Arrrgh! It’s friggin’ hot again. Let’s go swimming!
Born in south Dakota but raised in Southern California, I never had to endure the other end of the temperature scale that comes with living in one of the tundra states. For a bevy of reasons I never really explored with them, my parents loaded up a late forties Oldsmobile with baby me and all their other cherished belongings, bid farewell to their sisters and brothers and migrated to the San Fernando Valley. They also said good bye to the oppressive Sioux Falls winters. It was 1952.
As a child all I ever knew was mild, sometimes rainy winters and the balmy summers of Southern California. The coming of summer would bring an occasional week or two of the hot stuff. But for the most part, the weather was beautiful. Let’s face it, the post war mass immigration to the west coast was brought on not only by work opportunities burgeoning in Los Angeles but by the desirable weather. After two years in the Navy and Korea, my father bailed from his (and my) birth state and sought out employment in the fledgling computer industry…and headed to sunny SoCal. From the early fifties to the late seventies he supported his growing family by working for the likes of IBM and others.
Back to the Arrrgh! It’s friggin’ hot again.
As a child, the heat that came with summer was a welcome respite from the wet Springs that California presented. And even though I cherished the rain (and still do to this day), the warmth of summer and all that came with it was even more coveted. As with most kids I loved the summer! Summer meant a long-awaited hiatus from school, vacations at the lake and the beach, daily excursions to the ocean, and swimming in our pool. Yes, my Dad had a pool built in our brand new West San Fernando Valley tract home as soon as we moved in. It was 1957.
I think more than anything else, my memories of summer are infused with those times in the swimming pool. My two sisters and I remained pretty much waterlogged from June to September.
Our family was the first in our neighborhood to get a pool. Many others were dug and built by our neighbors as the years went by. Consequently, until the swimming pools began to flourish, it was ours that remained the neighborhood swimming hole for a few years. We were very popular kids.
That fifteen by thirty foot cement and gunite hole in the ground provided many years of entertainment not only for us but for our parents as well. Mom and Dad put on some great pool parties. Our backyard was party central. My father even build a redwood gazebo at one end of the yard complete with dried palm fronds (gathered by him and I from a nearby date palm grove), hand-carved tiki faces, and flaming tiki torches. On any given summer weekend, what seemed like throngs of adults and their children descended upon the Hansen Family backyard. They were usually impromptu pot luck affairs but Dad provided the hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, and steaks. Our redwood picnic table nestled under the south sea style gazebo was filled with net-covered bowls of chips, potato salads, platters of sliced watermelon, and condiments for the burgers. Nearby Coleman coolers were packed with ice and frosty bottles of Royal Crown Cola (a Hansen staple back then) and Miller High Life (another family staple as it was Dad’s favorite beer). The smell of BBQ smoke wafted throughout the yard – all charcoal all the time, no gas BBQs back then. My dad even dragged our mahogany Magnavox Hi-Fi console to the patio (no stereo back then, it was mono but it had a huge speaker) blaring records from Glenn Miller, Patsy Cline, Louis Prima and, of course, Frank Sinatra. The adults in their big sunglasses and straw hats would sit in the chaise lounges drinking, smoking, and chatting while the kids languished in the pool on a multitude of inflatable pool toys…jumping, splashing, and squealing. Every once in a while an inebriated guest (mostly male) would reluctantly end up in the pool still wearing their shirt or other fashionable terrycloth cover up. If one went in, it was usually followed by at least one other in retribution. A few head dunkings would ensue as well, though most never really got out of hand – most of them anyway.
The adults all seemed so old to me back then. I’m sure they were no older than their late twenties or early thirties. I do remember many of their names to this day, but they shall remain anonymous for historical accuracy. Speaking of historical accuracy, many of these poolside parties were archived through the lens of my father’s Kodak 8mm Brownie movie camera. The countless rolls of those films now since preserved to VHS tape and awaiting transfer to DVD. Watching those soundless movies today is priceless. Yet, even though soundless I can still hear the music playing in my mind as I watch some of the more daring parents dancing with one another (usually with someone else’s spouse) on the red and black colored pool deck. Kids would get in on this by standing on their parent’s feet wanting to be a part of the elder’s fun.
For the most part, the women remained out of the pool wishing to maintain their stylish bouffant hair styles. The guys all seemed to make a big splash at least once, usually taking a long run and leaping halfway into the pool amongst all the dog-paddling children. A cannon ball ‘dive’ by a full sized human provided cheers and laughs for all until that same human thought it even more fun to begin splashing the dry-haired ladies sitting in the chaise lounges. There would be some momentary scouldings thrown at the perpetrator who would then slosh up the steps out of the pool, give his spouse a wet hug, and pick up his cocktail once again. All was forgiven for now…until he got home I’m sure!
The camping trips and drives to Zuma Beach for the day were great. But times in and around our swimming pool is what summer was all about. Wrinkled finger tips and toes, the smell of chlorine on your skin, and even green hair meant summer was well under way. The green hair? Yep. My sisters had blonde hair until adulthood. After a few weeks of chlorinated pool water and plenty of sunshine…it turned a greenish hue! My hair was brown by then so it didn’t show any of those effects.
At this point in my life, I don’t live in a house with a swimming pool just outside the back patio door. I probably won’t do any swimming unless we take one of those two day trips to a motel in Monterey or Santa Cruz. I will not endure the grotesque environment that comes with swimming in a large public pool! I know what those kids are doing the moment they jump in, it’s what I used to do…pee, or worse. There is not enough chlorine in the world to provide me with any peace of mind sloshing around in that kind of open sewer.
I do miss swimming in our pool. But here and now…there is always the ubiquitous A/C, something one must not be without in the Central Valley of Northern Cal. It is July 3rd and the temperature is supposed to rise into the low 100’s this weekend. Perhaps I will resurrect a VHS player from the confines of the garage storage and relive, at least for a few moments, those cherished times in the pool in Southern California. Where did I put that thing anyway?
Sorry, this still of Ludivine Sagnier from the movie Swimming Pool has nothing whatsoever to do with my memories of our swimming pool. I thought it would dress up this post!