Everyone knew it as the Deep Hole. It was a spot on the edge of a sandbar in the St. Francis River that had washed out over time. The water was still and deep. The bottom was soft and sandy. Cool water, with a glassy surface like a window, would reveal a dark, green-tinted world that was mesmerizing for the mind. It was a local hangout for all ages. Kids would go there to fish and swim and play on the sandbar like it was a beach on some forgotten island. Teens went there to drink, swim and, under the glow of the Arkansas summer moons, make out or skinny dip safe from the prying eyes of authorities and their parents. Many of the “firsts” of my early life experiences happened there. First bloody nose, first kiss, first time to see a girl naked, and first pop-top can of warm beer. It was a place of youth. A teenager’s Valhalla that disappeared upon reaching early adulthood. It was a place of memories.
Deep Hole was found on the Lake City-side of the St. Francis River. A small path leading through the woods, if you knew where to drop off the levee, would take you to the sacred spot. The thumping of the tires crossing the bridge could be heard, but the vehicles themselves couldn’t be seen. Evidence of the most recent activity could be found once you arrived. Charred wood from campfires or a pile of empty beer cans, “dead soldiers,” as the lingo of the day called them. The trees that bordered the sandbar were adorned with all colors of floaters and fish baits swinging from the low hanging limbs as the result of errant casts. They gave the impression of year-round Christmas ornaments, like many lights outlining porches around town. Occasionally, there would be a pair of sandy socks or a lone tennis shoe discarded for reasons unknown. Sometimes, a small group of young boys would find the holy grail of all finds in a young boy’s mind, a bra. It was the duty of the finders to make it known before the first bell at school, with a promise to tell the story of the finding, along with a detailed description of the article, at first recess. The stories always ended the same – someone wondering who it belonged to and then recalling the folk tale of some kid that everyone had heard about finding an actual pair of panties. It has been said that in a kingdom of locked doors, the man with the key is king. If someone had produced a story of finding a pair, he could have jingled the keys until summer break. No one ever actually brought garments to prove the stories. It was not required. The fear of cooties was a real fear at that age, and it was readily believed that touching girls’ undergarments could infect yourself with a super cootie that would do God-knows-what to a kid. If someone spotted an unknown object, the first to grab an arm’s-length stick was charged with hooking the object and pulling it free from the sand. If it was a bra, it was the kid’s duty to then run towards the others with the threat of touching them with it. The kids would run screaming from the adorned limb as if they were dynamite and the stick was on fire. It was on a search such as this that I experienced the alpha of first experiences.
One Saturday morning after a sleepover, three of my friends and I journeyed to the hallowed ground to investigate the activities of the night before. We all found our appropriate prodding sticks on the way down the wooded path. The sand was riddled with scuff marks and footprints and we knew the prospects of finding something interesting would be high. We dispersed to various areas and began the search. The thump of sticks hitting dead soldiers and the occasional sploosh of various items thrown into the water were the only sounds. And then, something interesting caught my eye. Along the water’s edge, partially buried in the blonde sand, was a flag of mostly white. I eased closer and knew immediately it was clothing of some sort. Upon closer inspection, I could see the seam of what appeared to be a leg hole disappearing into the depths of Deep Hole. It had to be panties. I excitedly called out to the others, as I hooked the item and began working it free from the sand. The others ran to investigate. The unknown item became dislodged with a force, and I turned to see the wet, sand-stained article airborne before it landed with a wet plop on Justin’s shoulder. It was then that we realized they weren’t panties, but men’s briefs. Justin let out a cry of disgust that was louder than the laughter of the others. He slinked his shoulder out from under the wetness of the gross undies, straightened, and punched me in the nose. All laughter stopped as I sat in the warm sand, trying to clear my vision through the tears welling in my eyes. I felt the stinging and throbbing of my nose, and then the warm trickle of something wet on my lip. A quick swipe of the hand showed it was blood. I looked up to the others and only found Justin. The others had turned and walked a safe distance away, to avoid being the next victims. The fear in Justin’s eyes matched the pain in my nose. He reached out a hand to help me up and patted me on the back, with a quiet “I’m sorry.” There would be no playground discussion, ever, about that particular find.
