little faith in me, I was glad they were watching me that closely.
And now I was proud that Mimi and DanDan (never was sure where that nickname came from) had witnessed my great accomplishment!
I’ll tell that story another day.