I Remember When . . . .
Great Stories about growing up in the Horntown, Oklahoma area!

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Our Farm Tank

   I read with interest the piece written by Messr.s Shumard and Adair on farm ponds. It reads like a chapter straight out of a basic primer on Environmental Ecology such as I have taught in my university classes. It is a very detailed and accurate picture of the various interactions and influences involved in ponds and a very well written article.
   I don't even remember the word "pond" being in my vocabulary as a young person. When I was first introduced to the "tank" at the age of six I was informed it was a reservoir which held a body of water useful primarily for watering the cows. I would learn that the tank was also the focal point of the farm and much of farm life swirled about the presence of the tank. Possessing a healthy farm meant also possessing a healthy and vibrant tank. It was the "watering hole" for animals, small and large, wild and tame, and the essential link between a barren and a healthy ecosystem. Supplying water for thirsty populations was undoubtedly the primary usage for the impounded water. Secondary uses would involve swimming, fishing, and various other recreational pursuits.
   We always had groups of livestock, either horses or cattle or both and they required enormous amounts of water to sustain them. They would daily make their trek to the tank to tank up on a fresh supply of this vital fluid. They would often, particularly in the summer also wade into the pond up to their backs to ease the nuisance of pesky blood sucking flies. In the process, they would defecate into the water and stir up the mud with their hooves thereby creating cloudiness of the water. This became a slight deterrent for swimming but not enough to prevent us from going in for a dip on a hot summer's day. We simply kept our eyes closed under water so as not to introduce dirt and mud into our eyes. If we occasionally swallowed a little water which happened most times we swam, the extra grime did not seem to produce illness.
   Swimming became an essential summer activity in the tank. It was always dirty from various livestock wading forth to relieve themselves of flies and of digested waste products. For many years, swimming was accomplished in the buff which is widely referred to a "skinny dipping." We did not own swimming trunks and so the only choice we had was to doff our clothes and dive in. It was a cool and refreshing respite from the heat and humidity of the day. I always avoided getting over into the cattails along one area of the shore because I was extremely wary that this was the province of the poisonous water moccasins that I knew were there. Only occasionally would I feel the slithering presence of a snake underwater in the center of the tank. Too many times I had seen them with their heads above the water surface as they swam. After swimming, we would put out clothes back on, albeit making them somewhat wet for awhile until they dried out. If we had shoes (a non-barefoot day) we would try to scrape off most of the loose dirt and mud before putting our socks back on.
   We had two tanks on our 80-acre farm, one just behind the house and in full view of passing motorists on U.S. 75. Fortunately, the dam came between the water and the swimmer thus helping obscure nude bodies from prying eyes that plied the highway. The other pond was in the far northeast corner of the property, over the rise and east of the highway and secluded in a wooded area. This is where I first learned to swim. One evening after supper when I was six years old, my dad, brothers and I drove back to the woods, hiked to the tank, stripped down and went swimming. My brothers taught me how to "dog paddle" and I was suddenly a swimmer. I could stay afloat in the water. The fact of our nudity in front of each other was a little unnerving but nevertheless, we got through it and we all had a good time swimming.
   Over the next several years I swam in many farm ponds, lakes and creeks, always in the buff since I still had no trunks, sometimes alone and often with a companion. My cousin Vernon Proctor and I "swam" in a very shallow, nearly silted in pond on the farm his dad rented. It was only a couple of feet deep and full of floating detritus that left us dirtier after emerging in the water than before. In other instances, I swam in a flood control reservoir that was very deep and I could not submerge and touch bottom with my feet. In most other ponds, I was able to swim to the middle, take a deep breath and go down to the bottom before my air was exhausted and I came back up, breaking water with a huge gasp of fresh air filling my lungs. Sometimes after a hot day of sweat and toil on the farm, I walked east of our property to the neighbors secluded pond to swim alone. I swam to the center and went down, and down, and down until, just as my air was gone, touched bottom and immediately thrust upwards. My lungs burned as my oxygen was gone. Finally, I broke water and breathed once more. I looked around and there was no one within sight. I became a little fearful that if I run into trouble, there would be no one to come to my rescue. I seldom swam alone after that.
   Finally, after I became a senior at Moss, I desired to swim at the Holdenville Pool. I had to acquire some trunks to wear which I did. At the pool, I dived off the low board a few times, my first ever from a diving board. Then, I went off the high board which seemed a very long ways from the water. I went off that high dive several times head first, the top of my head smarting with the collision with the water. Outstretched arms and hands together muffled the collision to some degree.
   In other ponds, I found snapping turtles as major residents and they were always angry and lunged at anything that came close. I would extend a stick to near their heads and a quick snap would snap the stick in two. These were fearful animals and I always was careful not to get any portion of my body close enough for them to strike.
   Fishing was another secondary activity I enjoyed at the tank. There were always bony perch and more delectable catfish present to be caught. I would dig some worms or catch some grasshoppers to bait my hook and watch the cork bobble in the water. When the cork went under, I would pull out the evening meal. It was a lot of fun. Later, I learned how to use a rod and real and cast half-way across the tank. We caught bass and other forms of fish in other bodies of water and that was most enjoyable. My brother-in-law even took me fishing in a boat on Lake Overholser in Oklahoma City. We even used a seine a time or two to catch larger numbers of tank fish.
   Another favorite activity around the tank was shooting. I had a .22 caliber rifle and it was great sport to sneak up to the dam and creep stealthily to the top to peer over. Sometimes there were ducks but I needed our shotgun to kill a duck. Most of the time, particularly in the summer, there would be swimmers in the water. Near the shore, I could see bullfrogs with their heads exposed from the water. It was good target practice to see if I could nail a frog on the first shot. The most fun, however, was shooting water moccasins which were often swimming in the open water. Taking careful aim from greater distances and being able to nail a snake was the most fun. That meant one less snake to be concerned with as I swam.
   On occasion, I went to the tank to find a flat rock among the scrabble on the dam. When I found one of suitable size, shape and weight, I would throw it low and sidearm near the water surface to see if I could skip it. If I could make it skip all the way to the other side of the pond, that was a great accomplishment. The more skips the better and five or six would be the minimum for an enjoyable adventure.
   As a young person who participated in sports in grade school, I was interested in improving my throw, as of a baseball, and of strengthening my arm. The tank was about 250 feet from our old wooden barn where we milked the cows and stored the corn and hay. As a grade school boy, I would often climb up the dam, find a small rock and throw it toward the barn with all my might. For years, the rock always fell short. As I grew, I noticed the rocks travelling further. Until one day, to my utmost glee, after I threw a rock for all it was worth, came back the resounding thud that told me at last I had hit the barn. It was another major accomplishment from the tank. This was a secondary or tertiary use of the tank, as a reservoir for small rocks that could be used to throw at things and a launching pad for the accomplishment of a goal.
   In the winter, we always got at least one hard freeze. The tank would freeze over with an ice layer thick enough for skating. We did not have ice skates but we did have leather-soled shoes which were great for gliding a long ways across the frozen expanse. It was great fun to see how fast we could run to get up momentum, and how far we could skate before friction brought us to a stop.
   These were but a few of the uses we made of the farm (pond) tank. It was the focal point of interest and brought many hours of recreational and functional use. The tank, as we called it, was a crucial part of my childhood and provided many happy memories. Oh, did I mention the recalcitrant motor cycle that I rode down the tank dam to try to get it started? Well, that's another story that we will save until another time.
Phil Keathley

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