Last week, I went swimming for the first time in years.
In my town, there are several options for people who want to swim. There’s a small rectangular pool near my house, the Grange Pool, with a separate round wading pool for the babies. At the other end of town is Addison Pool, which is larger and much more heavily kid-populated. The pool at the high school is the only indoor one; I haven’t been there, but I’m told is regulation-size and open year-round. Eastbury Pond, which is sand-bottomed and reminds me of the town swimming hole where I grew up, is ideal for those who want to go to the beach but don’t feel like driving an hour to get there. Cotton Hollow Preserve, located next to the Grange Pool, includes trails I’ve hiked as well as a swimming hole that seems to be popular with the high school crowd.
The closest I ever came to having a private swimming spot was when I rented my first apartment, an in-law apartment in Redding. The property bordered a swimming pond, and I was free to use my landlords’ little beach and floating chairs which were essentially lawn chairs with floats. The first time I invited a friend over to swim, we lounged in the floating chairs until we realized that there were swarms of what looked like fleas hovering over the surface of the water. We splashed to shoo them away, but eventually we were the ones who left the pond.
Later, when I lived in Stamford, I purchased a resident pass for $3.00 that entitled me to park at any of the city’s three beaches. Since non-residents paid $20 to park for a single day, this was an amazing bargain, and I took advantage of it.
It had been years since I’d gone to any of my current town’s pools. I used to go to the Grange once or twice during the summer, but the habit faded for no particular reason. One advantage of being self-employed is the ability to take time out of my day to go for a quick swim, and you’d think I might have done so. On the other hand, my memories of the pool were that it tended to be crowded with groups of children so that the notion of a nice, peaceful time seemed unlikely.
A couple weeks ago, I commented to someone that I’d love to have a backyard pool. On the other hand, I not only lack the funds for such a project, but I lack the initiative to do all the maintenance. Some things are better borrowed than owned, and a swimming pool is one of them.
And so I decided to return to the Grange. Strangely, the idea of navigating what I assumed would be hordes of children froze me. It took several days before I decided that I had just as much right to be there as they did. It didn’t hurt that the Grange has adult swim for the first fifteen minutes of every hour, plus a solid half-hour adult swim beginning at 5:30 so that even if the pool was crowded with children during the other times, I’d get some relative peace from 5:30 to 6:00.
Last week, deliberately casual, I came home from church, donned my bathing suit, and put on a T-shirt and capris over it. I tucked a ten-dollar bill (the one-day admission fee) into my pocket and drove the five minutes to the Grange Pool. It hadn’t changed in any substantive way; the only difference was that you entered through a gate instead of the still-dingy changing room.
The first surprise was how few people were there. It was Sunday afternoon, the weather was delightful, and I’d have assumed everyone would be there. “Is it always like this?” I asked as I paid and signed in.
“Pretty much,” said the kid behind the counter. Delighted, I dropped my chair and bag on the grass. I took off my outer clothes and walked to the shallow end, where I descended the steps into the slightly-cool water.
My initial plan was to swim a few quick laps, just to get the feel of the water. Turned out, when you haven’t exercised in a long time, a few quick laps aren’t going to be either few or quick. By the time I reached the other end—and remember, this one isn’t even a regulation pool—I was panting as if I’d tried to run a mile.
I ended up easing back and forth, swimming slowly on my stomach and flipping over to my back when I needed a break. When the lifeguards blew the whistle for adult swim, nearly everyone else got out. Except for a couple at the other side, I had the pool to myself. I lay on my back, drifting aimlessly, eyes closed as I tried to put words to the feeling of floating. Weightless. Warm. The edges of the water surrounding the edges of my face. I poked my fingertips up out of the water, marveling at the way the two atmospheres, air and water, felt so similar even though their border was so distinct.
