Another Delaware County summer is upon us and will speed by all too quickly. I recall a time when summer seemed to deliciously drag on and days crept by much slower. Growing up in this wonderful community, summer was a magical time for my sisters and me. Long lazy days stretched out before us as we woke up each morning wondering what adventures the day would bring. After breakfast, we got on our bikes and only came back home for meals (or some injury that required a cool washcloth, band aid, and a kiss from our patient mother). The summer sun baked my skin brown but my younger sister, much fairer than I, usually only got a sun burn.
The summer of 1963 was not particularly notable, except to say that it was a time of innocence – Kennedy had not yet been shot, the country was “between wars”, and we rarely locked our front door at night. When I wasn’t selling Kool-Aid on a card table in front of our house (my mother was my best customer), my favorite summer destination was the Delaware Pool. Then, located behind the Delaware County Fair office, it offered a cool respite from the intense heat and some fun time with friends. Those of us who were lucky to have a season pass, proudly sported that status with a sewn patch on our swimming suit. I recall it was a round “D”, for “Delaware”. That meant we could strut through the pool entrance, without paying, and receive a knowing nod from the attendant. Our great grandmother (who lived with us) purchased the pass for us each year. She said it was so we could get lots of good exercise, but I think it was to keep us from being underfoot all summer – a true win-win situation. We took swimming classes when we were younger. Progression was marked by fishy names (minnows, tadpoles – or was it the other way around?), but at 10 years old, I was way beyond that.
We scheduled eating our lunch each day so that we would meet the necessary 1 hour waiting period after eating, before we swam. “You’ll get cramps” was usually the threat from my mother, if that appropriate time period was not observed. I never knew anyone who got cramps from swimming too soon after eating but the fact that adults said it, meant that it must be true. Since it was about a half hour trip to the pool, this necessary waiting period was easily accomplished. We rode our bikes to the pool each day, unfettered by safety equipment, helmets or even a bike lock. A stolen bike was fairly unheard of in the 1960’s at least in Delaware – sort of an unspoken rule of honor between kids. We parked in the bike racks and ran to the showers to rinse off for our first swim as the pool employees yelled “walk, walk!!” Despite their gruff and intimidating tones, we only slowed down until we were out of visual range. We continued to walk-run through the dark, damp and musty shower area until at last, we made it to the freedom of the pool. Our senses were assailed by the blinding bright sunshine, blasts of chlorine-air filled air, the feel of the hot, rough concrete below our feet (don’t stub your toe – ouch!), the loud squeals and shouts from high-energy swimmers, and the cold splashes of water blasting out of the pool when someone did a cannonball. Not to mention the whistles from the lifeguards (usually high school kids or college students who loved having such a fun summer job) warning kids not to run, splash or commit some other minor infraction.
We carefully arranged our towels on the grass – most kids had a favorite spot, mine was by a shrub near the shallow end. I usually brought several quarters used to purchase cheese or peanut butter crackers from the vending machine. These were carefully stashed in a tennis shoe or rolled up in a corner of our towel. And we were off and running. The first stop was the 3 foot side. We would hold hands as we jumped in the pool, (which usually warranted a whistle blow). We would squeal as we plunged in, the cold water rushed over our hot skin. The shock took our breath away but we quickly moved towards the deeper end – after all, at 10 years old, I was much too old to hang around with the younger kids and besides, most of our friends were in the 4 foot or even deeper. The adrenaline rush that came when we were finally brave enough to jump off the “low dive” or eventually off the “high dive” was huge and made us giddy with triumph.
One of our favorite things to do in the pool was playing the diving game, where we would throw in a coin, usually a quarter and someone would dare to go down to the bottom to fetch it. This required opening your eyes under water, not always easy to do, but the rarely-seen view of hopping or tangled legs plus the wonder of muffled underwater sounds made it worth the risk of (supposed) drowning. Other games we played were Mermaid, Frog, or swimming between each other’s legs. My older sister taught me that last game, though technically it was not really a game since it had no winners, losers or rules. Occasionally, someone would close their legs and you were “stuck” until you could wriggle free.
Then there came a mid-August day, when it did not get as warm as usual. A cruel reminder that summer was about over. We usually still made it to the pool but the sun seemed dimmer and the wind was chillier. Our lips turned blue and our teeth chattered but we stretched out like lizards on our towels, attempting to absorb the last few rays of sunshine before this wonderful time of year was actually over. A growing knot in my stomach was another reminder that school was about to start (though always AFTER Labor Day) as I tried to catch the remainder of summer in my hands and hang on to it for as long as possible.
1963 marked a small hometown kind of summer in Delaware (as did many summer seasons before and after), full of lightning bug catching, mosquito bites and scraped knees. I was blessed to grow up in such a wonderful community full of happy memories. And blessed to still be creating them.