24 May 2008

Celery Seeds and Salt Water Pools

I grew up swimming in salt water. Not only did we go to the ocean every Sunday in the summertime, we belonged to a yacht club with a salt water swimming pool. To this day, I find fresh water weird to swim in. Your buoyancy is better in salt water, and salt water feels nicer in your eyes - after all, your eyes are filled with salt water.

Pretty much every day, all summer long, we went to the club. My mother camped out in one of the adirondack chairs, drinking iced tea from the tea lady. And we plopped in and out of the pool, seared our bellies on the hot slates, ate frozen Milky Ways from the snack bar, and hated every minute of "adult swim".

One day, I swam to the edge and tipped my head to slick my hair back, but I caught my chin on the concrete lip and ended up in the emergency room with six stitches. Two days later, my little sister, who was little enough to be swimming with a bubble, jumped into the pool backwards and split her chin open. Another trip to the ER, another six stitches. Hers were black; mine were blue. And a couple of days after that, my father did a cannonball into the not deep enough midsection of the pool, and sprained his ankle on the bottom. QED: bad things happen in threes.

Yesterday, I was poking through a box of family photos and found an envelope of old postcards of the town I grew up in, including two of the club. The photo of the clubhouse was taken before 1929 - because that building was replaced by a stodgy columned brick edifice. And I don't know when the photo of the pool was taken - but the pool looked nearly the same when I was a kid. In fact, I think some of the pictured chairs and benches were still around, thickly painted with white paint, though the wood framed diving boards had been replaced by a pair of springy modern diving boards (low and high) with metal frames.

It was nice growing up with that pool. We lived close enough that eventually we kids could walk down there alone. It became a home away from home, and a reason to never have to go to sleepaway camp.

And despite its echt WASP trappings, it was full of eccentrics. The local superintendent of schools hung out at the pool, drinking beer on ice in a skimpy black bathing suit. How could we take him seriously, knowing what he did on his weekends? A boy my brother's age wore the same Speedo that Mark Spitz had worn when he scored the seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics. That boy wore that suit every single day, and at the end of the summer, his buttocks were tanned with stars and stripes where the sun had snuck through the white in the pattern. Somewhere in there, my parents got divorced - but we still kept using the club. To keep everything copacetic, and to facilitate my father paying the bills for his kids' activities, the club set up a special account for us: Z226. Everyone else had an account number that started with the first letter of their last name; we had Z226. It was kind of dramatic and liberating, though it could have been like a scarlet letter.

A couple of times each summer, we'd have dinner on the terrace, standing in silence while they shot off the cannon and took the flags down at sunset. The house salad was always garnished with slivered red cabbage and dressed with a vinaigrette laced with celery seed. Every time I toss a little celery seed in my salad dressing, I remember that salad from the club.

I kind of miss it. The club that is. I can make a fine salad anytime.

[Inspired by Parent Bloggers and their Little Swimmers blog blast.]

22 comments:

painted maypole said...

sounds fun. we take MQ to the pool at our fitness club - one of the main reasons we joined! if only it were close enough to walk!

Julia said...

That sounds like a nice way to while away the summers. Although to me salt water comes with waves and is uncontained, and the pool is where I went for practices and is very definitely not salt water. If I was lucky, it wasn't overly chlorinated.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

It sounds wonderful.

I grew up with a swim & racquet club--the same one we belong to today--and my kids spend their summers just the way I spent mine. I love it.

mothergoosemouse said...

Such a vivid description. I love the old photo postcards too.

Awesome Mom said...

I cracked my chin open on the side of a pool too. I think that my stitches were black, although I can't be too sure. I have never swum in a salt water pool. I wonder why they are not more popular. I hate the smell of chlorine.

Angeline said...

Ouch ouch ouch....six stitches that quite abit for you and your sis. And you poor dad, the ankle...

I get blisters all the time when I'm in the pool, that's probably why I still can't swim till this day.

bipolarlawyercook said...

Nice post, thanks.

I've got to get to the beach more this summer.

alejna said...

This was such a wonderful little slice of your past. It's funny how such a little thing, like celery seeds in a salad, can evoke such strong memories.

I prefer salt water swimming, too. The pools in Hawaii tend to be salt water, which is where I largely learned to swim. I was 14 when we lived there for a bit. Happily there were no injuries...

Kyddryn said...

Mmm...nice memories.

Shade and Sweetwater,
K

jen said...

your posts, you...it oft reminds me of old time glamour, mint juleps and heat.

kathy a. said...

i've never swum in a salt-water pool! my grandmother belonged to a club when i was young, and i got a concussion running around the pool. [so sorry about the stitches you and your sis had!]

"our" pool was the town's public pool, where my sisters and i took swim lessons, and for one summer i got to be a "junior lifeguard," having passed the red cross lifesaving test. we also had a series of cheap above-ground pools in the back yard. i think photos of any of these pools would bring memories flooding back. baskin-robbins chocolate mint chip ice cream does -- my snack of choice, hiking home from the public pool.

Nadine said...

"at the end of the summer, his buttocks were tanned with stars and stripes where the sun had snuck through the white in the pattern."

And you knew this how???

Hmmm, Manhasset...I wonder if we might know some of the same people?

I love your writing....

Janet said...

I loved this post; so evocative.

I know a few people who split their chins open on the sides of pools in their youth, too. There should be some sort of warning sign, no? ;)

cactus petunia said...

Wow. Manhasset...I remember going to Korvetts as a kid (was that in Manhasset, or Roosevelt Field? ). Anyway, I grew up in Flushing, and used to ride to Manhasset on my bike with my friends. Never belonged to a yacht club, though...the closest we came to a club was swimming at the beach club on City Island with my cousins.

womaninawindow said...

THAT, my friend, was an amazing recounting of your younger days and an established demographic. I loved it! Pictures and all! This is the stuff of publications!
Did I menion I loved this?
Also, Anita Shrieve came to mind, her writing about such an established area on the east coast...

Sober Briquette said...

gush! Loved this.

(have you read Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian?)

She She said...

I love this slice of life post. I feel like I was there, although I've never even heard of a salt water pool.

Julie Pippert said...

Oh wow that sounds fabulous.

Janet said...

Your writing is so vivid, I felt like I was there!

MamaGeek said...

It sounds lovely, and that photo is perfect for this post.

Mental P Mama said...

Fantastic memories...I was just talking about adult-swim and how much we hated it, too!

Maggie, Dammit said...

This is... fabulous. I can taste the salt. And I'd totally forgotten how much I despised "adult swim".

You have such a gift.