Swimming in South Philly
(or just sitting around in water)
A blow-up pool might seem annoying to other parents, but my father was a saxophone player and he had the lung capacity to expand this pool in a matter of seconds. He probably saw the pool at the corner store when he was buying a pack of cigarettes and thought, “The girls would like that pool—I’ll put it on the step and they can cool off.” It was certainly safer than playing in the plug on the street and more relaxing than getting sprayed with the hose.
I’m not sure what Alycia and I were thinking inviting our two best friends from the block in the pool with us—Marco Polo wasn’t really an option, neither was diving for pool rings, and I’m not sure how those goggles came into play, but it looks like we were happy regardless.
The next summer, we upgraded the blow-up pool for a hard plastic pool and put it in the backyard. My father didn’t have to blow it up and it was larger with a modest sliding board–a win-win for everyone. It was blue, of course, with decals of sea life all around it. Alycia and I would submerge our faces wearing our goggles and gaze mystically at the whales, turtles and fish pictured on the plastic ocean floor. After a few seconds, when our goggles filled with water we’d lift our heads to dump them out.
We took turns squeaking our boney butts down the sliding board and landing with a lame slosh in the water. We swam for hours in this fancier pool—from the time the yard was sweltering with the full city sun, to when the sun shifted and the cement walls of the yard hovered shady around us. Goose bumps appeared on our skin and we shivered, but we refused to relent.
“You’re freezing,” our mother insisted, “time to get out.”
“You’ll catch pneumonia,” our grandfather predicted.
“We’re not even chilly,” we lied in spite of our pruned fingers and blue lips. Minutes later, our grandmother emerged from the house holding a large pot reserved for Sunday gravy. With mismatched pot holders she carefully held the pot full of hot water and descended the steps into the yard.
“Look out,” she called to us. “Move outta the way.” Alycia and I shifted to one section and watched our grandmother pour the hot water into our small oasis.
“Ahhhh….” We swam (more like slid) over to the newly heated part of the pool and relished its cozy warmth.
Of course, that would only last a few minutes, and soon the water would be freezing again, but our grandmother humored us with one more pot of hot water until all the adults demanded we get out. We stepped out of the pool and into large bath towels that our mother wrapped around us. With a cigarette hanging from his lips, our father creased one side of the pool and the water emptied.
We dried off knowing that there was always tomorrow. The pool would be filled again and we could swim to our hearts content.
Summer felt like that when we were young in South Philly—our time in the pool, at the playground, or just playing with friends felt endless, timeless, magical.