There was a place in my hometown of Rock Island, Washington, where we gathered on hot summer days, when we weren’t playing baseball. Though we played baseball nearly every day, even youngsters sometimes need a little R&R. On those occasions, we would meet up at The Pit. It sounds kind of ominous, but it was actually just our swimming hole.
It came into being as a gravel pit, many years ago, before the Rock Island Dam, a mile or so downriver from Rock Island was constructed, blocking the river and raising the water table. Some of that gravel may even have been used in the construction of the dam. Some people, not from Rock Island, or newcomers to our little town, may have called it The Gravel Pit. We just called it The Pit. I doubt if the first letters of each word were actually granted upper case status in how we thought of it, but it does make it easier to pick them out of the story.
So, the hole was there, and when the water table rose, it filled with water, deep and cold. Legend has it that people had drowned there, their bodies never to be found. Did they disappear down a hole at the bottom, to pop up in the Columbia River somewhere, eventually becoming food for the giant sturgeon that congregated below the dam? I don’t know. Could it be that it was a story, fabricated by Rock Island mothers, in an attempt to keep their children from going there, or at least to be careful? Maybe. Was it effective? Not to my knowledge.
For me, The Pit had two purposes: As a place to gather socially, and as a fishing hole. At certain times of the year, it was stocked with trout. I’m not sure who was behind that, whether it was The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, or one of the benevolent scions of Rock Island. Suffice to say that as a child, I had wrestled a decent amount of fish from that hole. My brother would take me fishing, out on a point which, if memory serves me (along with a quick check of Google Maps) was at the north end of the pond. But those occasions, though enjoyable, were irregular, and subject to my brother’s availability and willingness. I will say that when he was available, he was always willing. Besides being my baseball mentor, he also instilled in me a love of fishing.
Far more often, we were there for its primary purpose, as a swimming hole. In those days, it was just one body of water, and most of the gathering and splashing about took place on the eastern side. That was the only place flat enough and roomy enough for cars to park. The other three sides were higher, steeper, and the water was deeper. But we would gather there, and laugh and swim and play, and sometimes, catch a glimpse of the girls in their swimsuits.
At some point, I don’t exactly know when, and more than once, the water level behind the dam was raised, and along with that, the water table, creating more and bigger lakes. The golf course expanded, new houses were built, and the last time I was there, not long ago, my view from the rabbit humps showed a greener, lusher place than seen from my memory’s eye.
When strangers or acquaintances ask me where I’m from, my first answer is “Wenatchee”, because that’s more likely to be recognized by out-of-staters. Then, I usually go on to reduce that down to “East Wenatchee”, because as we know, there is a huge difference between the two. Then I end up boldly and proudly proclaiming “But I’m actually from Rock Island.” And that’s what defines me, and all the kids I grew up with. It’s why we are who we are, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.