I've often shared my memories of swimming growing up...and how much I was looking forward to visiting my beloved town pool when I returned to my hometown in New Jersey this summer. Well, I got to spend two glorious late afternoons there...swimming underwater for as long as I could hold my breath.
It has been about 5 years since I was in New Jersey in the summer, a glorious time full of warm days and cool breezes. Summer there reminds me of women toting Land's End beach bags and an evening coolness that brings goose bumps and requires long sleeves after swimming all day.
On this trip, I could barely contain myself as we threw our bags into my mom's car to head for the pool. In my mind, I was 8 years old, ready to do handstands with my childhood friend Tara, and play "exploring" in the tree-covered area while our parents swam, and perhaps eat an ice cream pop (or two) while my hair dried in the sun. What would it be like? Would it be the same?
As soon as we arrived and claimed our parking spot by the woods, I heard the familiar sounds of my childhood - the diving board banging against the poles followed by a big SPLASH!, the bell of the Good Humor truck, and laughs of children sitting on the Three Big Rocks eating their pops on wet towels. Yes, it's been exactly the same for over 30 years. And I love that.
Once inside the pool gates, my mom and I claimed a spot on the grass in our usual location, surrounded by some of the same families who have been spending summer there since I was a child. It may seem a little overly sentimental or perhaps a bit dramatic to be this passionate about a pool. What is so special about it? Well, for one, it's the symbol of summer. Its opening heralds the arrival of longer warmer days, and its closing signals the start of a new school year and new possibilities. It's also colossal, bigger than any pool you've ever seen...with slides you would find at a water park, Olympic-size lanes, games like badminton and tether ball, and parties, and community, and personal history for so many people in this town.
Today, I stood on the edge of the 5 feet area and adjusted my swimsuit, about to make my maiden dive in several years. Almost 31 years after I first entered these waters, it was as if I was looking at a reflection of my own life. How many times had I stood in this exact spot, at all different ages, sizes, and good grief...bathing suits?
I dove in, feeling just like the girl in "A Moment of Clarity". I soared down to the bottom and felt my fingers and stomach brush the white concrete floor. My shadow swam along with me. We swam. And swam and swam and swam.
It was so quiet under there.
When I rose to the surface, I looked around for my mom. Not surprisingly, she was already fully engaged in her laps, the tip of her side-ponytail-braid skimming the top of the water with each stroke.
It's been so long that she and I swam together. She asked me if I would show her my freestyle, so she could be sure I "still knew how to do it." I indulged her without hesitation, taking a deep breath and showing her my most perfect 4-strokes-and-a-breath, 4-strokes-and-a-breath. When I came up for air, she was smiling.
At some point in my teens, I remember going through a stage when I declared that going to the pool was "dumb." Maybe it was rebellious adolescence combined with feeling awkward in a bathing suit, but those days I didn't want to swim anywhere near my mom and I got impatient with her, begging her to get out of the water before the last whistle blew at closing time at 7:30pm. She was always the last person left in the pool.
Today, I was chatting beside her as we swished our arms through the water and fluttered our feet, hoping that 7:30pm wouldn't come too quickly.
We began to reminisce about some of our memories here, and I unearthed one of her less favorable ones, which happened the last time I was here 5 years ago. The water slide. In her Jersey accent she quickly retorted, "Neva again! You know what happens when I go down that slooide!"
Boy, do I know! I'll never erase that image from my mind.
I had brought my friend Suz from Nashville to New Jersey for a short trip, and we were excited about going to the Moonlight Swim, one of several nights that the pool is open after dark for you to swim and bring water floats and listen to live music. That night, Suz and I were feeling bold and challenged my mom to go down the giant water slide in the diving tank.
I have to preface this by saying that my mom does not EVER go underwater due to an almost-drowning incident as a child. But that evening...for some reason...she accepted our challenge and went down that twisty tall slide in this photo, the image of which has now become legend.
Suz and I stood in the lap lanes across the pool, ready for the show. My mom climbed the stairs and paced back and forth a few times uncertainly before giving us a last nervous glance and sitting down to launch herself from the top. Then she was off...hidden from our view for 1 second...2 seconds...3 seconds....4 seconds...(seemed like a million seconds) in the twists and turns until we saw her emerge at the final turn. In a matter of seconds, her appearance had somehow completely changed from when she had started at the top: Her side ponytail was smashed and soaked. She was trying desperately to sit up but was kind of teetering on one hip, trying to keep herself from laying on her back. Even from afar, we could see that blue eyeliner was smeared under her eyes and running down her face. Her face held a look of sheer terror. Her arms were spread out to the side to brace herself before the final SPLASH.
Suz and I were laughing so hard we couldn't breathe.
The unforgiving slide then dumped her into the diving tank at full speed. We waited a few seconds, holding our breath until she finally floundered to the surface. We clapped and yelled cheers for her from across the pool. In fact, I think the whole crowd was cheering! Dawn Piccione had gone down the slide and lived to tell about it.
She emerged from the diving tank, hair matted and dripping wet and stomped across the deck with an "Are you happy now??" look on her face. She then started giggling along with us. That is one of the reasons I love my mom.
Just remembering the story today, she reminded me that she was "NEVA doing that again, so don't even ask". But that's OK. Because today I appreciate this place for what it is....and I appreciate time with my mom because it won't last forever.
The lifeguards blew their whistles at 7:30pm, just like always. I climbed the ladder out of the water and turned around to look at the unbroken, peaceful waters. We wrapped towels around our waists like two mermaids and lef the pool together, soaking wet and happy.