The sign was in a fram and hung over the jukebox. The jukebox faced the broad open concrete dance floor that was partly surrounded on three sides by a pavilion and was open to the summer nights. There was nothing ambiguous about the admonition, no euphemistic attempt to soften the stricture; it said right out, “No Bopping.” It was as a child’s sand castle wall to the ocean’s tide. No mere sign was going to hold back the tide of rock & roll, at least not at the state park.
The Bonham State Park was Fannin County’s version of the Riviera. There were no public swimming pools in the county, so short of a dip in a stock pond, the state park was to only place to go swimming.
Bois d’Arc Creek, a desultory tributary of the Red bisected the county southwest to northeast, but it rarely held enough water to do much more than wet an ankle during the summer. The rains of the spring often turned the bottomland east of Bonham into a wide, shallow, short-lived lake but that was of no value when the July sun pushed the thermometers to the top of the glass.
The state park lake was big, at least to a child. It was a lot bigger than any stock pond. Along the western end, you could find an occasional fresh water mussel shell with its iridescent interior and the possibility, never realized, of a fresh water pearl. Of course the shoreline also usually sported a few dead fish, rocking belly up as the little waves lapped against the shore, but a dead fish is an exciting find up to the age of 10.
The other end of the lake was a tangle of woods and swamp like foliage where the road that circled the park passed through long rows of over hanging trees, very spooky and dangerous looking. The south bank was a mixture of shore, trees and cattails.
The north side, down from the dam, was where the action was. The hub was a big stone bathhouse and concession stand. This is where you rented a basket to hold your clothes while you went swimming and sustained an afternoon of play with Cokes and candy.
The men and women’s dressing rooms were open to the sky and had showers that trickled cold, salty tasting water. To get back into the dressing room from the lake, you had to wade through a black rubber vat of disinfectant to ward off mass attacks of athlete’s foot, as if the lake water itself was not enough to discourage random bacteria.
The concession stand was on a hill that sloped down to the swimming area and the dance pavilion. On hot summer days you stuck to the grass to avoid the blistering concrete sidewalk.
The swimming area was fenced in, and had a long wooden pier down the right hand side with a high and low diving board at the end, next to a lifeguard tower. Across from the pier was a tall slide. The ultimate in kid courage was to go down the side backward.
The water was greenish and opaque. A swim mask or goggles would give you a clear view underwater of six inches on a good day. There was a line of buoys and a rope marking the outer reaches of the swimming area, but these were ignored by the little fish that swam right up to the stone steps and nibbled at unsuspecting toes dangling in the water.
A summer day, particularly a Saturday, would find teenage boys hot-dogging off the pier for the benefit of the teenage girls who lay in immobile lines on towels across the grassy “beach,” soaking up the rays. The girls could lie motionless under the broiling sun for long, long stretches at a time. It was as if they were dead.
It is a well known true fact (Dr. Murney, Das Vel Knownen, Tru Facten; Berlin, 1923) that this inborn skill stretches back to Paleolithic times, when the females of the species would lie still and quiet to avoid rousing the suspicions and appetites, of any saber tooth tigers wandering around the neighborhood.
Boys could not do this. Boys would fidget and flop and turn and toss after a maximum of 73 seconds--82 seconds Daylight Savings—lying in the sun. In the Stone Age, the boys only hope was to outrun the big cats and that was not very much hope after all. This is why teenage boys are rarely depicted in dinosaur movies.
Swimming was not all the park had to offer. There was a boat dock where you could rent rowboats or canoes, the better to get close to nature or away from the crowd.
If you were a fisherman, you get a paddle boat and glide silently into the backwaters amongst the trees and stumps at the east end of the lake where the legendary “Old Waldo” was said to lurk, waiting to snatch the angler’s best plug and disappear into a murky, underwater redoubt.
The swimming came to an end with the sun, but many of the attractions of the park were better suited to the twilight. There were great tall swings with wooden seats suspended from steel chains. If you really pumped hard and got a few well-timed pushes, you could climb high enough into the sky to be just a little bit scared.
There was a push merry-go-round, the circle of the track around its circumference worn to a deep rut by hundreds of feet taking thousands of steps over dozens of summers to build up speed before leaping onto the turn table and holding on for dear life.
Warm summer nights were perfect for a round of miniature golf. It wasn’t fancy, no windmills or exotic water shots, just putting along a bumpy sand and sawdust trail to the cup. On number 18, your brightly painted range ball disappeared down the hole and rolled down a pipe back to the concession stand where they passed out the equipment. No mulligans allowed on number 18.
As the darkness nudged the light from the sky, the lamps around the dance floor would come on and the jukebox, with its selection of ten cent, three for a quarter, songs would come to life. It would replace the portable radios, all tuned to KLIF in Dallas, that had blared out the top 40 tunes all afternoon long.
It was time for soft breezes off the lake, the sweet smell of suntan lotion on tan shoulders and the unplanned creation of memories that would linger into times you could not yet imagine.