Just when we were undertaking research to find a North Texas Native American rainmaker, the gully washer came. Eastland County received approximately 14 inches of rain in the last half of July. Which brings to mind an Old West saying, “Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.”
Imagine what would happen if we had lured a rainmaker to Cisco, turned him (or her) loose to dance and pray, and the next day the rains came. Talk about timing – Cisco probably would make the evening’s network news.
After several years of catastrophic drought, wild fires, burn bans, and limitations on water use, the county finally got a drenching rain, what some call “a frog drowner.” Or a frog strangler. Call it what you want; most of us said “Thank you, Lord” anyway.
Lake Cisco rose about 14 feet, according to reports; boat docks settled on newly risen water; and our yellow grass turned green. A fanciful imagination conjures up the image of fish in local lakes gurgling, “Whaaaaaaaat?”
Nine miles down the Kingdom of Possums
Forget imagination; our real memories are plentiful. My family was big into water skiing on Texas lakes. Along with close family friends, Ciscoans J.V. and Helen Heyser and their three children, we often loaded up kids, boats and ice chests and enjoyed unforgettable summer weekends.
Heyser daughter Sherry and I once skied nine miles along the length of Possum Kingdom Lake, acquiring tender, red ankles from the rubber-boot chafing. One blissful memory of skiing up the Colorado River on an early summer morning was a zen moment. The river was wide and smooth as glass as we skimmed the surface of the still, green water, observing riverside homes, swimmers, boaters, birds, and a continuing stream of nature along the river banks.
J.V. Heyser, ever the adventurous athlete, once skied too close to the dam and encountered a floating metal oil drum painted orange to warn skiers off, sort of a poor man’s buoy. J.V. ended up in Cisco’s now-closed Graham Hospital with a compound fracture of one leg. His description of the smashed bones still sends a cold chill down my back.
My somewhat reserved father refused to wear shorts much less a swimsuit regardless of Texas’ scalding heat. He was, however, an enthusiastic water skier. Skis on, rope in hand, he usually rose from the water fully outfitted in a long-sleeve shirt, khaki pants, baseball cap, sunglasses, and a cigar. Lit, of course.
Completed in 1920, the Williamson Dam launched an era of outdoor fun for Northwest Texans at the massive recreational area on the east side of the dam. The swimming pool was billed as the world’s largest concrete pool and was surrounded by bathhouse, skating rink, miniature golf course, picnic tables, park, occasional traveling carnivals, and long ago, a zoo.
The park drew thousands of swimmers, senior trippers, and family reunions. Today a few of the WPA-built native-rock structures in the area remain, including several stone cottages, the zoo’s tumble-down infrastructure, picnic benches, and at least two stone arches (like those at Cisco’s Oakwood Cemetery and the Cisco Country Club).
Growing up here, we spent most summer days at the swimming pool. Our fathers were World War II veterans, and at the time, Cisco veterans owned and managed the property. As children of veterans, we paid ten cents for all-day swimming privileges.
We swam, sunned, picnicked on the island in the middle of the pool complex, and occasionally worked as lifeguards, receiving 50 cents an hour. During Cisco’s annual Fourth of July extravaganza, imported motor boats left wide wakes in the swimming pool during the Miss Cisco contest and a choreographed water ballet.
One year the ballet cast included Judy Sitton, Peggy Hailey, Mitzi Rider, Alice Ann Webb, Janet Green, and yours truly. Our photo, wearing swimsuits, tropical pareos, and a whole lot of stage makeup, appeared on the front page of The Abilene Reporter-News.
But let’s pause for a moment. Do frogs really drown or is that a myth – a tongue-in-cheek bit of wry humor? According to Yahoo Answers, “Frogs can indeed swim, but most species will drown if forced to stay underwater without anywhere to climb out. Some species, like the clawless frog (Xenopus) often sold in pet stores are capable of living completely underwater.”
Next time it comes a frog strangler, keep an eye out for puddles in case you need to leap to action and save a frog.