The heat and humidity over the past few weeks have forced me to break out my inflatable pool a lot earlier than in years past. The 10-by-5-by-2-foot pool was a gift to myself so I could get through some of the hotter days. It's certainly not big enough to do laps, but on steamy days it cools me off so I can endure a few more hours.
My circa-1960 house has no air conditioning, just like the house in which I grew up. Our expanded Cape Cod home in Norwalk was unbearable on most summer nights. My bedroom and those of my siblings were in what was once the attic. We used cold compresses on our face and neck as a way to help us get a good night's sleep. We had an attic fan, which ran 24 hours a day, but it was the noisiest piece of equipment ever made.
Stifling summer days were more bearable, as we spent most of our time in our finished basement -- where Dad had installed a full kitchen, TV room and bathroom. We ate all of our meals outside on our backyard patio and frequently used the lawn sprinkler to cool off.
Until one day, my parents decided -- probably more my mother since Dad usually went along with whatever she said -- to buy an above-ground pool. Backyard pools were a novelty in my childhood days. Only one other above-ground pool existed in our neighborhood, and I occasionally was invited to take a dip. But the object of most of the neighbors' attention (primarily the kids on the street) was the built-in pool that we could see through the trees, its blueness glistening in the summer sun. The owners rarely asked us to come over and take a swim. There were those times when the older kids in the neighborhood would trespass at nightfall and jump in, only to be caught by the floodlights turned on by the owner, who yelled at them to get out of the pool.
Back to our pool, which was 24 feet across and 4 feet deep. But its depth wasn't good enough for Dad. Ever the daredevil (this was the man, after all, who thought it was a good idea to stand on a sled and go careening down the hill, only to suffer a torn ligament when he fell), Dad felt 4 feet wasn't the right depth to do, say, cannonballs. So he wanted the hole, into which the pool was placed, to be pitched to a greater depth in the middle. It was slightly more than 5 feet deep, if I remember correctly -- perfect for cannonballs and shallow dives. (I should mention that Dad didn't like the water much, and took forever to finally get his body into the pool. Occasionally, though, he did a cannonball.)
Amazingly, no earth-moving equipment was used to clear the ground for the pool, just the brawn of my sister's guy friends -- and group of young men who owned and rode motorcycles. (One time, my brother told his friends that his sister was the leader of a motorcycle gang!) The guys worked from sun up to sun down, shoveling out sod and dirt and rocks, all under the direction of my pseudo-engineer-architect-builder father.
I don't remember helping (I was only an adolescent) beyond carrying smaller rocks away from the hole. Now that I think of it, I have no recollection of what they did with all that debris they dug up. I do recall when the contingent of workers encountered a huge boulder, which stopped the flow until the group determined just how to get it out of there. But they did, and work resumed.
The whole process took several days, including placing the bottom rim, the wall and the liner. It was quite the community affair, as some of the neighbors helped out too. My mother was busy making food for the volunteer workers -- piles of sandwiches and gallons of cold beverages. (I can't even begin to tell you how many loaves of white bread Mom went through.)
The big moment came when it was time to fill the pool with water. Nowadays, people buy water that arrives in a tanker truck and is emptied into the pool. But back then, we used a garden hose attached to the outside faucet and draped over the wall of the pool. Our neighbor, who lived in the house behind us, rigged up his garden hose too. It would take all night to fill up the pool. I went to bed eagerly anticipating waking up to a filled pool and the chance to take our maiden swims.
Early the next morning, I could hear an exclamation of horror escape from my father's mouth as he looked out and saw that not only was the pool not filled, but the plastic liner had given way, allowing the water to escape into our yard and our neighbors'.
Undaunted, Dad just called in the troops again, drained the rest of the water and reinstalled the liner. With fingers crossed, the hoses were turned back on. This time, everything held.
The next year, Dad felt the water needed to be warmer so he installed a heater, and years later, after doing a couple of sketches while watching TV, he built a redwood deck around the pool and a patio, onto which he eventually attached a huge blue, curvy slide. I never will forget the sight of my rotund Uncle Harry, fleeing for the day from the stifling heat of Flushing, N.Y., soaring down the slide and making a big splash.
And on those nights when the house was hotter than we could stand, we went swimming before bedtime. One night after I had gone to bed, my parents stripped off their clothes and skinny-dipped, until someone in the house turned on the big floodlight over the pool. They shrieked, but were still giggling.
All of this came rushing back this week as I lounged in my inflatable pool. Sadly, I recently drove past our old house in Norwalk only to see that one of the successive owners had taken down the pool and the deck.
But no matter, I have lots of cool memories.