The next of my “first” experiences came in a pair on the same day. My girlfriend, Shauna, had been the first girl I had ever kissed, when we were in grade school. I’m still not sure which of us was more surprised. She had gorgeous blue eyes that always made me swoon. The kiss was long gone, but we had remained close friends. She agreed to meet me at the ball field to watch the local baseball team match wits against a visiting team from one of the nearby towns like ours. Our parents would drop us off at the field, with strict instructions to be ready to be picked up at 9:00. We met up at 6:00 and, in youthful defiance, decided to sneak off to Deep Hole like the teenagers. It was a twelve-year-old’s version of eloping for a couple of hours. The walk was a short one. By the time we arrived, the sun was below the trees, but the sky was glowing the deep blue of the night above the fading light of the sun. There was little danger of anyone being there on a Thursday night. Our plan was to throw some rocks in Deep Hole and then tell our friends we had snuck off together and let their own imagination tell the story. We would be the gossip across the lunch tables for one day, at least. I was just beginning the lesson, teaching Shauna the prowess of skipping a rock, when we heard the chatter of voices on the levee. In a panic, we hid in the woods’ edge, like an intense game of flashlight tag. When the bodies came into view, we realized it was three teenagers from high school and we recognized them from the pep rallies of the past basketball season. The guy was one of the starters on the team and the two girls with him were cheerleaders. One of the girls had really stood out in my mind for some odd reason. She was pretty. Small-town-homecoming-queen pretty. They sat in the sand and laughed, and I distinctly heard a few swear words that were new to my ears and I would have to remember to report those during the playground meeting. I could see the worry in Shauna’s eyes that we wouldn’t make it back in time for pick-up if they didn’t hurry and leave. In the midst of the conversation of the three, I heard the words “skinny dip” mentioned and time stood still. Suddenly, a dare was thrown out. The girls said, “only if you go first.” Mr. Star Basketball Player” was twisting out of his t-shirt and heel-kicking his shoes off, all in one motion. As he wriggled his Levis over his boxers, I whispered to Shauna that we probably needed to leave. Her cheeks were painted with embarrassment, but she said we should wait. I was trying to position myself to shield her from further embarrassment, when I heard the sound of someone cannonballing into Deep Hole. I turned, just as the dark-haired cheerleader dropped her final garment and, in all her glory, walked casually into the cool water, calling out for the other to hurry and get in. I became nervous and clammy, and my stomach started churning. I tried to whisper to Shauna but could produce no sound. Just as the blonde and beautiful cheerleader, that I had watched intently flip and leap about on the gym floor, stood to peel the first of her garments, Shauna then whispered to me that it was time for us to leave. Honor and integrity won out over curiosity of the unknown, and we slipped quietly out to the path and hurriedly made our way towards the levee. I did peek back in time to see the white hiney and bare back of my cheerleader disappear into the cover of dark water. Shauna and I never spoke a word on the way back to the beaconing lights of the ballfield. We sat on the top bleacher, sharing a coke and bag of popcorn, when she announced that she could see her Dad’s truck coming down the road. I turned to say my goodbyes but was silenced by a pair of soft lips pushing against mine. I pushed back. She walked towards her waiting ride, wearing that same blush, and I sat there with the same churning stomach. I knew it was the magic of Deep Hole. It had put a spell on her. The same spell that would make teenage girls go skinny-dipping. I was the “Playground King” of my friends, as I retold the tale of the previous adventure. Shauna was the queen of her group, as well, as they met by the monkey bars. I never understood why the girls were giggling so much.
The high school years afforded me the chance to, once again, experience the magic of Deep Hole. The warmth of a bonfire against me and my gal, both shirtless from our own skinny-dipping. The pop of the beer cans for both, with Bob Seger crooning his own story of Night Moves on the jambox sitting nearby in the sand. The dark blue sky was streaked with red in the August early nighttime. She lay against my chest and the moment froze in my memory forever. I hope, at times, she travels back in her memory as well, and we meet there again. No thought of what was to be done tomorrow. Just enjoying the company and the time we were in. Many life-long friends that I’ve made came from that point of time and that special place. Its fond memories and many firsts are buried in the sand, like a pirate’s chest full of treasure. I travel that river often, nowadays, but can never really pinpoint the location of Deep Hole. It has been erased by age and only the memories remain. The path off of the levee has been shaded by eyes that now only look for the next morning’s duties, forgetting all the adventure of childhood night-befores.