I grew up living ‘in the country’ and had no one to play with or pal around with other than my five sisters. We had none of what seemingly passes as today’s have to haves: no cable TV, no cell phones, no internet. The television programs we watched were always in black and white until I was in high school when Dad finally sprung for a color TV. With six girls underfoot and my dad’s hired help to feed Mom had neither the resources nor the inclination to drive us into town to participate in summer or after-school activities. We were pretty much left to our own devices and I don’t recall that we were ever really bored.
The only exception, around the time I was in junior high, was when we talked Mom into buying a season ticket at the swimming pool in town. For just $25 our entire family had access to the pool all summer long. Mom and Dad certainly got their money’s worth. We lived at the pool! In later years Mom confessed that it was as much for her own sanity and a little peace and quiet as it was for our enjoyment. As soon as the dinner dishes were washed and dried Mom drove us in to town when the pool opened at 1:00. How I loved the smell of the chlorine and the way the blue water shimmered in the sun. It was an opportunity to see our friends and make new ones as well.
I have many fond memories of those carefree afternoons: swimming underwater the full length of the pool – and back – all in one breath, jumping in the water to retrieve our locker keys, teasing (and being teased by) the lifeguards, sunbathing and jumping off the diving boards. Now, this last one was a huge accomplishment for me. Mom signed up us six girls for swim lessons at the same time. I was in the seventh grade then and still recall the humiliation of starting out in the baby pool with all the other students. Some of my classmates were lifeguards at the pool and it was embarrassing, to say the least, knowing they were watching me learning to swim with toddlers and elementary school kids. My younger sisters, especially, had a huge advantage. They were fearless and took to the water without hesitation. Before long they were jumping off the diving boards, first the low board and then the high dive. All of them except for me. I wanted to so badly but was terrified.
While I was truly scared of jumping off the boards into that deep section of the pool, if I’m honest, the thing that really held me back was knowing my classmates who were almost always on duty there would be witness to my failure if I had to back down. I don’t know what ultimately compelled me to do so but the day arrived when I finally jumped off the low board and it was exhilarating! I was thrilled and beyond pleased that I was able to do this. Eventually I mastered my fears and jumped from the high dive as well. Now I was a member of that elite club of pool patrons who had the opportunity to find themselves ‘stuck’ on the high dive when they announced the pool check at the top of each hour. Everyone tried to time it just right – often dawdling, taking their sweet time climbing the ladder – so that when ‘Pool Check –Everybody Out’ was called on the loudspeaker you were the lucky one at the top. It was pretty heady stuff and all six of us Clark girls loved it.
When my sisters and I started our own families two of us bought season tickets for our kids so they could spend their summers at the swimming pool just as we had. To our surprise (and disappointment) they became quickly bored and never seemed to enjoy it the way the six of us girls did. No matter. Those summer afternoons we spent splashing and swimming and jumping into those glorious waters at the pool are forever etched in my mind. Thinking back on those days always makes me smile. It’s truly a wonderful memory.