The Pool of my youth, circa 1970

With the temps past the century mark yesterday, we took our kids to the pool. The water wasn’t all that refreshing – only a few degrees cooler than the air it seemed. But who could expect it to be cold after a week of 100°+ temperatures. As I lounged against the pool’s edge I watched my girls frolic with each other, and realized something was missing.

Where we their friends? I called my kids over and asked why there weren’t throngs of their friends here at the pool. They shrugged in reply. My oldest said most of her friends hang out at one of the lake beaches. How different from my youth, I thought to myself. We lived and breathed the pool and so did most of the other families in town.

Every single summer our family joined our town Pool. One of the bonuses of my home’s location was the pool was only one block away. This was a deal-sealer for our family membership each year as we could walk to the pool if need be, although if we went with mom it was pretty much a given we were taking the car. She had bad feet, and even the short walk to the pool would be enough to dissuade her from taking us for the afternoon.

The excitement of a pool membership started in the late spring, when you had to get your photo taken for your official LEONIA MUNICIPAL POOL badge, which was nothing more than a laminated square complete with your blurry, grinning photo and the requisite pin clasp. My mom would pin our badges to her garish, over-sized beach bag rather than poke holes in our bathing suits.

A day at the pool would start off with the walk or drive down our street and one block over. We were on Oakdene Avenue and the pool was on the corner of Moore and Grand Avenues, which was great because the pool was just so utterly accessible to us. It was not out of the ordinary for us to head to the pool at 6:00 on a Tuesday evening after dad got home from work. Or there were times when we would go at 10:00 a.m., come home for lunch, and then head back again at 3:00

Most trips to the pool were made shoe-less because it was one less thing you had to worry about. This posed only one problem…the pool parking lot. It was not paved back when I was a kid. It was gravel, but not the fine type of gravel; these rocks were pretty big and pretty sharp. Getting from the car to the pool’s walkway was a test of wills similar to walking over hot coals or broken glass.

Once you got to the entrance, you had to show your badges to the attendant and then you went through the often wet turn-style. After the turn-style and the subsequent chlorine assault on your nostrils, you had to divide up into boys and girls and head through your respective changing room: girls to the left and boys to the right. Once outside the changing rooms the T-shaped pool was before you.

The old, rickety, often rusty pool chairs

The pool was surrounded by a waist-high fence, and beyond that was grass where you laid your towel or placed your pool chair. Ah, the pool chairs. Kids usually just sat on a towel, but the throngs of parents and old-timers would opt for one of the rickety pool chairs that would be stacked along the back fence. Some kids would snag a bunch of chairs and make a fort or use and extra one for their feet, but would soon be scolded by one of the pool elders, resulting in the loss of their chairs.

Deciding where to place your towel at the pool depended on how old you were, and who your friends were. It was like the grassy areas were divided into little neighborhoods. There was a spot for families with small children, an area where the old timers sat, and an area for the teenagers. But the most spot I was most fearful of was the narrow strip of grass behind the diving boards.

Our pool had 3 diving boards; two standard height boards and a high dive which had to be at least 10 feet off the ground. With every trip to the pool, at least 1/4 of my time was spent going off the boards trying swan dives, cannon balls and various other mid-air tricks. But while you were waiting in line, you may be heckled and teased by the guys who frequented that grassy area behind the boards. They were the popular guys and the tough guys. The guys who got away with things. These were the guys who “hung out” uptown, smoking and drinking. Funniest of all is who knew I’d wind up married to one of those ruffians.

I remember standing in line waiting for my turn anxiously; trying to blend into the scenery unnoticed by this gang. I cannot recall one single thing they ever said to me, probably because I was so much younger than them. But I saw others berated and teased, and lived in fear of these boys. But even that fear could not keep me away from the diving boards.

At first I stuck to the low boards and perfected various different diving stunts: swan dive, cannon ball, twirl n’ jump, pike n’ toe touch. I would look at the high dive with respect and awe for quite some time. My dad would try to talk me into going off it, but I would have none of it until I was around 10. A really cute life guard finally convinced me to jump off. I never dove off that high dive, but a running jump did prove to be quite exhilarating.

Later when I was in high school, the pool was just a fun place to hang out because you never knew who would show up. Some days would be great with most of your friends hanging around. And those days were so much fun – it almost didn’t matter whether you were in or out of the water. While in the water you could dunk each other or race or show off on the diving boards. When it was adult swim you sat on towels getting a tan and sharing each others Coppertone (I used Ban de Soleil #4).

By the time evening came around you almost didn’t want to go home for dinner. And the next day you did it all over again – man it was a blast.

Yet here were my kids, at our community pool with nobody to horse around with but each other. I’m sure they don’t care. We go to the beach just as often as the pool and they almost always find kids they know there…usually 5 minutes before I’m ready to leave, which means I have to grant them a stay…”just one more hour puleeeeeze?

You always want your kids to have it better than you did and in some ways they do – internet, DVRs, iPods. But I think I have my kids beat when it comes to summer vacations and long fun-filled days at the pool.