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Spires: Learning how to swim
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Spires: Learning how to swim

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I remember my mother talking about how she learned to swim.

Her mother had forbidden her from swimming until she learned how to swim. That philosophy seemed a little flawed to me. I didn’t see how you could learn how to swim if you never went swimming.

To learn how to swim, she slipped away with some of her friends to one of the local swimming holes. She was raised in Lake County, where there were a lot of places to go swimming.

One of her favorite places to go was to a resort on Lake Weir near Ocklawaha, Florida. If that sounds a little familiar it is where the FBI killed Ma Barker, the notorious bank robber and head of a gang that included her own sons.

We went there several times when I was growing up. Thankfully, she did not follow in her mother’s footsteps and I learned to swim pretty young. That was a good thing considering as much as I went fishing with my father (no life jackets back then).

I did do one thing, however, that she did; I slipped off with other neighborhood kids on many occasions and went swimming at one of the local mine holes that are scattered around Gadsden County.

Those mine holes were left over from digging for “Fuller’s Earth,” known for its absorbent characteristics (kitty litter and Oil-Dri are what most folks think about).

Looking back, it was probably not the safest kind of swimming, especially since those old mine holes were treacherous places to swim. They were deep and the banks were slippery (another characteristic of Fuller’s Earth).

They were also surrounded by thick brush and plenty of snakes, especially moccasins.

We would actually take machetes with us and hack our way to the water to go swimming. Scary now, but back then we never gave it a thought.

We found a tree overhanging the water and made a rope swing that let you swing out over the water and fall in. Personally, I did it a couple of times and didn’t particularly like it. So, I let the other guys have that little bit of fun.

The good thing is that I got to be a pretty decent swimmer. The mine hole was about 30 yards wide and maybe 150 yards long. I could easily swim from one side to the other and on a couple of occasions I would swim the long way and back.

We had been going down there all summer swimming at least once a week sometimes twice a week.

I remember me and a buddy decided to go to the “hole,” one afternoon to swim. It was about a mile and a half from our neighborhood mostly through the woods.

We got to our little beach we had cut out of the woods and just before we stepped into the clearing, we heard a loud rumbling sound.

Stopping on the trail we heard the sound again. Since we were almost to the cleared-out area, we could see what was making the noise.

It was an alligator about eight feet long. We had never seen one there before and decided to abort our swimming for that day. A few days later, several of us went back again and the gator was still there, sunning on our beach.

We decided to give him plenty of room and never went back there to swim. I learned years later that gators travel from water hole to water hole for mating purposes.

About 10 years ago, I went back to that mine hole in my job as a news editor after I heard that someone who was missing was thought to have gone into that area. There were at least a dozen gators that I could see.

They found the missing person, by the way, and, yes, they were in that same mine hole.

Byron Spires is a retired newspaper editor. He has written dozens of short stories and serials in the Havana Herald. He recently published “The Curious Life of Marci Bell: Part I,” in a series of three books. Byron has been involved with local theatre having done over 50 musicals, a dozen stage plays and wrote and directed an original play “Splintered Judgement.” He is available for speaking engagements. You can contact him at byronspires51@gmail.com.

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