Swimming in a River
As kids growing up in the 1950’s in hot, dry southwest Texas, we wanted to go swimming any chance we could… but there were few. I sometimes dreamed about swimming in the tall cement tank next to the windmill near the farmhouse, but it was way too tall and how would I get out? Or take a dip in a watering trough for livestock, but those were pretty shallow and slimy.
One summer, several mothers joined together and carpooled us to swimming classes at the public pool in the county seat, a dozen miles down the highway.
It was a big, rectangular pool, the class lasted for a few weeks. That was a good summer because we often enjoyed a treat on the ride home, a little bag of peanuts and a soda water… that’s what we called a carbonated soft drink.
Nugrape was my favorite, it came in a small bottle. Orange Crush was another good one. One friend preferred to get an RC Cola, take a few swigs, and then dump half a bag of salted, roasted, shelled peanuts into the bottle. That made it fizz! And then he’d gulp down the contents, chewing and burping as necessary.
After learning to swim, that’s all a kid wants to do in the summer. All of us regularly pestered adults to go swimming. Nobody in the entire area had a pool in their back yard. Running through a sprinkler was fun but not the same as swimming on a hot sunshiny summer day.
It was hot for adults, too…
There was a river on the west side of our tiny town, big enough to have a bridge over the little stream that flowed slowly, but only occasionally truly “ran”. It all depended on rain up north. Sitting on the edge of the Hill Country, our farming community was where the land begins to flatten out and becomes more arid. Nature is not fair… our land was flatter for farming but sadly dry… a few miles north, the rocky and uneven terrain prevents much farming but it receives more precipitation.
Sometimes, usually on a weekend or holiday, a group of families and friends would make a day of going swimming. We’d pack up supplies and caravan several cars north to a place called Concan*, a popular recreation spot on the Frio River where the water runs continually. It is a few miles south of Garner State Park and Leakey, which the Frio also runs through.
Driving along the two-lane country highway, as you approached Concan and the river crossing, the road dipped down suddenly — crossed an old, short, narrow, flat, bridge barely above the water level — and then sharply inclined as you went back up to the other side. What fun! It was like riding a roller coaster. (That stretch of road has been widened and the slope made very gentle now. Sigh.)
Just off the highway was a place that rented summer “tourist cabins” along the banks of the river.
Or, you could pay by the carload to picnic on their property and swim in the river for the day. There were usually a lot of families and kids. This was a very popular spot. Still is.
Everyone enjoyed the water. It was fresh and cool. In Spanish, “frio” means cold. The Frio River is the Cold River. Wonderful on a hot Texas summer day.
There were many big oak and cypress shade trees, some with ropes attached to swing out over the river… but only in deep spots. Most of the river was quite shallow, we’d just drive across to get to the other side — water halfway up the car tires while going across slippery stones or perfectly smooth bedrock.
It was not unusual for a dad, after a beer or two, to drive the family car out into the river, roll up all the windows, and command all the nearby kids to wash it. Perhaps dozens would join in. Soon, water games were played with that vehicle as the base. Later, the clean car would be driven out to dry, hopefully undamaged.
People had ‘ice chests’ back then and went to an “ice house” to buy a 25 pound block of ice, about a foot square, to put in it. Then, an ice pick was used to chip the block into smaller pieces for the cooler. Ice picks and beer can openers were much more common back in the day. Over the years, ice houses evolved into convenience stores.
Most of the time, the river was clear and flowed quietly. Sometimes, though, a serious storm would pass many miles upriver while it was sunny where we were. Warnings would be relayed down the Hill Country by telephone, there was plenty of time to move to higher ground. This mostly affected campers and locals.
Regularly, some tourists — “city folk” — would choose to ignore multiple warnings until it was too late and the river flash flooded. While they could run for safety, their stuff was washed downstream.
Listening to the voice of experience is an acquired skill.
EVEN IF YOU LISTEN, ignorance may lead you to discount predictions if they run against your own observations: “it’s not even raining! the sun it out!”
Nature is powerful.
Water would surge along the river, carrying debris along with it. A few hours later after receding, I have seen cars mashed and wedged between boulders or left high in the branches of big trees where the river ran between narrow hills and got surprisingly high.
The further from nature our modern world moves, the less we understand and respect BOTH its beauty and its strength. Humans are growing bolder in the estimation of our own abilities to dominate nature. We do so at our own peril.
*The name Concan should not be confused with Cancun. Different place.