During the summer, my husband Jon and I go to our local swim club on Sunday mornings to do some laps. We aim for 10:30, when the gates open. That guarantees we won’t have to share a lane, and we can be in and out before the serious swimmers arrive who would scorn us for our measly 15 minutes in the pool.
Sunday, August 20, was going to be a perfect day, and the morning was beautiful: blue skies, no clouds, gentle breeze, forecast a high of 85°. At 10:15 we checked our weather apps. Temperature was 73°. We looked at each other and sighed. No go. It was too cold.
Yes. 73° was too cold. How did it come to this, that 73° was too cold to go swimming?
When I was growing up, summer meant being in the water – and it didn’t matter what time or what temperature. For 12 years, from the late 1950s until leaving for college in 1970, for me that water was the Blairmont pool, a quick bike ride away from my house in Hollidaysburg, PA. I was at the pool by mid morning, whether it was going to be sunny or cloudy, 85° or 65°. Old Red the lifeguard (so nicknamed for his permanent sunburn) would still be sweeping the bottom of the pool. I couldn’t wait to get in the water. Hours of Marco Polo. Swim team. Learning how to dive. Conquering a jack-knife, but never getting all the way around in a flip. I wore a sweatshirt to soften the smack when my back hit the water.
Summers at Blairmont did get broken up by July family plans. When I was nine, my dad took us on a four-week car trip to see America. I was more interested in the pools. I didn’t like San Francisco because we stayed in a fancy hotel and it had no pool. The Painted Desert? Let’s get to the next Best Western. The clerk at the desk at the Jackson Lake Lodge in the Grand Tetons said that the lake was too cold for swimming. I went in anyway, until my lips turned blue.
For four years after that, July was summer camp in the Poconos. I wasn’t very good at summer camp. In archery, the bowstring would burn my left arm and the arrow would drop three yards in front of me. I failed Arts and Crafts: the braid of my lanyard would take a left turn instead of hanging straight. But I did love the waterfront. If I had been allowed, I would have filled all the squares in my schedule card with “water sports” and would have been there rain or shine.
For July summers during my high school years, we rented the second floor of a duplex in Harvey Cedars, Long Beach Island, NJ. By that time I was interested in other things, like assessing the lifeguards, driving down Long Beach Boulevard to hang out in Beach Haven, stopping at those mini-trampoline places. Yet the main event was still getting into the water as often and for as long as I could.
I missed those months in the water once college came. Summer jobs got in the way. After that was graduate school and an apartment nowhere near water. (Sometimes I was lucky enough to get a summer housesitting job with a pool.)
Then real life. A full-time job. A family. We did join our local swim club, even though my kids didn’t inherit my aqua gene. In fact, when my son Jay was a toddler, he wouldn’t get in the baby pool. It was torture for me to sit on the sideline, so sometimes I would just slip in myself, hoping to encourage him. That would trigger a wail: “Mommy, get out! Mommy, get out!”
Summers came and went. Our vacations often included access to swimming. Other pools. The Adirondacks. Cape Cod. But over the years, going swimming became something easier not to do. At a pool, we had to shower before getting in and then again when we got home to get the chlorine out of our hair. At a lake, the bottom was mucky and the fish swam way too close. At the Cape, we had to get a beach sticker, pack up the car, and then patrol lots to find a parking place. Going after 4pm made it too close to dinnertime.
Here at home, we do re-up our membership at the swim club every year, although if I did the math of dividing the annual membership dues by the actual number of times we swim, each person/swim cost would be a bit pricey. There are always reasons why we don’t get to the pool more: we are traveling; we have guests; it’s raining; it’s only 73° outside.
Labor Day 2017 looms, the pool will close, and I’ll be one more year removed from those swimming days of the ’60s. In summer 2018, I’ll be retired. I won’t be limited to swimming on weekends! Maybe next year will be different. Maybe I’ll be one of those names up on the board for logging a mile of laps. Maybe I’ll take up diving again.