When we were young, there was something mystical about the bungalow colony pool, as if it truly was an enchanted place. Pristine and perfect, it glistens and gleams in memory as the scene of so many endless afternoons of pleasure and adventure. It somehow seems as if the years have conferred a singular stardust, for how was it possible that the simple presence of a concrete tub filled with water could engender such absolute and untarnished delight?
Through the early post war years, before most pools possessed sophisticated filtration systems, the pools were just that—concrete tubs filled with water. The absence of adequate filtration allowed for the flourishing of algae, and it was a common sight to see pools that did not reflect back their painted surface colors—blue, white, beige—but rather were as verdant as the surrounding forests, turned green by the vegetation growing in its waters. I possess little memory of such pools, but I have been told. There is a scene in the film, “Sweet Lorraine,” when the local carpenter confides in the hotel owner’s granddaughter that, late in the evening, locals sneak onto the grounds to swim in the “old pool”—the one with the green water.
Bungalow colony pools varied from colony to colony, often reflecting the demographics of the colony tenants. A large colony with many children, and a day camp, usually had a modern facility, large, well maintained, often with a diving board. Such colonies sometimes boasted “2 filtered pools”—though the second pool was seldom more than a tiny wading version, the ubiquitous “kiddie pool.” Here, young moms would float their progeny in elaborate swim enhancements, while keeping a watch for small floaters seeping out from the “pampers” worn beneath the bathing suits.
The pool, filled with water, was the true harbinger of the summer. On Memorial Day weekend, or Decoration Day weekend, the fast few days teaser that still left us with a month of school and little league and waiting for summer, the pool was empty. Without water the interior imperfections—cracks, fissures, fading and peeling paint were visible and soiled the mind’s image of a mysterious paradise that would soon again be explored under 7 or 8 feet of water. When we returned to the bungalow colony in late June we discovered a fat black hose at the pool’s edge that fed water to the brim of the pool’s edge. The lounge chairs had been scrubbed clean, the filters overhauled, proper chemicals added, the surfaces of the pool newly painted, the diving board refurbished, the lifeguard’s chairs restored—everything as it should be, needing only the onslaught of laughing, yelping, riotous children to be complete.
Whether a function of our generation, or our economic standing, we never possessed the elaborate and expensive pool accoutrements of present day—the floats, water volleyball setups, gargantuan water cannons, water wheels and diving toys. We were consigned, instead, to but two items—fat, black rubber inner tubes from automobile and truck tires, and, deliciously, our pre-adolescent imagination.
Defused by the water the summer sun lost its bite, and the prism effect, as the rays reached into the cool, dark and mysterious corners of the pool, was like a rainbow. Here, underwater, we were never simply kids in a pool, but rather we were deep-sea divers excavating a Spanish Galleon, intent on recovering pirate booty. Festooned in fins and goggles we were Navy Seals surreptitiously approaching an enemy vessel, our mission to plant mines on its hull. At other times we were explorers, snorkeling beneath a Pacific reef, wary of the sharks and barracuda that might strike at any moment, or we were diving deep into the North Atlantic and discovering the resting place of the Titanic.
The collection of black inner tubes—many of them already patched—comprised our own personal armada. These tubes were our battleships and destroyers, our aircraft carriers and PT boats. We manned our crafts and paddled about the pool, considering the strength of the opposing forces, anticipating their next move, and designing our attack.
We played other games in the water. Chicken. The largest kids would mount the smaller ones on their shoulders, and then one team would approach another, the upper men grappling and grasping—their intention to dismount the opposition. The last team standing was victorious. Sometimes we played chicken all afternoon.
We had relay races, of course—sometimes the each team comprised of four or more kids. Each kid was required to swim at least two laps, usually the width of the pool, in the deeper water, then tag off to his teammate, who was already in the water, holding the pool edge, waiting to swim. As we matured, and learned how to do a “racing dive”, the relays became both more challenging and more competitive.
The diving board was a focal point of our pool fun, and there were days we needed to wait in line for four, five minutes or more, just for our turn on the springboard. We delighted in performing cannonballs—their merit scored by the amount of pool water we displaced and how many friends we succeeded in dousing. We did other dives as well—jackknifes and back-flips and half gainers. Standing on the back edge of the board, waiting to step forward, we surveyed the pool—the shimmering blue water, our friends waiting their turn, our parents lounging at poolside. We hoped all eyes were on us as we strode forward, calculating our steps till the moment we would bounce down, then propel forth into the summer air. The hot sun beat down on our young, taut bodies, and we reached higher into the sky. Now, arching, a perfect missile aimed at the center of the deep end. We cut the water, we prayed, like a hot knife through butter, leaving barely a ripple on the surface as our legs and feet followed the trajectory of our extended arms. Then, touching bottom and kicking back up, we emerged from the water, splashing free and shaking the water from our hair, feeling just like a kid whose been blessed with an extraordinary gift. Well, why the heck not?