My parents had an in-ground swimming pool installed in 1965, shortly after our move to the brick house where my brothers and I would spend the remainder of our childhoods, and where my parents still live.
They had only one car to share in those days, and my dad would take three buses to get to the library where he did research for his books, but an in-ground pool became a necessity when my grandfather, recently widowed and loving to swim, came to stay.
The money to pay for such a luxury came not from a loan, of which both my parents took a dim view, but from a small one-time reparation paid to each of them by the German government, which had, during the Nazi era, stolen their family assets and the lives of most of their relatives.
The pool salesman came with a pamphlet and pictures of various shapes of pool, and my mother, in charge of life’s practical matters then, as now, chose the kidney shape and the largest heater she could afford.
My grandfather did, indeed, use the pool every spring and summer while he lived with us, and my brothers and I would watch in awe as he steadily breast-stroked back and forth.
My siblings and I, in imitation, discovered our inner fish, and spent our summer days in the water, my mother plying us with snacks as we stood at water’s edge, between games and breath-holding contests. In the pool, we would whisper our secrets to each other and to our parents, the water loosening our lips and our inhibitions.
Time passed; my grandfather left this world and we left our childhood to form our own households. The pool, however, always drew us back.
When my children were small, each in turn fell in love with the pool and joined in the family fun. All but the youngest learned how to swim in my parents’ back yard, either through their grandmother’s patient lessons or the raucous encouragement of an older sibling.
My mother, wanting to hold onto the family gathering place, made me promise to never install a pool in my own back yard, lest we prefer that to hers. Honoring her desire, I never did.
I thought about it at times, when I didn’t feel like loading all five of my children into the minivan for the short drive to my parents’ house, or when the water temperature reached the mid-90s and I felt, in my menopausal state, as though I was cooking in chlorine soup.
I have, on occasion, secretly sampled other places to swim. The lake, cool and refreshing, with its endless bottom and lack of chlorine, is appealing, as is the town pool, with its long lanes that make lap swimming easy.
I don’t tell my mother about these adventures. That would be equivalent to telling my husband that I had a boyfriend on the side; the subsequent protestations that it was a meaningless dalliance would poison my primary relationship, nonetheless.
And none is as comforting or comfortable as paddling in the backyard pool, talking over life with my parents and brothers, just as we did when we were all young.