Friday, July 4, 2014

Summer Fun in the Pool

The town I grew up in had an outdoor "pool" that was the center of my world. It wasn't so much a pool as an unheated swimming hole. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938, it was more or less fifty yards wide, and perhaps a hundred yards long. It was divided into sections named after fish -- minnow, perch, salmon, shark, whale. You had to pass a test to swim in each section. Shark was the deepest section, and required a hundred yard swim to pass the test. At four, I was one of the youngest swimmers to do so, a fact of which I am clearly still proud.

My life had a steady rhythm built around the pool. I would get up, and go to swim practice. I was  a member of the Oyster River Otters from age five through eighteen. In summer we practiced in the pool while steam floated off of it, and our lips turned blue. We swam between two docks that were about forty-seven yards apart, and the water could be a little murky at the far one, making flip turns hard. The lifeguards sat on that dock on the opposite end. They were our parents, who sat bundled in sweats drinking coffee from thermoses and travel mugs as they watched us go back and forth, back and forth. My mom said she hoped no one ever had any trouble, because she wasn't going in after them.

Perhaps a more thankful job than life guard was the hot chocolate parent. We'd struggle back into our own sweat suits after practice, and run up the hill to find a parent giving out hot chocolate to warm us up. I'd have a snack, too, delivered by mom, which led to some teasing from my friends. I didn't care (much): I had a warm waffle with jam.

Here I am working a nice ribbon-print suit and flowered denim shorts combo while supervising the annual coin drop for the swim lesson program. This is in Minnow, the shallowest part of the pool that even included a sandy beach. It was always very warm in Minnow.


The town had a program where children could sign up for one-on-one lessons taught, essentially, by slightly older children. You could start teaching at eleven, and so I did, and continued to do so until I was fifteen. You could make about $250 in a summer, which seemed an impossibly large sum. Swim lessons ran until about 11:30, and then mom would pick me up and I'd go home. When evening came, it was back to the pool for night practice. One evening a week was long distance swim, and you had to challenge yourself to swim a long event -- maybe a thousand yards, or an 800 IM. You'd get a little sticker on a card, and a patch at the end of the season banquet. Sometimes these swims were interrupted by thunder storms, and we all had to clear the pool.

While swimming, we used to find money on the bottom, which was maybe ten or twelve feet down. You'd be swimming along, and then the person next to you would dive down and come up with a quarter or even a dollar bill. The best place to find money was under the old white dock, which the team helped to repaint one spring. There was just enough space between the boards up top for money to fall through, and just enough space between the boards that held the dock up for a kid to slip through. It was dark under there, and eerie-quiet, but it wasn't uncommon to find ten dollar bills, sometimes even a twenty. I remember my friend Dan seemed to have the magic touch, finding hundreds of dollars in a summer.

The afternoons between swim lessons and night practice were free time, which meant reading, riding my bike, going to the library for the summer reading program, or, on particularly hot days, hiding in the basement. Often it meant heading back to the pool to meet friends. We'd play for hours. We'd stand on each other's shoulders, and flip each other into the air. We'd do handstands on the rocks that lined the bottom of the pool. We'd pretend to be mermaids. Once the movie came out, we specifcally tried to be Little Mermaids, launching ourselves up out of the water, and flipping our hair back. Krista could do it the best, which was fitting since she also had the best singing voice. We'd make up games or play those classics Marco Polo and Sharks and Minnows. When the life guards went on break, we'd run up the hill behind the pool, across the lacrosse and field hockey field to the Dairy Bar where we got huge ice cream cones, and tried to eat them before they melted.

Perhaps my favorite quote about writing for children comes from Charlotte Zolotow who wrote:
Many fine writers can write about children but are unable to write for them. Writers such as William Maxwell awaken in us, the older readers, an understanding of childhood that many adults don’t have, a sensitivity to children that is exquisite. But writing for children is different. The writers writing about children are looking back. The writers writing for children are feeling back into childhood.
I can think of no other place that makes me feel back into childhood as much as that outdoor pool.

They're tearing down the old pool and building a new one. In some ways, I know this makes sense. You can't let nostalgia guide your decisions. It looks like the new pool will have a lot of the old features that we loved, namely size and various depths. I assume the lap lanes will be regulation size, which means future Otters can do starts, flip turns, and host actual meets. But I can't help but be sad to see the center of so many of my childhood memories dug under and replaced with something shiny and new, however practical and beautiful it may be.

9 comments:

  1. Megan, I absolutely loved this post! It made me so nostalgic. My best friend from high school is now the mayor of our home town. She just posted a video of bulldozers tearing down our old high school. I loved the part you wrote about your memories being dug under and replaced!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's probably for the best for the students who have a new high school, but there are generations of memories in that building. Must have been hard to watch.

      Delete
  2. I Love this Post! Brings back memories of "hanging out at the bay' We had a Dairy Freeze soft serve cone for 10 cents. Ah...the lazy days of summer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kids need a place to hang out that's all their own.

      Delete
  3. I know what you mean about tearing down childhood landmarks...My elementary school's completely renovated (now a middle school). Seems so odd...

    ReplyDelete
  4. I adored the lifeguard mom who wasn't planning on going in after any drowning kids- yes!

    ReplyDelete
  5. There are lots of factors that can also trigger me back into my childhood memories. I think it's nice that you held on dearly to memories of an outdoor pool in the town you grew up in. You probably love those memories because days spent swimming in the pool, were the days you had the most fun. Anyway, that's a very nice story, Megan. Thanks for sharing it! Have a nice day! :)

    Joanne Henry @ Tranquility Pools

    ReplyDelete
  6. I loved the blog post so much I had to share it with the other mothers at the little league games where my son plays.it was touching considering that I also started to take my son out for swimming lessons at the nearby pool.The work you do with kids is very touching, and I would like to hear more from you blog.Thanks a lot for the little lesson in life.

    Bernice Cunningham @ Guardian Industries

    ReplyDelete
  7. I really enjoyed reading about your childhood memories at the pool. My kids never had a pool, but we had a big plastic barrel that I would fill with warm water, which we got from leaving the garden hose in the sun, and they would dip in that for hours. It's amazing how much fun kids can have with the simplest things.

    ReplyDelete