Swimming

Swimming

This summer we installed a pool. Last October, after a very warm and sunny summer that lasted well into September it seemed like a good idea. As ideas go it felt like one of our better ones… in October. As March came about I began to have my doubts that this was a good idea. As many of our good ideas go we jumped in and didn’t give much thought to the details. My husband and I are not very detail oriented. Throw in my husband’s penchant for spontaneity and we have found ourselves more than once being in a situation we didn’t think through and wished we had.

I voiced my doubt one evening and my husband looked relieved and stated he felt the same way. “Maybe we can return it?” I doubted that but since nothing had been delivered it was worth a shot. I called the company and left a message the next morning. Later that day my husband called to tell me the pool had been delivered and was in several boxes in our garage. Well back to Plan A; installation of a pool.

The day the men arrived to install the pool, I watched from the kitchen window as they marked out the spot. It looked terribly small and my dreams of playing Marco Polo, matchstick and shark with my kids evaporated like dew under a blazing sun. My husband, who had been outside watching, came into the kitchen. I pointed out the window and said, “That circle doesn’t look very big. What did we buy a glorified jacuzzi?” He gave me his famous shrug and “I don’t know what to tell ya.” And went back to work.

I know that sounded like Veronica in the chocolate factory saying, “I want an Oompa-Loompa and I want it now!” But I have wanted a pool in my back yard since, well forever.

Two friends in the neighborhood had pools when I was growing up. Once we returned from the beach we still had the month of August to get through. Hot, sticky days. I would campaign and offer devil dogs in return for a swim in their pools. They probably used their pools more than they even wanted to because I was showing up on their doorstep with towel and swim goggles in hand. I tried to offer a run through our sprinkler in return but really there is no comparison. To me it seemed like a perfect slice of heaven to be able to walk out your door and swim in your backyard. No getting out of the pool for adult swim. No lifeguards blowing whistles, just pure fun. I should probably send those moms thank you notes for all the hours they had to play lifeguard while I swam with their daughters in their pools.

There were also three town pools when I was growing up. Two I used to ride my bike to. One had diving boards and the other was shaped in a large oval and had a gradual slope to it and was great for very small kids, plus it had a concession stand. That pool was painted each spring by the men of the Lions Club and by mid-summer that paint would start peeling and stuff would start floating and its deepest end was about 5 feet. And the bike ride home was miserable since the pool sat in a “valley”. It sat at the lowest dip of a long road. The ride home was up hill either way. But the swim was always well worth the bike ride.

Recently a friend asked me where I learned to swim. I answered that I didn’t remember learning how to swim, I only remember swimming. I asked my dad how I learned to swim since I didn’t recall any formal lessons. He told me I just played Marco Polo with my sister and the other kids in the pool at the tennis club he belonged to. He said I just caught on and he may have helped me learn strokes but no formal lessons. Perhaps I was a mermaid in a former life.

In our summers at the beach we spent countless hours swimming and playing. There was a dock at one of the beaches, East Beach as it is called, and there was and still is today a lifeguard at the end of the dock keeping watch over the kids as they play matchstick or shark or Marco Polo. How could you not learn to swim being surrounded by water for a full month! And how could you not learn to love it!

One of the summers we rented a cottage at the beach, I read a book called “The Night Swimmers” by Betsy Byers. It was about a girl who had two younger brothers. Their mother had died leaving them with their distraught father who worked at night. The young girl discovered her neighbors pool and at night she and her brothers would sneak into the neighbor’s yard and quietly swim in the pool. Swimming at night sounded so fabulous. To swim in the dark, water warm from the sun and the night air cool against your skin. I became rather obsessed with the idea of a night swim. I spent many days begging, pleading, campaigning for a night swim in the ocean. That year our cottage was a street away from East Beach with that fabulous dock. But I had never done a swim in the dark. I was nine that summer. One night, the stars aligned and my father gave in. He walked me to the dock. He was in his usual uniform; khaki pants, tan windbreaker zipped to his neck. We got to the end of the dock and I tossed my towel down, considered the very dark water for a moment or two and jumped. It was a thrill! I swam fast to avoid being grabbed by some sea creature who I might have disturbed and my little heart pumped with adrenaline. I can’t tell you how long I lasted in the chilly Long Island Sound but it was enough. Honestly, I may have only jumped in that once and called it a day but I doubt it. Once given that chance I wasn’t going to admit it wasn’t fun even if it had not been. What I remember is my father standing with his hands in his pockets, quietly watching me. He did not prod me to be done so he could go back to the warm cottage and there was no,” Is that it?” when I was done as though I had wasted his time with my short swim. He just stood on the dock, leaning against the piling and watched me do what I loved doing and when I was done he quietly walked me home. I am sure he rubbed the salt water out of my ears and he probably turned on the outside shower when we got home so I could rinse the salt and sand off, as my mother did not like salt or sand in her cottage. That is one of those sweet memories that brings the taste of salt to my mouth and the smell of the briny ocean to my nose. I can feel the cold waves lap against my skin. I can see the dark water as it undulates around the pilings of the dock, the green, slimy seaweed sticking to the stairs as I climb up from the water. I can feel my father’s hand in mine as we walked in the summer dark.

As another summer come to a close. As the stores fill with school supplies and Halloween candy melancholy sets in. The end of summer and the start of school do to me what birthdays and New Years' Eve does to others. I notice with striking clarity that my children have grown older and that the summer days have moved so quickly one into another that we almost think it hasn't yet begun.

Many of my happiest memories move fluidly around beaches and swimming and summer. The smell of cocoa butter and salt air tickling the memories into focus. My children have not had the same experiences as I did swimming in the ocean all summer long. Our pool is small but my children enjoy it and we romp and splash and laugh. I am so glad now that we didn’t think this project through, we may have thought ourselves right out of it. I hope that someday there will be a sweet taste of a memory of swimming that moves into focus for my children. That when they jump into the water they will feel as I do, that time has stood still or perhaps even moved in reverse to a time when I was nine and my father was young. And I can feel the waves lapping against me and I can see my father in his khaki pants and windbreaker casually leaning against the piling of the dock, a half smile on his face while his little mermaid swims to her hearts content.

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