Life in the Pedestrian Lane: The wading pool

The past summer was such a glorious one that it brought back memories of summers when all I had to think about was it being summer. Remember the wading pool? Those days are long past, but it’s fun to remember the way it was. It was soup-dish shaped, about 20 feet in diameter, deepening in the center to hip deep on a 4-year-old. Little girls wore woolen or cotton swimsuits; boys wore cut-off pants. In a few years, elastic fabric would make an appearance and swim suits would become fashion garments, but in the early 1940s they were merely utilitarian. In the center of the dish was a standing pipe around which we would ring-around-the-rosy falling in a big raucous splash on “last one down’s… .” On some days water would gush out of the pipe, refilling the pool, and we would dare each other to put our head under it.

It was always better to be there on a day when the water hadn’t been changed because it was warmer from the sun and from the many young bodies running in and out on a hot summer day. It was pea-soup thick from sand, additional chlorine, and grass clippings. Sometimes a dog would race in to frolic with its young master until an adult admonished him (it was usually a him) and the furry wet animal would be dragged out and left to shake itself dry.

Moms sat on the park benches carefully watching the swimmers but listening to the news of soldiers home, or never coming, since the last time at the pool. They didn’t dress like moms now. The ladies all wore dresses, some fancier than others, but modest and subdued in color. Once in a while one of the younger women would wear a sundress: two inch shoulder straps, mid-calf dirndl skirt, and a small jacket to cover the top when she left the park. Occasionally an overalls-clad woman would stop by with her youngsters in the grain truck. The driver would spy a friend and ask if she’d watch the kids until the next load in. They would come tumbling out of the high cab already dressed for the pool and run screeching into the water, towels flying in all directions. Mom would acknowledge that next time it was her turn to tend the little ones then drive away with an envious glance back at the women relaxing in the shade in their cool summer attire.

Children squealed; water splashed; older kids shouted from the big pool. The summer idyll was disrupted by a polio scare in the mid-40s. The entire country suffered. One summer it was the Northeast, the next the South. Like all other social trends, the Northwest was the last affected, but the epidemic did arrive and both the wading pool and the big pool were closed in the hottest part of summer. By the time they reopened, I was tall enough for the shallow end in the big pool. Not too long afterward, the wading pool was closed and eventually it was dug out and planted over with grass. Today, only a few of us stalwarts remember the squealing good times.

Kids go swimming now in an indoor Olympic-sized pool. Four-year-olds must have an adult in the water with them at all times. That’s a rule! The water is artificially warmed and beautifully clear. The lifeguards discourage any squealing or running or splashing. And I’ve never seen a dog anywhere.

But, the more things change the more they stay the same. The adults who aren’t in the pool with the little ones gather to discuss the news. Soldiers gone, soldiers home, families waiting. The women are dressed in the costume of the day: most often blue jeans, tee shirt, tennis shoes. And they keep an eagle eye on the swimmers, now and then walking to the barrier fence to get a better look for the ones in the deep end.

Polio has long since been eliminated as the summer scourge, but has been replaced by more insidious diseases with acronym names and foreign origins that lurk in body fluids, undercooked meats, mosquito bites and even hospital recovery units. Television news reports every miscreant virus anywhere in the world that attacks more than five people, adding to the unease fostered by instant replay from the four corners of the universe, made possible by modern technology.

My wading pool summers are long past. The world has twirled around many times since I squealed with delight at being ducked under the water or splashed with my friends as we marched in frog step around the rim of the little pool.

My granddaughters are growing up in a world I didn’t even imagine in those innocent summers but wars and rumors of wars still pervade the news and science has not yet conquered the common cold, nor the latest mutated flu virus. The world turns and things change. But not much.

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai. Email her at vewalters@gci.net.

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