LARRY PENKAVA COLUMN: Memories of Memorial Swimming Pool
By Larry Penkava, for the SNAP
“Mama, I need a quarter.”
“I gave it to your brother.”
“Well, we’re leaving. The bus should be on its way.”
Toting our swimsuits rolled up inside bath towels, my two older brothers and I waited out at the road for the Franklinville School activity bus to come chugging up the road. We lived south of the village within shouting distance of Highway 64.
The red-and-white bus appeared down the road and lurched to a stop to pick us up. We boarded, found friends among the town kids and sat for the 15-minute trip to Memorial Swimming Pool.
It was the 1950s and there was nothing else to do on summer afternoons when a Little League or PONY League baseball game wasn’t scheduled. Video games, ESPN and and skateboard parks hadn’t been invented. And we sure didn’t have smartphones.
The bus parked in front of the pool and we joined a long line of kids waiting to get in. As we got to the counter, each of us paid our quarter and got a wire basket and a safety pin, each with a corresponding number.
Then we went into the dressing rooms to change, placing our clothes neatly into the basket in such a way as to keep the undies out of sight. We pinned the numbered safety pin to our swim trunks, gave the basket to someone at the counter and headed for the pool.
In those days there was electricity in the air at Memorial. The place was crowded with little kids fighting to stay afloat in the shallow end, bigger kids having water fights and diving off the big board, and teens lurking in the shadows checking out each other.
The jukebox blared out the latest rock n’ roll hits, entertaining several city blocks with the booming bass, yakety sax and wailing voices of instant celebs not much older than us:
“Oo-ee, oo-ee baby. Won’cha let me take you on a sea cruise …”
“Splish, splash, I wuzza takin’ a bath, along about a Saturday night …”
The jukebox was loud but couldn’t drown out the yells and screams of dozens of excited young people. The quietest area may have been the kiddy pool outside and below the main pool.
Moms took their infants and toddlers there for safety reasons — mostly, protection from wild 10-year-olds.
Lifeguards sat perched on seats high above the pool under umbrellas. Their boredom was diminished by the device at their disposal — their whistle.
Tweeeet! “Hey you, don’t be dunking that little boy!”
“But he’s my brother. I’m not hurtin’ ’im.”
The biggest challenge, besides dunk fights, was the high diving board, centered between two lower boards. At about 15 feet in height, the sight of the blue water from the top of the climb seemed more like a half mile.
“I dare you to go off the high dive.”
“I will if you will.”
“OK then, let’s get in line. You first.”
“I’m not goin’ first. It was your idea.”
Mid-summer afternoons always bring the chance of storms to dampen a good swim.
Tweeeet! “Everybody out of the pool! A storm’s coming up.”
“Why do we have to get out of the rain when we’re already wet?”
“It’s not the rain we’re worried about but the lightning. Now get in the building.”
There’s nothing better to fuel an appetite than an hour or two in the pool.
“Boy, swimming sure makes me hungry. Do we have money for snacks?”
“Mama just gave us enough for swimming. Come on, let’s get on the bus. Maybe supper will be waiting for us.”
“I hope so ‘cause I’m starving. Hey, do you think Daddy will bring us back for the night swim?”
Larry Penkava, who has written Now and Then since 1994, learned to swim at Memorial Pool.
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