Our house on West Wesley Road in Buckhead didn’t have a pool and I can count on one hand the number of times we went to one. What we did have was a tributary of Peachtree Creek running through the woods behind the house. The ratty shoes were for the sole purpose of sloshing around in the creek on lazy summer days.
We built dams with rocks from the creek bed and mud found nearby. With a little ingenuity we could make a little wading hole at the bends in the creek with a well-built dam. We searched under rocks for crayfish. When we caught one we examined it and then put it back.
We spent our days stomping in the water, up and down the creek, in search of nothing except what was around the next bend. Even though we knew the creek like the backs of our hands, it was always an adventure. The creek was the central gathering place for all the neighborhood children.
My best buddy Jonathan Aiken lived on Peachtree Dunwoody Road just past the Windsor Parkway intersection in Brookhaven. Nancy Creek ran right through their property. The difference between the little creek in our woods and Nancy Creek was the difference between the Chattahoochee River and the mighty Mississippi, with Nancy Creek being the Mississippi. There was no damming up Nancy Creek, but we spent countless hours trying.
If I was lucky enough to go to a pool it was by myself. My mother would drop me off in front and tell me when she would be back to pick me up in a few hours. The large clock over the locker rooms told me when it was time. When she pulled back around I was usually sitting out on the curb, hot and exhausted.
I am a third child, and I know that as the children add up those family outings become less and less frequent. There is a chance my experience was different then, simply based on the pecking order.
I was not alone, however. There were always loose packs of kids hanging out at the pool. It served as a quasi-babysitter in between the end of the school year and the beginning of sleep-away camp, which usually lasted five weeks.
There was no time for insecurity or wondering whether you would fit in; we just played with one another. I know who all of them are today, but back then I had no idea what their names were. My mother would ask who I played with when I got in the car and I hadn’t a clue.
Now, several times a week we load up the children in the car and head to the pool during the summer. I often think back to those days marching through the creeks, how much we did with what nature gave us. It makes me long for a pair of beat-up tennis shoes.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and a former news editor of this newspaper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.