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Tales from the Backyard Pool

Suzie Lechtenberg

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Pool Shots
(Weekend America)
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As summer comes to a close, so will most public pools. For most, endless days spent swimming will end, but for the lucky ones with a pool in their backyard, the fun never stops. Dale Braiman of Haines City, Fla., tells us about the first time he took advantage of a privilege that only pool owners can enjoy. And Jane Bratton of Highland Heights, Ky., talks to us about what a backyard pool from her childhood still means to her.

Dale Braiman and Jane Bratton's Letters

Dog-day heat and humidity defined our summer days while growing up in Marion, Ohio. So it made perfectly good sense when our newly-widowed mother decided to purchase an above-ground swimming pool in 1970. Always one to pinch her pennies, she decided that we would install it ourselves.

I was the middle child and seven years old; my brother was ten and my sister was five. We quickly embraced our mother's spirit and spent countless hours wrestling with the pool wall, then the liner. We would break for a lunch of baloney sandwiches and potato chips, with plenty of Kool-aid to go around.

"Pull it tighter!" Mom bellowed from my right. "There, like that. Good job!"

Neither beating sun nor bothersome allergies robbed us of our focus. Within a week, we stood marveling at the product of our labor. We were proud of ourselves and more than ready for a swim. Mom turned on the garden hose and placed it among the creases on the bottom of our pool with, as it turned out, its accidental shallow end and deep end. It would take many days to fill that pool with the icy-cold water, but the best swim ever was well worth the wait.

We lived in that pool, with our rafts, beach balls and inner-tubes. We'd only get out for meals and trips to the bathroom. When Mom would have to go inside the house, she'd make us kids hang from the sides of the pool and sing so she would know we weren't drowning.

Every September, Mom would empty out most of the water. Every May, we would climb in the pool and clean out the dead bugs and other winter debris floating in the murky, muddy water, careful not to collapse the pool walls.

We swam in that pool for 10 years. It remained a fixture in our backyard through first communions, teenage angst and high school graduations. When at long last the liner finally

My brother was five and I was seven when my parents moved from Ohio to Ft. Lauderdale. In the late 50's it was a paradise. And we had a pool. Before I thought to know anything about sex, I knew about skinning dipping in the dark with my family at night before bed. The night-blooming jasmine made the air velvet with honey, but underwater was the thrill that has never let go. It was night and dark and the water licked my skin and comforted my spirit. Climbing into bed with chill bumps on a hot night made me feel like a man before I ever imagined what that might someday mean. As soothing and exhilarating as skinny dipping at night was, it was second best to the greatest gift my brother and I ever received.

Our grandparents gave us a little blue plastic boat with paddles, just large enough for us to fit and paddle across the pool. If we were careful we could make it across without tipping, though tipping as flamboyantly as possible was frequently the goal. But the important thing about the boat was that we could turn it upside down and make an air pocket above the water to crab-walk around the pool in another world.

My brother and I were infrequent friends in our youth. Neither of us had an insight that our enmity was the acting out of other tensions in our home. But under the boat, when even hushed voices held a transcendent echo, we could say anything; be anything. We were brothers there and never shared a harsh word or thought. We were too enamored in our submarine life. Too alive. Too joyous to hold anything but love for each other. We were invisible under the little blue boat as we traveled throughout the pool.

Some years later, I had the best dream of my life. I was in the boat and I was flying through the sky. Today, recollections of my time in the pool still make me happy and give me comfort. My brother is also my best friend.

Dale Braiman
Haines City, Fla.

Dog-day heat and humidity defined our summer days while growing up in Marion, Ohio. So it made perfectly good sense when our newly-widowed mother decided to purchase an above-ground swimming pool in 1970. Always one to pinch her pennies, she decided that we would install it ourselves.

I was the middle child and seven years old; my brother was ten and my sister was five. We quickly embraced our mother's spirit and spent countless hours wrestling with the pool wall, then the liner. We would break for a lunch of baloney sandwiches and potato chips, with plenty of Kool-aid to go around.

"Pull it tighter!" Mom bellowed from my right. "There, like that. Good job!"

Neither beating sun nor bothersome allergies robbed us of our focus. Within a week, we stood marveling at the product of our labor. We were proud of ourselves and more than ready for a swim. Mom turned on the garden hose and placed it among the creases on the bottom of our pool with, as it turned out, its accidental shallow end and deep end. It would take many days to fill that pool with the icy-cold water, but the best swim ever was well worth the wait.

We lived in that pool, with our rafts, beach balls and inner-tubes. We'd only get out for meals and trips to the bathroom. When Mom would have to go inside the house, she'd make us kids hang from the sides of the pool and sing so she would know we weren't drowning.

Every September, Mom would empty out most of the water. Every May, we would climb in the pool and clean out the dead bugs and other winter debris floating in the murky, muddy water, careful not to collapse the pool walls.

We swam in that pool for 10 years. It remained a fixture in our backyard through first communions, teenage angst and high school graduations. When at long last the liner finally tore, our swimming days came to an end there on Uhler Avenue. Still, long after we've hung up our towels, the memories linger.

Jane Bratton
Crescent Springs Ky.

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