Scars are like tattoos—they remind you of events.With this in mind, then my body certainly is a walking scrapbook of memories and moments.And while I do not recommend injuring your skin with ink or careless mishaps, I do savor the recollections.
Today, facing the mirror with tooth brush in hand, I am staring at my newest scar resulting from a visit to the dermatologist and the too many years in the sun without protection that led me there. But today I see beyond the scar tissue, I see summers spent swimming in my neighbor’s backyard pool.
The matriarch/lifeguard of this swimming pool was June Gale; we kids, of course, addressed her as Mrs. Gale. She was also known as Sherri, Rosemary and Bubba’s mom. (Norman, a.k.a. Bubba, hated that nick name, so of course I called him that even as an adult and especiallyin front of his fellow attorney friends.) In all those years I never remember Mrs. Gale in a swimsuit or even dipping her toes in the water; so King, their family’s German Shepherd, acted as assistant lifeguard. He loved to swim and push kids under water--this being his “sink or swim” method of pool safety. To avoid being King’s fetch toy I quickly learned the art of swimming.
I was eight years old when my family and I moved to Glenn Oaks Drive. The Gales lived just down the street. I don’t remember which of the kids I met first but most likely it was Sherri, since she was the closest to my age. Anyway somehow I was accepted into the “Pool Club” which was simply a bunch of kids that Mrs. Gale allowed to occupy her backyard and pool summer after summer.
I wish I could remember just how many hours we logged in that chlorinated water. Certainly enough time to rub my finger and toe tips raw from all of our climbing in and out the sides of the pool like little swimsuited reptiles. It was a badge of honor to never use the steps—that was for wussies. And at every single summer’s end my mom marched me to the doctor for this gooey ocular medication for my red and oozy eyes. Back then we never wore goggles and we never closed our eyes underwater—too much adventure under there. Sharks and mermaids lurked everywhere. Sunken treasures and creatures from the Black Lagoon surely hid somewhere in the shadows. And of course it was important to catch the mystery urinator. Every summer someone just had to hold that honor.
Being kids, we had boundless agility, energy and spunk. Each had their own “personal best” to achieve, a record to break. For some it was achieving the best canon ball dive which could (in theory) displace every drop of pool water. Others worked all summer to perfect the best backward flip (many minor head injuries—a wonder any of us survived). Then of course there was the high-diving competition. This required two things: first, for Mrs. Gale to not be present (same went for the backward flips) and secondly, it necessitated having no less than three lawn chairs stacked and an assistant to help you climb up and then dive into a mere 6 feet of water. Trick was to keep arms and hands ahead of your head; otherwise the pool bottom might prove problematic. Or, simply make sure to belly flop which would merely knock your breath out and send King in for his rescue attempt (this was not recommended).
My personal swimming goal was to break Johnny Weissmuller’s underwater record. You might remember Mr. Weissmuller as the quintessential Tarzan. He could swim easily for five minutes underwater with a single breath of air while he wrestled crocodiles and rescued Jane. Unbeknownst to us kids, he was an Olympic swimming medalist and had the magic of Hollywood to allow for super human feats. Nevertheless we had our own goals for underwater duration in-one-breath. It was to swim the length of the pool four times. This of course involved three turn-arounds aided by three push-offs and dodging King’s heroic efforts to save us. I would practice all school year by holding my breath and clocking my time to the large black and white clock above the blackboard. Needless to say I did well in this competition but not so good in school.
Not every moment was spent soaking up the sun or chasing dolphins beneath the pool’s surface. Rainy days we spent perfecting our story telling skills. Huddled together in the Gale’s garage we’d spin tales and when those were spent we’d reenact scenes from “My Fair Lady”. We’d sing off key and emote with great enthusiasm. If rain kept us from our dreams of becoming the next Jacques Cousteau or Ester Williams then Broadway surely would welcome us. Poor Mrs. Gale never caught a break—her respite from lifeguard duties merely cast her as our one woman audience. Our troupe of thespians and storytellers may have lacked great talents but Mrs. Gale never let on.
So many great memories and I am grateful that this foolish scar can give me something positive to see in the mirror each morning. However, my suggestion to other folks is to wear your sunscreen and capture those moments with a camera—much safer. Nevertheless, as I blink and face my reflection once more, I see a kid I once knew and she is still a part of me every time I dive into the waters of summer.