This past Thursday Legion Pool opened, and summer vacation 2011 was officially launched.
Some people have family beach houses, or mountain cabins that they return to year after year, but for me, my carefree family summer memories circle around Legion Pool.
My father took a job at UGA in the art department in 1968. We drove down from Columbus, Ohio, to Athens, my parents and four, soon to be five, siblings, in a blue Chevy station wagon. My mother, quickly figuring out that the summer was long and hot (this was before air conditioning was ubiquitous), was determined that we would learn to swim, and so we were packed off to Legion for lessons.
As a kid, I was pretty much afraid of everything. I had terrible eyesight, which I think increased my timidity. I remember the young coach getting us out on the diving board (yes, there were diving boards then) and making us jump in. I froze in terror at the end of the board, unable to move. I remember feeling the rough edge of the board under my toes, seeing the glare of the sun off the water, the water I would surely drown me. My ample imagination created the whole scene: the water entering my lungs, closing over my head, eternal darkness. I was holding up everyone else, and the coach’s voice was growing impatient. Finally, I gathered my courage and swung my arms back, still unsure if I could do it. I hit the coach in the eye, and finally my terror at his anger was worse than my terror of the water. I jumped in and found, to my complete surprise, that I loved the feeling of my body held by the water, the freedom as I kicked to the surface. I’ve never looked back.
My mother was such a pretty woman that even after six kids and in her late thirties, she could pass for a college student. Once she was sitting on the edge of the pool, her face shaded by a large straw hat, and a college boy came over and started flirting with her. We older kids thought that was hilarious. Didn’t he know she was just our mom?? Another time, my brother Joe, who was an angelic sweet round-limbed toddler, quietly rolled over the edge of the pool into the deep end. He sank like a stone, but luckily my keen-eyed brother Jon reached down and got him—another crisis averted. With a big family, there is usually about one a day.
My mother’s ambition that all her children join the swim team finally came true, although I’d say I was no champ. I had little interest in competition, preferring the contemplative back stroke to almost anything. I also hated doing flip turns, and getting water up my nose. But I loved the free time we spent at the pool, pulling ourselves down on the ladders in the deep end to touch the bottom, challenging each other to hold our breaths, doing back flips, and simply observing the world from the quiet, watery depths. Those days seemed to expand endlessly in a happy mix of Marco Polo, Coppertone, the Beach Boys on the radio and popsicles.
In college I didn’t find myself at Legion as much, but after I married and moved back to Athens, I resumed my Legion days. My sister was here in graduate school, and we hung out there with her eclectic group of friends. One of her friends, a Brazilian beauty, sported an orange bikini which she had knitted, and that reignited my interest in knitting. Actually, I had never been that interested in knitting, although my mom had taught me many years ago. Suddenly I saw it in a new light. I had an ambition to replicate the bikini, but lost my nerve.
As a young mother, I brought my babies to the pool. They always slept well at Legion, as if the echoing voices and laughter and sunshine and water were the perfect balm. I nursed them there, under many a towel, and love to see nursing mothers still. Legion saved me when I had a newborn and my father was sick and my husband was away for weeks doing research. I met friends there, had the kinds of interactions a young mother alone with a baby needs—caring, supportive, non-intrusive.
As my children grew, the pool became a great source of support for raising them. They not only learned to swim, but found friends to play with. I would meet my friends, and we’d swap recipes, opinions about teachers and schools, summer camps, books, news, and yes, gossip, the kind of gossip that keeps a community alive. Not malicious, but interested.*
Sitting by the side of the pool last Friday, almost exactly where my brother Joe fell in more than 40 years ago, talking with a friend, watching the now young teens we’ve known since babyhood as they spike the ball across the volleyball net, we remarked on how the pool has given us a kind of continuity that we otherwise lack in our fractured culture. It feels so good to be here, unrushed, not in front of a screen, face to face, the feathery pecan leaves blowing gently above us. It feels like the way life is supposed to be.
*In the last decade, gossip has been researched in terms of its evolutionary psychology origins. This has found gossip to be an important means by which people can monitor cooperative reputations and so maintain widespread indirect reciprocity.Indirect reciprocity is defined here as "I help you and somebody else helps me." Gossip has also been identified by Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary biologist, as aiding social bonding in large groups.
See also Patricia Ann Meyer Spacks's book, Gossip.