July 03, 2005

Grease is the Word

Whilst some people's memories of childhood Days of Independence past crackle and pop with the sizzling flare of nighttime pyrotechnics and patriotic promenades of red, white and blue Americans, mine take a slightly... greasier sheen.

When I think of Independence Day, the first day of our fine country, the greased pole comes to my mind. Such a towering pole, glistening in the hot Georgia sun. A slickened shaft of rusted steel standing erect in a public patch of green weeds. That line of boys, older than myself, all eagerly qued, ready to test their mettle against this metal monolith. At Johnsons Lake Swimming Pool, July the Fourth was known for three things: rebel patriotism, the biggest hamburgers in Polk County and climbing the greased pole. Poor pole, only loved one day a year when hordes of tanned, sweaty men would gather for the honor, the challenge, of scaling its buttery circumference. And the reward? A year's bragging rights and a moist fifty dollar bill.

A lottery was drawn in the morning to determine the order of the line. The lead men were given the first chance at the money at the top of the pole, unfortunately while the pole is at its greasiest. As the contestants failed to climb the pole in their allotted minute (or thereabouts) they were relegated to the end of the line. This would continue until a winner was announced, followed by a mass leap into Johnsons Lake Pool. The resulting rainbow film atop the mildly chlorinated water reminded me of the puddles at rural gas stations. Puddles so filthy, yet still dogs lapped from them. And still children frolicked and played while the far corners of the rural watering hole took on a murky, toxic quality. No one swam in the corners of the pool. Some relieved themselves there, but none swam.

Other Johnsons Lake events included the ultra competitive horseshoe throwing contest, the miniature golf tourney and cracker-n-whistle.

Cracker-n-whistle was fairly simple. Gather a bunch of country children and make them each ingest a stack of saltine crackers. They chew and crunch and swallow and the first child to successfully whistle wins a stuffed toy. One particular child nearly won a trip to the emergency room when he choked on a mound of salted crackers. To this day I still rue the common, pedestrian saltine cracker. I'd rather find a finger in my Wendy's chili lest a deadly cracker besmurch my bowl.
Chasing the champion whistler everyone then jumped into Johnsons Lake Pool. The culmination of every contest on July 4th; diving into the pool and escaping the everpresent humidity of those dry mouthed, greasy limbed Cedartown summers.

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