Time after time I dejectedly watched my older siblings and the big kids from the neighborhood pile out of my mom’s Ford Fairlane, running to be first in line at the entrance to the municipal pool bathhouse. Only children who were as tall as the line painted on the bathhouse wall were allowed to participate in swimming lessons and I was not tall enough.
Pools have been around since ancient times. In Pakistan you can see the ruins of what is thought to be the first pool ever built. Plato said that a man is not educated until he can read, write and swim.
Once my head finally reached the line, I was able to register for swim lessons. My thongs, clothes and towel were shoved into a numbered wire basket along with my sister’s belongings. We would splay our toes to be checked by a bored lifeguard before skittering through the brisk showers onto the pool deck where we shivered in the cool, early summer mornings until our instructors arrived to put us through some calisthenics to get our blood pumping. Then it was time to enter the pool and learn all the basics of swimming. I loved when we were told to do "bobs", I’d crouch on the pool floor looking at the bubbles above my head, then spring out of the water and back down again.
With each year of lessons I’d move around the pool to where the next level was being taught. I learned the fundamentals of each stroke, how to tread water, and eventually how to dive. Once we could swim the width of the pool we were allowed in the deep middle part of the pool during open swim times. On lucky days we would get to go back to the pool after lunch to spend the afternoon frolicking in the crystal clear water.
I remember thinking the best job in the world had to be working at the pool. I was awestruck by the teenagers taking money, handing out baskets, walking around the deck twirling the long cords of their whistles and blasting their whistles at the kids who were running or roughhousing. At the end of the day we would make a quick trip to the concession stand where we usually bought popcorn, licorice whips or taffy.
As a teenager, I would spend all day at the pool with friends. My friends and I, who loved the water, were baffled by the pretty girls who were there to just sunbathe. We learned to be ourselves and to do what we thought was fun. With hair plastered to our heads we performed silly jumps and wild flips off the diving boards. We’d spy boys we had crushes on and kick really hard to produce splashes as we swam past them, coming up giggling on the other side of the pool. Little did we know they were trying to get our attention, too! Once we acknowledged each other, the boys would have us climb on their shoulders to have chicken fights, or float around talking until we were water-logged. Every day the same music blared out of the loud speakers attached to the brick of the bathhouse, creating a summer swim soundtrack in my memory bank.
With the coronavirus keeping many public pools closed, and plans for the rest of the summer still uncertain – all for very good reasons – I am nonetheless sad for the memories that may be lost.
The pool and bathhouse of my youth have been demolished. While on a walk recently, I stood at the fence looking forlornly at its replacement and nostalgia washed over me. The same memories returned a week later when I was in my son’s pool and a song from that summer swim soundtrack blasted me back to those carefree summer days I still "Cherish".
Anne VandeMoortel is a Moline school nurse, blogger, grandmother of five, Prader-Willi mother, serial hobbyist and collector of people and their stories.
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