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One Word at the Pool

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At the Pool
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Back in 1978, Marcia Bryant her brother and her friend all spent hot summer days at the local city pool in Cleveland. Bryant remembers it as a gleeful experience: Kids would get dropped off by parents and finally they were free, with nothing to do but splash around in the inviting blue water. But all that changed with one word on a Saturday in 1978. Bryant tells us what ended her days at the pool. Also, Laura Higdon flashes back to her Coppertone-infused youth, poolside; and Bruce Cuningham recalls a revelation that he had at the pool as a child, when he made a new friend.

Letters About the Pool

I spent my "single-digit" years in a working class neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. In, 1978 when I was ten, my brother Scott, 12, and our next door neighbor and partner in mischief, Michelle, 11, spent a lot of time at the community pool. It was one of the places we were allowed to walk to without parental supervision. On one particularly hot, Saturday we went to the pool early in order to get there when it opened.

When we got to the pool, there were 10-15 kids outside the gate waiting for the lifeguard to let us in. As we approached the pool one boy, maybe 13 or 14 yelled, "Hey! You guys aren't allowed to swim here. They don't allow you people." Then he and his friend laughed hysterically at his "joke."

We paused for a moment. My brother, confused, was ready to turn around. He thought the pool was closed, as it occasionally was, for repairs. My friend Michelle stopped him and said, "He's kidding. Come on!" My brother understandably didn't get the joke. Me? I just felt sick but even at ten years old. I knew turning around was not an option.

We kept on walking. Our tormentor and his friend continued to laugh themselves silly, while the other kids shuffled uncomfortably as we took our place in line. While we waited continued to stare at us and finally pantomimed the act of spray painting on the wall of the building that housed the locker rooms while he loudly said, "No n*****s allowed."

The gates finally opened and we went to swim. But, that day we didn't stay long and we never let each other out of our sight.

I remember that day every time I go to a pool and to this day part of me still expects to hear someone say "You aren't allowed here."

Marcia Bryant
Cleveland, Ohio

As a boy of 7 or 8 years of age in the mid-1950's, my parents took me to the local YMCA pool in Richmond, Calif., for swimming lessons. Among the other young swimmers thrashing around was a black kid my age that I became friendly with.

We would play all the usual water games, down in the shallow end, that little boys will play. This kid, whose name, if I ever knew it, I have long forgotten, was the first black person I'd ever interacted with. After we'd been taking lessons for a few weekends, I just sort of got used to him being a different color—he was just fun to play with.

On one of those days, while I was sitting on the edge of the pool with my legs in the water, my friend dog paddled up to the nearby ladder, and began to climb out. Somehow or another, he managed to cut himself on the palm of his hand on the ladder. After he exclaimed about it, he held out his hand to show me the bloody cut. I held his hand and looked at his cut (someday to be a fine, manly scar, the kind boys love). I saw one of the most amazing sights of my young life: red blood coming out of a black kid.

I don't know what I expected to see, but what I discovered, in a way that's stayed with me my entire life, is that under the skin we're all the same. He bled red, just like me. I guess that's also when I learned to look beneath the surface at things. It's made all the difference in my life.

Bruce Cuningham
Dixon, Calif.


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