Thursday, June 7, 2012

Swimming Days

The last day of school, I got home before ten in the morning. I probably watched some TV and Mom fed me lunch. One o'clock the pool opened. Excitement filled me.
Sunblock had not been invented yet. The key was to get burned, then you tanned the rest of the summer. That first night, I was always sick with a blistering burn, smeared with Noxzema, wearing a tank shirt to bed. The next day I wore a T-shirt over my suit, we were allowed only if we had a sunburn. The life guards also watched our backs, warning us if we were getting too much sun. We did use sun tan lotion. Sometimes, we splurged buying cocoanut butter that smelled so good it seemed you could eat it.
One o'clock, kids lined up, most of us with our tags for membership pinned to our suits. The first day, they were bright with the color of the year- red, blue or green with white and a number on it. Some paid whenever they came to the pool, but most of us wore the badge of summer fun. By the end of summer, the color faded if a kid came a lot.
The big overhead door clanged opened. Cheers escaped from the crowd. We filed into the metal building, getting a basket for our clothes, heading to the changing rooms. Most just wore a T-shirt over the suit, so a simple T-shirt and shoes or flip flops went into the wire basket. In the dressing room, a shower was required. Believe me, the life guards make sure our heads were wet.
As I got older, by now as after sixth grade, they knew I had passed the swimming test. I headed for the high dive. We spent the first twenty minutes diving, cannon balling, doing the banana or just crazy jumps, making them up. I practiced so much that the next summer when I was in Florida at my sister's condo, a man thought I dove for competition. Or he could have just thought that was a way to make conversation with a shapely girl. I'll write about Florida later.
Sherry, her sisters and the other Chestnut Street, Haywood Street girls joined this ritual. Sherry and I swam for about two hours. We built up an appetite, so she and I would walk back to her house. We made huge hoagies and chocolate milkshakes. We mixed the shakes in a silver mixing bowl with an electric mixer. We ate, talked and goofed around for about an hour, then returned to the pool to finish up the day session. The pool closed at six.
During the five hours, lifeguards called breaks. The kids could sit on the edge with their feet in the water while the two or three adults did laps. One kid, usually a boy, would "fall off." The whistle blew and everyone laughed. A sheepish grin, shrug of the shoulder, but a look like "I still got in the water" covered the kid's face.
Two evenings the pool opened from seven to nine, usually Tuesdays and Thursdays. I envied Friday nights, teen swim, from eight to ten. At the end of the summer, even though we were twelve, Georgianna, the head life guard, allowed us to join this magical night. We loved it because swimming in the dark with the lights under the water proved mysterious. The teen guys we eyed and dreamed about.
We walked home on these summer evenings under the shaded street lights in a big group. After that last teen swim, the group strolled along Route 18 on the depressed sidewalk, more dirt than concrete. The boy visiting his uncle and the new aunt put his arm around me. He was sixteen, from "Pittsburgh," which really meant he was from a small town outside of Pittsburgh. We also necked later that evening on his uncle's picnic table.
Word of this, because girls love to talk, got back to my parents. A worker at the Dairy Queen overheard the conversation. I was grounded for a week, by that time the boy had returned home for the summer. I didn't see him again for four years.
My dad showed himself understanding. Mom said I had a zit on my lip from kissing "that boy from Pittsburgh." I felt like I had to change my name to Mollie Mudd. I got mad at the wrong girl that I thought had blabbered.
My awakening that end of summer to a new world. Kissing boys was fun. Girls liked to talk. Parents found out and the consequences were not pleasant. There was always a joke in West Middlesex that if a kid did something wrong, someone always reported it to the parents before he got home.
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