I got a phone call the other day around 11:00am. It was my daughter.
Her voice was filled with excitement.
“Daddy, Daddy, I passed my swimmers test!”
The Antietam Valley Swimming Pool has been apart of the Exeter and Mt Penn community for as long as I can remember. The pool began as an amusement park at the turn of the century. By the 1960’s, gone were the rides and ladies in large hats and in was an overly chlorinated watering hole for the citizens of the surrounding community.
Everyone went (and still goes) to the pool.
The pool is a large round cement pool (as a kid I was sure it rivaled the Death Star in size) surrounded by a perimeter of sectioned grass with a handful of oak trees scattered randomly around and all protected by a chain link fence. For years, families have flocked to 905 Byram Street, in Mt Penn, PA to take their place at the pool.
We have all been going there for so long; we have long since “claimed” seating areas. As a kid, our area was off to the left when you walked in, near the soda machine and only a hop away from the bathrooms (since getting married, I sit in my wife’s childhood spot…what the heck, she took my last name, it was the least I could do). Next to the half telephone booth on the right side after the office, next to one of the oak trees, sat a gaggle of senior citizens. Ladies who spent their summers in a slow bake as their wrinkled skin tanned to a shiny brown (and who I have to believe turned their epidermis in to the consistency of a belt). Other families staked their spots out like Gold Rush Miners on the edge of a river. To this day, anyone who has spent more than five summers at the Antietam Valley Pool will be able to tell you where they sat as kids (most likely they sit there now) and will be able to rattle off where up to a dozen other families sit with GPS like accuracy.
The pool itself is broken in to two sections. The outside section is the “shallow end”. Typically the “shallow end” is the gathering place of young children and babies, mothers who are more interested in socializing than swimming, inflatable rafts, seven or eight pairs of kids throwing an orange Nerf ball, and what I can only imagine is a concentration of urine heavier than the bathrooms there (how the water is not tinted yellow is beyond me). The “shallow end”, living up to its name, has a depth of about 3’.
The other section is the “deep end”. The “deep end” is encased by a square cement catwalk. At each corner are walkways to get from the edge of the pool to the “deep end” without getting wet (unless you get caught in the crossfire of one of those Nerf balls). At the middle of the catwalk were two diving boards with lines 4 or 5 people deep (it would have moved faster had it not been for one out of every four kids getting scared at the end of the board taking a lifetime to dive off only to go feet first). At three spots of the “deep end” sat three lifeguards. Perched on chairs 6’ feet up and shaded from the sun by large umbrellas, teenage lifeguards patrolled the waters of the entire pool. Their job was to stop kids from running. Prevent diving in to the “shallow end” and keeping bounces to one on the diving boards. Armed with whistles the lifeguards held a general malaise of interest for the job (god help the poor kid who swallows a gallon of water and needs help). The “deep end”, like its “shallow end” counterpart, lives up to its name. It goes from 4 ½’ feet to a maximum of 10’.
For my entire life at the pool, every member must be badged as either a ‘Swimmer’ or a ‘Non-swimmer’. The small round badges are dual colored and in the center have that summer’s year of membership.
In order breach from the “shallow end” and get a chance to hold up the diving board line, you need to have a ‘Swimmers’ badge. It was what every kid, seeking to escape the urine saturated “shallow end” and the depths of the “deep end”, longed for.
To gain your ‘Swimmers’ badge, you have to demonstrate your ability to freestyle swim from one side of the “deep end” to the other. Let it be said, the ‘Swimmers’ test is not quite the M-CAT’s as far as tests go (I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the lifeguards were only subjected to this test too) but this has been the assessment for forty years worth of ‘Swimmers’.
This summer was Hannah’s summer. She had seen most of her friends in the past two years leave the uncommonly warm waters of the “shallow end” to bask in the cool depths of the “deep end”. Every time one of her friends walked the catwalk toward the diving boards I saw the look on her face. A mix of sadness, embarrassment, and envy that I can remember having myself twenty five years earlier as I watched my friends say goodbye to the “shallow end” too.
I have never seen my daughter more determined. From the opening day of the pool until the other day, all that was on her mind was passing the 100 yard swim test to get her badge and take her place in line at the diving board and joining her friends in the Swimmers’ fraternity. She honed in to this test like Jaws honed in to the crew of the Orca.
She practiced constantly. She would practice in the “shallow end”, ignoring the Nerf balls and wading mothers. She was unfazed by the traffic jams of inflatable rafts. Every time one of her friends went in to the “deep end”, she practiced harder.
And all of her practice finally paid off.
You see, the other day, my daughter reached a milestone in her life. The other day, she earned her ‘Swimmers’ badge. The other day, my daughter broke free from the trappings of the “shallow end” of the Antietam Valley Pool and found herself standing on the cement catwalk, waiting in line at the diving board with the rest of her friends, getting ready to go swimming in the deep end.