Friday, April 4, 2008

High Water in Spring

Every spring when I see rising water in rivers or ponds I recall childhood memories of our pond. This month's column, "High water in spring brings happy memories," includes a photo of our little house by the pond.  (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Here is the text I submitted to the paper:

High Water in Spring
By Sandy Nichols Ward, 4/1/2008

This old photo has been sitting above my desk for several years. It shows the little house that was my home as a child. The view is across the pond in springtime, when the water was high. Today driving in western Massachusetts, I saw high water beside the road almost touching a little garage and I thought back to the spring times of my childhood when pond water rose into our yard.

I love this photo and the memories it brings of that house, yard, and pond. I lived there 14 years, growing from baby to teenager. I experienced many a wet spring, wading around in rubber boots, catching polliwogs in the pond with my mother, and hauling the pails up to the house. We put our catch into a small glass aquarium and watched each day as the tiny tadpoles grew. They gradually developed legs and turned into tree frogs, at which point we had to catch them again and release them outside.

My sister and I had many opportunities for water play, not only at the edge of the pond, but also along the street and in our cellar. We lived below a hillside spring. My mother waged an on-going battle with water drainage along Nichols Street, trying to divert the small but steady flow away from our house. We often heard our parents talk about our wet cellar – how to drain it, or dry it, or seal it to prevent the entry of more water. Over the years we came to understand the futility of our efforts and the certainty of a wet cellar. When my father applied a waterproof paint to seal the floor, a long thin crack broke the surface and let the water seep in again, often making a faint "singing" sound. The pitch of the water song changed slightly as we stepped near the crack. My father drilled a drain hole in the south wall to let the water flow out towards the pond, but sometimes rising pond water came IN that way!  I remember watching my mother do laundry, standing there in her boots in several inches of water as she pulled the wash from the washing machine and fed sheets and towels through the wringer.

In spite of the high water that sometimes invaded our yard and cellar, we loved that pond.  We watched muskrats swim across the pond and build themselves a home. We set up a wood duck nest box (constructed from a recycled World War II ammo box, following instructions from the Boston Museum of Science) and watched generations of wood ducks come and go. In winter we skated on the pond; in summer we rowed or paddled in small boats with my father. In August when the loosestrife plants bloomed, my sister and I walked among the hummocks and examined the now-dry pond bottom.

My father took photos of the pond from our house in all seasons; we delighted in showing that series of seasonal slides to visitors. But this photo is not by my father, and it is the opposite view, probably taken from the edge of the hay field behind my grandfather's house next door. On the back of the photo frame is the date May 4, 1941, and the name of the photographer, Bill Goding, Yonkers, N.Y.  I recognize May 4 as my grandfather's birthday, and Yonkers as the address of my uncle Edward H. Nichols; I'm guessing that the photographer was a friend of Edward's who traveled up for a birthday visit. This little house by the pond had been built by my grandfather in 1940 as a rental. My parents, married in 1940, started in this house while seeking other housing. What started as a temporary convenience became home for our family until 1957, when we moved across the street into a large new house on the hill, safely beyond the reach of rising pond water.

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