Laurel Fork

Our favorite childhood swimmin’ hole is just upstream from here.

At work recently we had a “Pool Olympics” for the kids in the ministry. Staff took those who wanted to go to the public pool in town and had a series of games for them to play complete with prizes. It was a broiling July afternoon perfect for the pool and there I was in my blue jeans and 3/4 sleeve shirt snapping photos. And sweating.
It was fun to see the kids have fun and I was reminded of what a treat it was to go to the pool when I was a kid. Of course, trips to the pool were pretty rare. That perfectly symmetrical pool smelling of chlorine and coconut oil was where the town kids hung out. The country kids, like me, went to the swimmin’ hole. And as much as I longed for the civility of the pool (where there was a snack bar and boys), I honestly preferred the creek out back of Aunt Bess’.
Laurel Fork ran like melted ice over coal ledges, rocks and boulders to pool in a shady spot behind my Sunday School teacher’s house. Everyone in the community went there to swim–unless they went to Alton, but that was further away and I digress.
The swimmin’ hole had a large boulder on the far side perfect for jumping off (so long as you knew where the submerged rocks were) and one on the near side perfect for sitting on in the sun. The flat, coal ledge that spilled water into the pool was a good place to sit in just a couple of inches of water and watch what went on below. A sort of kiddie pool.
We would go there after working in the hay fields. Nothing was better to get the sweat and itchy chaff out of all your nooks and crannies. Mom brought Ivory soap (it floats) and Prell shampoo to kill two birds with one stone. It was heaven.
And it’s legendary. One story tells of how a kid jumped in and peeled a chunk of his scalp back on a submerged rock. The water was so cold, it slowed the bleeding and Aunt Bess just patted the skin in place and sewed it back on. Then there was my dad’s cousin who at sixteen jumped in the cold water when she was overheated and died. I’ve seen her marker in the Laurel Fork Cemetery. And I, along with many others, was baptized there.
It’s a magic place, the swimmin’ hole. Last time I was there, it was oddly smaller than I remembered. But I think in this instance I’ll trust my memory more than my eyes.
Because there are times when your heart knows better than your head.