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Reflections in the pool of my childhood summers

by

Crystal J. Stranaghan

I donít remember much about individual summers from my childhood; they blend together into one long continuous memory. A blend of images spanning years, with a myriad of faces, some new and some familiar; while the backgrounds never changed.

Waking up in a sun filled room when it became too warm to sleep anymore, raising your head from your pillow, damp from wet hair, and struggling into your still wet bathing suit from the night before. Wolfing down some cheez whiz toast as you run across the rockchips on your bare feet, as lightly and as quickly as possible so you wonít waste a moment of your day. Walking down the steps into the pool with your breath held, as you feel the water level rise on every inch of your body. Then the first dunk under the water and youíre home again. Youíre a mermaid, a dolphin, an olympic gymnast, a weightless ballerina. You can fly...water doesnít believe in gravity, and neither do you. You invent secret underwater languages, and become things your imagination has never even thought of. There is no time in your underwater world, but there is age. Your skin becomes white and wrinkly, and the bottom of your feet begin to erase on the cement bottom of the pool. It is time to create a new world. But maybe some lunch first.

You meet in the Climbing Tree. Itís perfect; a giant maple with natural handles, perfectly spaced branches and shaped so as to provide comfortable seats for three or four kids. Plus, from the top you can see the river. The river was a constant attraction. Icy cold water, even in the strongest midday sun which ran quickly enough that you had to keep moving or the river would move for you. We knew what it was capable of, as winter brought on the raging, racing torrent that would sweep huge trees from the banks and propel them down the river like paper boats. But we knew that summer was safe. The river in summer was not deep, or fast enough to feel threatening, but just quick enough to maintain that sense of excitement and adventure; just knowing you could be swept away, even though it was unlikely, was enough. The high banks and thick shrubbery along the banks made it easy to imagine you were explorers lost in some crazy adventure in the amazon.

The slimy green algae on the rocks as it squished between your toes and threatened to send you sprawling in the water. The stabbing pain of a sharp rock as it scraped feet not quite numb enough to be immune to sensation. Wading downstream to the swimming hole, where the water was deep enough that you couldnít see the bottom. The clay banks, where we covered ourselves from head to toe with the thick, soft earthy smelling clay. We lay on the rocks speculating about what lived under the sunken log which was the deepest into the water that we could see, until the clay completely baked into our skin and the heat from the dark rocks became unbearable on our naked limbs. A quick swing off the big frayed rope tied to a nearby tree and the muddy grey trail behind you as the clay streamed from skin to water. You surface in a burst of movement and expelled breath and swim quickly through cold muddy water feeling completely alive and refreshed, then scramble back up the bank. You move as quickly as possible while pretending not to keep your eye on the dark shapes in the murky depths and barring your mind from trying to identify whatever it was that brushed against your foot under the water. Dripping large wet patches onto the warm rocks, you begin your climb again. And again. Until the growling in your stomach can no longer be ignored. Dinner time.

Riding your bike, wind whipping in your face as you pedal as fast as you can to make it past the nasty barking dogs without becoming their next meal. Terrified and exhilarated you bounce on your bike seat as your tires crash over the potholes in the uneven road. One hand full of broken shovel or bucket, the other frantically trying to keep your bike from careening out of control. Tossing bikes and shoes in a heap as you reach the deep sand at the top of the beach and running to the water, sand gritty and tickling your feet. Splashing through the waves, finding the exact place on the sand where the shallow water changes from warm to cool. Seeing what patterns the retreating tide has woven to cover her tracks this day. Shrieks of equal part delight and horror at the feeling of a bullhead darting between your toes.

A giant leap, landing with feet either side of a gooey duck hole, in the hopes of sending a spray of salty water high into the air, then a multitude of hands digging and scooping as you chase it down through the sand, hoping you donít actually catch anything. Engineering giant cities, with magnificent castles and an intricate system of moats and walls to keep out the creeping tide that you know will eventually destroy your world. Digging faster and faster as the tide overtakes each set of fortifications, everyone working together to keep the forces of destruction at bay, eventually abandoning your quest as you join in the tides in a fit of mass destruction. Lying tired on the sand as the warm waves wash over you and the sun begins to set in a riot of spectacular colour. The slower ride home as the light fades, leaving a trail of seaweed and sand behind you as the wind and the movement wipe you clean.

Dash into the office for an ice cream, then race home to get changed into some clothes as we meet at dark at the haunted tree. Capture the flag while kids trickle in, then off to the park, which was no longer the territory of the really small kids. In the dark it was ours and we had endless games; the kind you never actually play because it takes hours to make up all the rules. Listening to the evening sounds of the campsite as people settle in for the night: rustling sleeping bags, the loudness of a tent zipper in the quiet night, the loud pop and hiss as a campfire resettles itself. The smells of wood smoke, chlorine, burnt marshmallows and sunscreen in the air. The feeling of tightness on your skin after a day of too much sun; the peculiar feeling of a warm front and cool back as you lose yourself in the dancing flames of a campfire. Lying on the creaking wooden bridge watching for shooting stars and making endless wishes, your body slowly radiating its warmth into the chill air as you huddle closer to the body beside you.

Eventually, the sound of the office door closing, and mom and dad calling from the edge of the grass. Time to go home. But thatís okay, because you know you can do everything all over again tomorrow.

Crystal J. Stranaghan © 2002

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