Friday, April 10, 2020

Before the memory fades: Recalling those carefree days at the sucker hole

By Walter Lunt

In the summer of 1956, eight-year-old Tom Millett lived on a small farm with his parents, three brothers and a sister on Highland Cliff Road in Windham. “It was a different time,” he remembers, “we had garden chores in the morning, but after that, the day was ours. Our parents didn’t worry if we disappeared for the rest of the day.”

Artwork by Jerry Black of Arrowhead Art
For the most part, the boys could be trusted to stay in the neighborhood and to stay out of trouble. They would ride bicycles, fish, build forts in the woods, play basketball in the barn or baseball in a nearby field where chicken wire fencing served as a suitable backstop.

Those were the lazy, hazy days of summer sun and fun for kids in the 50s. There were no play dates or organized sports. Decisions regarding what to do and where to go originated from imaginative and inventive young minds. Ideas ranged from the familiar and usual to the foolish and amusing.

One hot afternoon found Tom, his older brother Lineous and friend Dennis (from ‘up the road’) exploring Colley Wright Brook on the east side of River Road across from the Men’s Reformatory (now Windham Correctional Center). In the 1950s it was known as Reformatory Field, a cow pasture fenced and maintained by supervised inmates at the minimum-security prison. Dennis came up with an idea: why not dam the brook and make a swimming hole?

The boys chose a site on the brook that happened to be one of their favorite fishing spots: the ‘sucker hole,’ a narrow spot in the stream that had created a small impoundment. Working through the afternoon, they bridged the banks with rocks and sticks all the way from the muddy bottom up to near chin high. Near the top, they inserted several four-inch sections of PVC pipe that would drain off the overflow and prevent run-off from wiping away the top of the dam. Finished, the boys went home to wait for their new swim hole to fill up.

The following day dawned hazy and hot. After chores, the Millett brothers met Dennis at the sucker hole, which had swelled to an area of 10 by 15 feet, and chest high deep.

Because it was hidden from traffic on River Road by a road-side berm and by bushes that lined the brook, and preferring to keep their clothes dry, the boys stripped naked and jumped in.

For the rest of that summer and the next, the sucker hole would be their private skinny-dipping pond, deep enough for shallow diving. It had cool, crystal clear water until busy feet stirred up the muddy bottom. And, if at this point dear reader, you’re wondering about blood suckers, the answer is yes, they were present.

“We’d swim, get out, pick them off, and jump in again. Didn’t bother us,” said Tom.

The private sucker hole, tucked away in a swale behind berms and bushes was the cool and fun respite for the trio of boys for two long, hot summers.

Only once was their secret, shall we say, exposed.

One afternoon, as the boys frolicked and freewheeled in the sucker hole, a man appeared carrying, according to Tom, “…what appeared to be surveying equipment.”  He carried on small talk with the three boys, then sat down to eat his lunch.

“He told us we should get out of the water because his helper would be joining him.” The trio dismissed the warning, not really caring whether another guy joined the group or not.

A few minutes later, the man’s helper appeared and was told that the swimmers were skinny dipping. The helper, a young woman, smiled broadly and sat to eat her lunch, too.

The boys ceased their water sports and stared at the visitors who were munching their mid-day meal and staring back. The swimmer’s inactivity caused the water to clear up. “So,” said Tom, “we had to kick up mud to cloud the swim hole.”

Eventually, the surveyors (or whoever they were) finished eating, picked up their gear and moved on, smiling and waving.

Tom says he laughs when he thinks back on the incident. And to this day still likes to tell the story.  <

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