With the onset of winter, these cold wet rains turning to snow trigger a lot of old familiar feelings. Feelings that I have felt annually at this time of year since I can remember. It's the feeling that another summer is gone and we have no more warm summer days to look forward to. It's a feeling of inevitable confinement and surrender to an oncoming cabin fever. It always kickstarts feelings of remembering the place I grew up during those longest of summer days: The Garretson Swimming Pool.
Summers at the pool in Garretson were the closest thing we had to a built in summer camp. I would wager a large amount that between the ages of 10 and 17, I spent at least 78% of my free time at that pool or hanging out near it.
The pool sat on the grounds north and east of Zion Lutheran Church (opening day was always the day after the end of the summer Bible School at Zion... so it is worth mentioning, as the kids were well aware that the pool was being filled... inch by inch... that cold water waiting for the first crazy volunteers).
It was built into ground up above the baseball diamond/football field. It was a fairly good size "L" shaped pool with 2 lifeguard stations positioned across from one another and on busy, hot summer days there'd be a third guard on duty in the crowded shallow end. The deep section was for the diving boards. We had a low board and a high board. I had a medical condition that didn't allow me to go off the high board... it was called "BeingScaredAsHell". I think I could count on 2 hands the total number of times that I actually went off after heavy coercing from my best-intentioned friends. The only thing I could do off the high board was a can-opener. Do not let anybody tell you that the cannonball has the best "splash".... those people are fools. They don't know about all the available weapons in the true splash assault arsenal. Yes, there's the cannonball... good job, you found the obvious one. It's like grabbing the first clod of dirt in a rock fight. For the non-swimmers out there or perhaps you are from another planet just reading this trying to assimilate yourself to all of the culture as quickly as possible, I'll explain. The cannonball involves jumping outward and upward AS HIGH AS YOU CAN, pulling both knees up to your chest and holding them secure with your arms around the front and tucking your head down towards your knees. You are essentially trying to become a ball. Sure you might get in the first hit and yes, it might get them wettish, but it's a waste of your time. It's a jump for amateurs. If the splash competition were held at the Olympics, nobody except some third-world countries would do the cannonball (and they'd probably be wearing full-length wool suits). No, if you are trying to win a splash competition, you go for the jackknife or the the can-opener. Period. I have a hard time keeping them straight so I'm going with my instincts here and gonna say that the can-opener is the one I prefer. It's sort of a "half-cannonball" skill. You jump up and out, pull ONE knee up towards your chest (not necessarily all the way into the chest) and extend the other leg straight out. You tilt back slightly and you shoot to have the extended foot hit first, out in front of you. The result is a deep, depth-charge-sounding "Ka-thud" and a splash that throws a column straight up, often 15 feet or more high. The jackknife may or may not be the same thing, but we also had one that involved both legs out straight, no bent knees, bend at the waist slightly inward and again hit the feet slightly first.... I think we called it the "Preacher"... often the "preacher" part coming from the palms pressed together in a symbol of prayer. I like to believe some preacher came to the pool and showed us how to pray for a bigger splash, but I doubt that's how it went down.... one of us as some point was probably just being a jerk and making fun of a preacher.
As you got older, using the pool just involved jumping in briefly and then laying out on the concrete, on your towel until you'd need to jump in again. This would go on all day. I don't remember much suntan lotion. Ever. ....Weird.
But if you weren't in the pool, you were outside the fence area and likely over by the concession area. It was called the Dairy Dream. They served ice cream, candy, microwaved sandwiches, Tombstone pizzas, soda.... all those kind of goodies. Various kids from school worked there during their time of needing a part-time job while at that age. There are a few I remember helping at the little window but Steve Tyrrell stands out to me as one of the most memorable. He'd was a very friendly guy, a year older than my brother, Matthew. The Tyrrell's lived across the street from us, but we didn't consort with them too much. Matthew hung out with Steve some, but they were Catholic and we were Lutheran....that alone led to one less day we'd see them.
Steve was a generous guy... always good to throw in an extra tootsie roll if you bought a dollars worth or he'd be sure to try and top the ice cream cone beyond where he was supposed to stop and at time seemed like he should have just stopped. But at some point, I think I must've asked him what he liked to eat in the midst of all this good stuff. His answer wasn't a total surprise... I knew they had these toppings and I figured he made some sort of doctored up treat. I was right... he recommended the Pineapple Shake. (wow... I do NOT know how to spell "Pineapple"... well, I do now!! I bet I failed 8 times there!) His recommendation was spot ON! Sweet... cold.... fruity... refreshing! It became my favorite treat to get at the Dairy Dream. I'd go up there during high school and get the Pineapple Shake (Large) for a buck... yes, $1.00... and I'd order a Big Burrito... Microwaved to perfection. I'd sit on one of the blue picnic tables and have my lunch on top of "Scott Loves Lisa" and "MH+LG" among many other old self-professed romances and intermixed with the haphazardly scrawled obscenity which is partially and weakly covered up by a coat of paint from the city. Those blue picnic tables... probably a gift from the FFA from a few years back and proudly sitting there serving their purpose under such heavy abuse. They sat there through the best of summer days and were there for some of the worst. Every other year or so, getting a fresh coat of paint... usually blue, but I do remember them being yellow for a time. But Royal Blue, Baby Blue, Sky Blue, then Royal Blue again. This cycle of paint colors marked the years.
Those colorful tables were a social hotspot in our day. A place that everybody came to and talked with one another. Plans were made for the evening, socializing done. It was a place that if you were leaving for a week of vacation with your family, you'd stop by there and tell everyone goodbye. If you just got home from vacation, you'd run by there and say hi to everyone. People would run up there, bike up there and the older kids bike up. Even if you were INSIDE the fenced area around the pool deck, you'd hang out over by the tables just outside the fence. You might go over and hang up your towel on the chain link fence and as you're doing so, see somebody that you haven't talked to in a few days. So you'd lean into the fence, holding onto the horizontal pipe across the top, pushing your weight on your forearms into the metal grid of the fence. If an exchange or a trade of candy took place, it would have to fit through the holes of the fence. "NO FOOD ALLOWED" was the rule, but if you shielded yourself from the lifeguards, you could sneak in a couple pieces of licorice and get them down before they even notice. It wasn't that far to go out and around if you really wanted to sit and eat some candy, but we all tried to sneak food in at some time.
I think of those colorful tables now again... I wonder if the lifeguards have to paint them during the first week of clean-up in preparation for opening day like we used to. Do the have to wipe them down first to get all the bird crap and tree sap off... the dust... the flaking old paint. All those old layers of paint that are coming off in places...
Many different colors did I sit on... eating candy, drinking sodas, dripping ice cream and finishing off a large Pineapple Shake. Those glorious sticky shakes in the white and orange cups handed over to me from a smiling and laughing bearded Steve Tyrrell in exchange for a dollar.. Thanks buddy, thanks for everything.
[Steve was called to heaven on my birthday, August 17th, 1994. The same day that I got laid off from Luverne Fire Apparatus. That was a long day and a long week and a long month after that... but I'll save that for another time. Steve was a good man].
I'm just a creative guy that's looking to throw all this spaghetti onto the wall and hope something sticks.