In the long days of the sweet summertime, chlorinated water has a siren song that entices, “Come to the pool.” This song is heard strongest by the middle school-aged boy. He says to Mama, “I must go. The pool beckons to me. And to my friends, who have answered its call.” And Mama inquires, “How do you know this?” And the preteen son answers, “I don't know how I know; I only know that I must go.” Therefore, he goes forth with his friends in a pack, and they perform can openers and cannonballs and nutcrackers, repeatedly and for hours.
The hot days roll onto one another. Year in. Year out. Babies learn to swim. They advance to the big pool and become old enough for Mama to drop them off. The faces and names and generations change, but middle school girls always practice cheer stunts in the 4-foot section.
Little girls with ruffled bathing suits tiptoe into the water like ballerinas. Little boys flop in like sumo wrestlers and poke fun at each other’s antics. Gravity is just funny.
They climb out. They jump in. They climb out. They jump in.
“ONE AT A TIME ON THE DIVIING BOARD!”
Elementary-aged girls take their snack money in Ziploc bags. They buy treats for 75 cents and put the change back in their baggie. Boys of the same age shove dollar bills in the pockets of their swim trunks. They hand wet, wadded Washingtons in exchange for their treats. If the treat is 75 cents, they say, “Just keep it,” because they don't want the hassle of the quarter. Girls take home their unused money. Boys don’t even know they left it behind. Mama reminds, “Find your ball cap that you forgot yesterday! You need it for the game tomorrow!”
Four- and 5-year-old boys cannot walk. They can only run.
Six- and 7-year-old boys slow their pace, but still get hollered at by lifeguards.
Eight- and 9-year-old boys master the fast walk, a move just slow enough to avoid rebuke.
Ten- and 11-year-old boys begin to slow down intentionally, but they don't know why. They think it has something to do with girls.
Twelve- to 14-year-old boys saunter, swing their wet hair, and say, "Wassup?" when Mama forces eye contact.
Fifteen- and 16-year-old boys become lifeguards and yell at little boys not to run. They wear cool sunglasses and try not to grin on duty. They know it has to do with girls.
Teenaged girls know the boys know. They giggle with friends. They sweat, yet they do not swim. They sit on the edge and dangle their feet.
The afternoon heat explodes with thunder. The lifeguards warn, “Everybody out for 30 minutes!” For a half an hour, the kids plead, “Is it time yet? Is it time yet? Is it time yet?”
The mamas huddle, swap dippy snacks, and sip on Diet Coke—except on Sunday. Sunday is “Honey, If You Don't Get Your Children Out of the House This Afternoon, I Am Going to Cook Them and Serve Them to You for Supper” Day. Accordingly, Daddy brings them and saves their lives, and in doing so, saves his own. He tosses. They squeal. He tosses. They squeal. And Mama catches her breath.
The little kids swoon over the teenagers and their hearts go pitter-pat.
The teenagers nod to the grownups and think, “I swear I'll never get fat.”
The grownups admire the teenagers and think, “I usta could strut like that.”
The teenagers grimace at the little kids and think, “I'm glad I was never a brat.”
Finally, the song silences with the last whistle of the lifeguard and of Mama, who ordered pizza. Until tomorrow, when the siren whispers, “Come again.”
Celeste King Conner spent hours and hours poolside, talking, laughing, snacking, reading, watching, and listening. Share your pool stories with her at email@example.com.