When the calendar flips to June, small town youngsters know it’s time to spend days at the local pool. Decades ago, this wasn’t a water park with a variety of fountains, burblers, and lazy rivers. It was a shallow baby pool and the BIG pool where water depth varied from three to twelve feet. It meant gutters to cling to when you first learned to swim in the deep end. It meant belly busters that made those tanning on the hot, cement deck groan in unison with divers who didn’t get quite into position to slice painlessly into the water. Talk to any adult who lived near a pool in western Kansas and watch their eyes light at the memories. This was the place to be whether you were three or sixteen.
To this day, I still see that cinder block bathhouse and smell bleach-scented locker rooms where we showered before entering Meade’s summer hot spot, the public pool. Lifeguards collected fees at a sun-warmed metal counter. From that point, males turned left and gals right into dressing rooms. Then everyone hotfooted across a sizzling cement deck where moms in sunhats watched youngsters, teens mooned over one another, and school age kids dare one another to jump first into frigid water. Accompanying shrieks of glee echo in my mind.
As kids, the blind hollering game Marco Polo was our chosen activity if we weren’t challenging one another to swim across and back without surfacing for air. The person designated IT, closed his or her eyes and maneuvered about using sound to locate and tag other players. A few minutes as the pursuer made you wish you had dolphin-like sonar.
Tiring of the chase, we tested our lungs. I still feel the sensation of mine screaming for me to surface. I ignored it and kicked even harder to reach the concrete ledge. Once there, gasping survivors clung to the rough concrete lip and refilled aching air sacs.
Accomplished underwater swimmers who’d crossed the pool and returned without taking a breath next challenged one another to climb the high board ladder and dive into the deep end. More than one youngster discovered the ascent wasn’t as scary as the board’s end, where they gazed into crystal blue water 10 feet below. Those who steeled themselves to face that plummet hoped they entered hands first. A minor shift meant excruciating pain. You knew you were okay when you saw smiling lifeguards still perched on their stands. Lucky divers swiftly surfaced, sputtering in front of laughing friends.
While the pool challenged adventuresome young swimmers and teen boys, it provided a stage for maturing females to display their charms. They sucked in stomachs and applied baby oil mixed with iodine over skin to enhance tans. Those with perfectly teased doos made sure their hair didn’t muss despite others’ efforts to splash them. Despite wishing they could join taunting males grabbing knees to create massive cannonball waves, they posed prettily on beach towels, cheering on favorite performers.
During summer, the pool was the town social magnet. Scents of chlorine and suntan lotion drew even the faint-hearted. Memories and legends waited to be made. Drive by your local watering hole and note that some things never change.