I stayed in the water until I could feel goosebumps arising. When I was a kid, I always stayed in until I was cold and my mother made me get out. Squinting, I could barely make out the clock on the building that housed the changing rooms. I’d been in the water nearly an hour and a half. The ice cream truck was in the parking lot, timing its arrival with the start of the 3:00 adult swim. More than satisfied, I climbed up the ladder and strolled over to my chair. I dried off, and then I walked up the hill to my car, got my phone, and took some photos—including the ones accompanying this post. I debated going back into the pool, but I decided I was done for the day. I could come back any time.
On Tuesday, I called the parks and recreation department to see about getting a pass. I knew the fees had gone up; I assumed this was at least part of the reason for the unexpectedly small crowd. I was prepared, though. I inquired as to their office hours and what I’d need to bring in terms of identification as a town resident. Before I could ask whether they took checks, the woman asked if I was over sixty. When I admitted that I am, she said, “Then there’s no charge. You can use any of the pools in town for free.”
Dumbfounded, I asked, “Is this just for the summer?”
“Grange and Addison close at the end of summer, but the high school is open all year.”
I hung up, stunned. Something in this world was free. Actually, completely free. And it was something I actually liked. I went over to parks and rec that afternoon, and the nice young woman gave me my free pool pass. “It’s good indefinitely,” she reassured me.
After work that evening, I took my pass out for a test drive. The temperatures had been rising since Sunday, so a refreshing dip was in order. When I entered, I asked if I needed to sign in, and the girl behind the counter said, “Nope. You’re all set.” Flash the pass, and all’s well.
The lifeguard blew the whistle for adult swim just as I was setting down my bag. About half a dozen adults remained in the pool. I’ve been back for evening adult swim since then, and the same people are there: the woman with the swim cap and goggles who swims her laps without a word to anyone; a couple, with him doing a cannonball into the pool and her wearing a straw hat as she carefully keeps her head above water; two friendly older women who chat as they do their laps at a leisurely pace. I struck up a conversation with one of them after I heard her mention the high school pool. Apparently, she swims daily, though not always at Grange; on Saturday, she told me how the night before, she and her husband had taken their dinner and gone over to Eastbury.
Many people turn up their noses at pools, especially public ones. They favor lakes or ponds, oceans or sounds or bays. Mind you, I have nothing against a warm, sandy beach and salt water waves, except for the time and effort involved. Going from my home down to the shoreline feels like an enormous undertaking. The drive is at least an hour each way, plus the hike from the parking lot to the beach itself (and back at day’s end). The preparation is daunting, involving packing of all the equipment—chair, umbrella, cooler (lunch, snacks, drinks), book, notebook, pen, sunscreen, etc., etc., etc. Plus, to drive an hour, stay an hour, and drive an hour home feels ridiculous, so a beach trip must reasonably be an all-day excursion.
By contrast, with the Grange five minutes away, I can throw on my suit, spend half an hour swimming laps, and be home in well under an hour.
Granted, if I wanted a non-pool swim, I could go to the swimming hole in the Cotton Hollow preserve. After all, it’s just as close as the Grange, albeit requiring a hike through the woods to get there. But for me, there’s a second consideration: I like to be able to see what’s in the water with me. Clear Caribbean water is fine for this, but you can’t stand neck-deep in the Long Island Sound and see your feet, much less whatever sea critters may be mere inches away. Ditto with most lakes and ponds. Does this make me squeamish or a scaredy-cat? Maybe. All I know is that I wasn’t enamored of the pond fleas, and I definitely don’t want to encounter sharks, jellyfish, or freshwater eels. (According to one website, a person can find piranhas in New England waters.) When it comes to natural bodies of water, I prefer being on them in a boat or a kayak to being in them.
And so, I’m reveling in the luxury of my free swimming pools. Get exercise, meet friendly people, float weightlessly beneath a bright blue sky. No cost, no responsibility—just show up and enjoy, mere minutes from home.
In the words of Jackie Gleason, “How sweet it is!”
AWESOME! Glad for you, Jo Anne.
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