Summer Memories: The pool

I didn't sleep in much during the summers when I was a kid, not when there was so much to do each day. From the moment I finished my bowl of Froot Loops in the morning until the sun went down and I knew to come home when I heard my mom hollering for me, summers were made for playing outside. My neighborhood was filled with other kids close to my age, so there was never a shortage on things to do and places to explore.

But without a doubt my fondest summer memories involved the Sandihill Swimming Pool that we joined when I was in kindergarten. Sandihill was unlike any other swimming pool on the planet. It wasn't Olympic size or some luxurious, gated private club. Instead, it was a pool tucked away in a neighborhood next to ours that felt like the best kept secret.

What made that pool so special was the people and the memories that were made there. It was there that I learned to swim, not because I took lessons but rather because I jumped into the shallow end one day and figured it out. Every fifty minutes the lifeguards would blow their whistles and shout, "Kids out!" which was the open invitation to our parents to take over the pool. All of us kids would sit on the edge of the pool counting down those eternity-long ten minutes until the lifeguards would blow their whistles again and we would crash the party while the adults would frantically swim for the ladders to avoid the onslaught of bodies.

The snack bar at Sandihill was always stocked with the unhealthiest of options that parents today would never dream of feeding their children. Frozen burgers and pizza slices were heated up in a dial-operated microwave, to be topped off with Big Otis ice cream sandwiches, Boston Baked Bean candies, and Lemon Heads which in turn were all washed down with Sunkist soda from the drink machine. Somewhere in the corner a radio would be playing an endless loop of classic rock music where the cooler older teenagers would be hanging out around the picnic tables.  

If my brothers and I didn't have a ride to the pool, we would pony up on our light blue ten speed bikes and pedal the short - but dangerous - distance on Bolton Street, avoiding oncoming traffic and trying to maneuver properly with goggles around our necks and towels trailing in the wind. There was no bike rack at Sandihill, just a mesh of bikes strewn all over the front lawn, abandoned in a hurry to be the first one in the water. If you were late, you might miss the first game of sharks and minnows in the deep end.

Thursday's the pool was reserved for swim meets. I wasn't allowed to join the team because I had a heart condition, but that didn't keep me from being a lane judge or raiding the cooler that mom would pack for my brothers and eating all their snacks while they were swimming their races. The best part were the pool parties that would take place the nights of those meets where we would cook out, fight for greased watermelons, and dive for 50 cent pieces in the 14-foot diving area while our ear drums rebelled against the water pressure. 

Nighttime was my favorite time to swim because I would usually have the place to myself. Sometimes after dinner, mom and dad would pack up the leftovers in Tupperware containers and take them to the lifeguards, who in turn gave me and my brothers free rein of the pool while they chowed down on meatloaf and mashed potatoes. A full belly often made up for their frustration of having the work the evening shift while all their friends were out on the town. When the lights in the pool came on, we would dive for quarters and nickels at the bottom of the deep end, imagining we were Jaques Cousteau finding treasure on the ocean floor.

35 years later, life doesn't seem as simple as it did when I was kid swimming at the pool almost every day. Yet there are those moments when I see that same glimmer in the eyes of my own children as they splash around our little neighborhood pool with their friends and play hide-and-seek in the neighborhood long after the sun has gone down. And there are still those moments when I find that I can't resist the urge to play sharks and minnows or dive for coins that might be enough to buy a Coke in the machine, yet to the imagination of a little one is the next best thing to buried treasure.

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