SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
I had a chance to watch my grandkids playing in Albion’s splash pad the other day, and it took me back to my childhood: Jumping in the water, splashing around, screaming …
A splash pad is a really cool place for kids, because you get the splash part, but not the worries of going into water too deep. Plus, it’s clean water. There’s no such thing as a play area where you absolutely can’t get hurt at all (and what a boring place that would be), but that beats the heck out of the “good” old days.
When I was a kid, there were several places you could go swimming, if they were within biking range, or you could talk an older person with a car into taking you there. Some of them were beaches, and occasionally we’d even find a lifeguard at one.
We avoided those places. The lifeguards were too much like … adults. No roughhousing, no throwing stuff at each other—it never occurred to us that they could save our lives.
No, we’d go to the places where the beaches consisted of gravel, or to good old fashioned swimming holes. I’m not sure what the difference is. I can tell you that lakes beat ponds, if you were at all disturbed by stuff squeezing between your toes. Clean water? Never entered our minds.
One of our favorite places to go was the Skinner Lake beach, and it’s a perfect example of the revelation I had while I sat there, safely out of the water, watching the grandkids:
When I was their age we’d get out of the car at Skinner Lake, and it would take me five minutes to cross a gravel driveway. I’m one of those kids who always wore shoes, and now I was barefoot, on my way to the water. It never occurred to me to take shoes with me, or wear what, in those days, we used to call thongs. Believe me, the thongs of forty years ago protected an entirely different area than the thongs of today do.
Then I’d work my way down the beach, and put one toe into the water. The water was freezing. It was always freezing, no matter where we went. Heated swimming? Unheard of.
My brother, along with whoever else my parents made drag me along, would dive right into the water, which was of a temperature about the same as what Jack and Rose dropped into during Titanic. After a while, I’d recover from the shock and dip a foot in.
Then a toe of the other foot. Goose bumps popped up all over my body, including inside my ears. Every hair stood on end. By the time the water reached my knees, I’d be shivering uncontrollably. The others would be tossing a Frisbee back and forth, or splashing around in inner tubes.
The water would reach my swim trunks, seeming momentarily less cold until it reached the top and touched my bare abdomen. My belly would suck in against my spine.
Eventually, about the time the sun reached the top of the trees, I’d get just comfortable enough in the water—by which I mean, still freezing but now up to my neck—that I’d start splashing around a little.
At this point the others would call from where they were drying off on the beach, to tell me it was time to come home.
This was called having fun.
It was many, many years before I fully understood that I just got colder than other people did. Others wear shorts, I wear pants. Others wear t-shirts, I pull on a sweater. Others enjoy autumn, I’m digging out long underwear and a winter coat. Others love winter, I … don’t.
I should have just stayed on the beach.
To this day, I love being on big bodies of water—lakes, rivers. By that I mean on, as in a boat, or a raft. It took me all these years to figure out that, as much as we used to beg adults to take us swimming, I rarely liked it much (unless we were there at least a few hours, by which time I was numb enough to have fun). The first time I remember completely enjoying myself from the start (outside of discovering heated swimming pools) is when my wife and I went into a river in southeast Missouri, where the water was almost bathtub-like, late in their hot summer. As much as I loved watching the kids running around in the splash pad, I wouldn’t want to join them. Well, not until the temperature touches 90, at least … let’s not get too silly about this whole cold water hatred thing. Goose bumps will never beat heat stroke for unwanted side effects.