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Bragg's Puddle

 by Vern Zielke

It was hot! The southern breeze seemed to blow directly from some unseen fiery oven. The temperature hovered just under the 100-degree mark on the thermometer, with the sun just past its zenith. It was Sunday, and we had hurried home from church. My mother knew that she had only a few minutes to get our Sunday dinner ready before we would hear the insistent sound of a horn, informing us that the swimming gang was assembling, and there was no time to spare. She never could understand how Mrs. Wiens could get home from church and feed her family so quickly. It was a source of genuine irritation to her to hear that horn blow when we were still in the middle of our meal.

I would quickly swallow the last of my desert and gulp the last of the lemonade in my glass for I knew that I could not keep the boys waiting. It was time to get on board! Sometimes the vehicle being boarded was just a stripped down car, consisting of four wheels, a powerful Ford engine and some seats. There were no seat belts or roll bars. Safety was not a consideration. Getting there fast certainly was a consideration, as the car bore its occupants toward a little taste of paradise, a place sometimes referred to as "Bragg's Puddle."

The term "puddle" was actually a bit demeaning for such a beautiful place. It was not a mere puddle. It was really a spring-fed pond in Bragg's pasture, just a little ways from the road. Bragg's Puddle lay almost straight east of our farm. The graveled road became a narrower dirt road after three miles and continued on to the Moundview School, with farms and wheat fields on either side.  Then the road narrowed even more and no longer followed straight section lines. The terrain became more scenic, although the boys aboard the strip-down may not often have taken the time to admire the grassy hills and the trees, nor did they always take note of the meadowlark's song as they approached their destination.

These fun-loving boys were products of rather conservative Mennonite families, and not just any activity was considered appropriate, especially on Sunday. Games such as baseball or touch football were approved and often engaged in, but the more exotic activities, such as bowling, pool, roller skating, or movies were taboo. In the summertime, swimming became the activity of choice. Many hours were spent at the pool in Fowler, and sometime trips were made to Dodge City. The pool at Meade was considered inferior because it was smaller and did not have adequate diving facilities.

Then, at some point, someone discovered Bragg's Puddle. The owner (Mr. Bragg, I presume) gave us permission to use it for a swimming hole. The pond had a sandy bottom, so that no mud was stirred up by our activity, as opposed to other swimming holes around the community, which we sometime frequented. The spring-fed water was clear and cold, and just to anticipate that first dive on a hot afternoon was sheer ecstasy. It was important to get to our destination as early as possible, because all of us knew that by four o'clock we would be compelled to head for home to take care of Sunday afternoon chores.

Two things were lacking at this otherwise ideal swimming hole. The first was the fact that no girls ever frequented this place. It might be that we just never invited them to come, or maybe the girls that we knew did not go swimming on a Sunday afternoon. It is likely that they would have looked with disfavor at the idea of swimming in a cow pasture pond. If we desired the company of the opposite sex, we could always go to Fowler, where we could enjoy the company of many other swimmers. In fact, in Fowler, on a warm Sunday afternoon, you had to stand in line to use the diving board, which gave you plenty of time to ogle the girls, but certainly cut down on your diving time.

 At Bragg's Puddle we had no diving board. This was considered to be a serious problem. It was not long till a movement was underway to construct a sturdy diving board. A railroad tie was procured, possibly a stray, left by the side of the Rock Island right of way, and a good length of two by twelve lumber was purchased at the lumberyard. These two main items, along with some posts to serve as anchors, and a posthole digger, were transported to the site, and soon a newly installed diving board graced the pond's edge. We all loved to use the springboard, and spent many hours trying to perfect our diving skills. Some became proficient at flips, forwards and backwards. Some even tried to invent new dives, or had fun doing the cannonball. Sometimes just a plain old belly flop would do.

By today's standards, swimming in a pasture in a remote area might be unacceptable. While the pond was spring fed, it certainly was not chlorinated. There was never a lifeguard on duty, although you could say that there were as many lifeguards as there were swimmers. We had no cell phones with which to call 911 in case of an emergency and none of us had any knowledge of life saving techniques. It was our good fortune that no serious emergency ever arose. We were a happy-go-lucky group, and whatever safety awareness we possessed would have had its basis in some common sense practices, which came from our experiences on the farm. 

After a full afternoon of vigorous swimming and diving we had only time for faspa and chores before we had to get ready to go to the evening church service. No one even thought of begging off with the excuse that a full afternoon in the hot sun was just too tiring. Maybe our parents reasoned that twice in church on Sunday would somehow offset the more profane nature of our afternoon activities.

None of us expected to visit the swimming hole during the week because we would be busy from morning to night running tractors, trucks, and combines or stacking bales on hot afternoons. We all looked forward to the next Sunday afternoon, when once again the shimmering, sunlit surface of Bragg's Puddle would beckon. Our mothers would once again feel constrained to hurry with dinner in order to forestall the inevitable blare of the horn that would announce the arrival of a vehicle, be it a stripped down Ford, a pick-up truck, or a family sedan. Even though all of this happened many years ago, I can still feel a tinge of anticipation when I think about making that first dive of the afternoon into the depths of Bragg's Puddle.

 

(Copyright Vern Zielke)

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