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The Pool at the Park

August 4, 2013 I am choosing to republish this Sunday column from 2013, for now, ten years later, in 2023, our beloved city park pool house is nothing but rubble and a long-ago memory. I somehow think I am not alone in feeling the sadness that the demolition of this childhood ‘destination’ holds; it symbolizes an end to an era of carefree, safe summer fun when moms and their children gathered and visited while kids ran free to swing and swim and 5 cents bought a Zero or Pay Day in a vending machine. That was then… It was the summer of 1962, and I was signed up for swimming lessons at the City Park. My mom was very young, 30, and had just had my brother, Dwayne, that winter, and we had moved into our new house on Live Oak Lane that spring. It was summer now, and the pool at the park was to become a major source of enjoyment; it is where many of us went in summer, where we learned to swim and found courage (on that high diving board). My mom would sit right outside the fence near the shallow end of the pool with my baby brother and visit with the other moms as their cloth diapered babies romped on blankets and their toddlers swung on swings and splashed in the ‘baby pool’ while older siblings went through the stations in the ‘big pool’, proudly coming to the fence with an announcement of “I passed”. There were 10 stations to pass – beginning with “blowing bubbles” and ending with getting tipped over in a little boat and swimming safety to the side – you could go from beginners to intermediate if you did – something I never accomplished. But what I did accomplish, was being part of a Norman Rockwell snapshot of that American dream kind of life of my parents’ generation. They were the children of the Great Depression. They came out of it with hard lessons learned but, now, owned a house… 3 bedrooms and a bath and a half, and my mom was sitting there on a summer morning in a fold away lawn chair in City Park making new friends and lasting memories. The pool was not just for swimming lessons, it was also for summer fun. The water was crystal clear, and the summer afternoons lasted forever. I can still remember standing impatiently in line in the front of the pool house. It opened at 2:00, exactly, and the line was sometimes long. As I waited to get in, I anticipated with dread that cold shower I had to go through before the lifeguard let me in the water. There were wire baskets with metal pins that had a number on them for our towels, sandals and perhaps a nickel or two to spend on candy at the Community Center after swimming. The dressing room was an open space that smelled of chlorine and was lined with cubicles where little cloth curtains hung to change behind. Once I finally got inside the pool area, I would always be amazed. The deepest and most coveted part of the pool was 9 feet; you had to swim the pool twice to get across the rope into the deep end. There were two diving boards, the low board and the high board. The high board was the challenge; it was a goal for all of us to jump off that mighty board. I also remember the lifeguards. They were beautiful teenagers in black swimsuits and “perfect” Coppertone tans. They had whistles that they swung as they walked around the beautiful giant pool. They were kids from the high school on Center Street, and they seemed so grown up and so together. They sat on tall ladder chairs watching and sometimes blowing the dreaded whistle if someone was doing something “wrong”. Every now and then they would descend and walk around the pool swinging their lanyards looking cool. They were young and beautiful but certainly revered. Anyway, that is my medley of the memories I have at the pool in City Park. It was all so good and shared by a community that supported it and cared for it. Each time I drive by, I think of my mother sitting there in a summer dress, baby in tow, watching my sister and me while she visited with newly made friends. I can still feel that cold shower and smell the chlorine and remember how proud I was when I finally swam across two times and was allowed under that rope that marked the coveted “deep end”. Pam Shensky Berry Tales June 25, 2023

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