Salt in my Wounds, Chlorine in my Eyes

One of my favorite summer spots as a kid was the Williston Park Pool, known to most of us simply as “The Pool”, or the “Wil” part of the infamous Wil-Min-Flo swim team rivalry.

The Pool opened in the early sixties on the site of the Old Motor Parkway (http://www.nycroads.com/history/motor/), and adjacent to Kelleher Field, where the Little League “Majors” games were played (and which had an outfield fence that “homer” hopefuls aimed for). The pool was an immediate hit with the locals, and I remember it being extremely crowded almost all the time.

Early on, there was free bus service, using school buses – the “Loop A” bus stopped right around the corner from our house, and I took one particular bus so often that I remember the exact hour it stopped to pick us up – 1:05 PM! We usually took the bus home, too, but if we missed it, home was less than a mile away, a journey we sometimes made still dressed in our swimsuits and caps!

More recent photos show the pool with water slides and other amenities, but we had no trouble enjoying the stripped-down version of its early incarnation. There were three diving boards at the “deep end” (before the threat of litigation prompted their removal), and if we weren’t doing bellywops or cannonballs off them ourselves, we were standing at the edge of the diving well admiring others’ form – I especially liked to watch people who could do a graceful swan dive or jackknife, something I never managed myself. If someone attempted a serious dive and missed, landing with a loud slap on their back or stomach, there were audible groans (followed by surreptitious laughs) all around.

The lifeguard corps was a group of (mostly male) bronzed gods who sat high up on their blue stands, their faces shaded by white pith helmets, twirling Acme Thunderers around and around their fingers. Occasionally one would blow a shrill tweet and point at some kid who was horsing around in the water a little too enthusiastically, or yell at someone else to “Walk!” on the pool deck (at which most of us offenders would resume our travels with a race walk kind of gait); I don’t think I ever witnessed a rescue.

Tall, blonde, Tom Mohrmon was the Zeus of this group, at least to a large group of pre-teen and teenage female admirers, who several times daily vied for the privilege of dipping his pith helmet into the water and pouring its contents on his feet. Sure, it was a condescending equivalent of “Peel me a grape,” but there was no lack of willing slaves. (I also remember a lot of giggling buzz when he became a substitute teacher at Herricks Junior High a few years later.)

When I was little, my girlfriends and I (no cootie-carrying boys allowed, thank you very much) spent hours playing tea party, which involved sinking down to the bottom of the pool wielding imaginary tea pots, pouring cups of tea and passing them around to the other participants, who obligingly mimed drinking them and smiling at the hostess. We also practiced handstands, summersaults, and the latest water ballet moves, and sometimes ventured over to the “swimming lanes” to do some laps. When our lips were sufficiently blue, we hauled ourselves out of the water and peeled off our white rubber bathing caps, usually pulling out a few hairs at the same time.

Out of the pool, the prime hang-out spot, especially as we neared the teen years, was the umbrella-shaded middle deck, half-way up the slope to the kiddie pool. However, since this area was usually occupied by authentic teenagers or adults, the next best thing was to spread our towels directly on the hot concrete in the lower corner near the vending machines. We’d retrieve a deck of cards from someone’s beach bag and amuse ourselves with several rounds of Old Maid, Rummy, or Go Fish, then stretch out to warm ourselves and burn to a crisp (no such thing as sun block back then). One of us might have a leatherette-covered transistor radio, and we’d gather around and listen to Cousin Brucie, Dan Ingram or Murray the K spin some tunes.

Occasionally, if I had a little leftover from my twenty-five-cent allowance, I might stand in front of the vending machines, trying to choose between a small paper cup of orange or grape soda, bright yellow chicken broth with specks of parsley floating around, or a milky, sugary cup of coffee. More often than not, I had no money, and would just stand and watch as someone else’s cup dropped down into place and filled with the coveted elixir. Once in a while, the empty cup didn’t fall straight in the chute, and all the watchers would exclaim in horror as the buyer jumped into action, batting at the cup to try to right it.

When we were baked enough, we’d replace our bathing caps and head back to the water. Sometimes our play was interrupted by an announcement, booming over strategically-placed loudspeakers: “May I have your attention please? Lifeguards, stop the swimming in the pool!” This usually occasioned near-total quiet, and as the disembodied voice droned on, we’d send sign-language messages to our friends about what to do once the announcements were over, while we hopped impatiently from foot to foot on the hot pool deck. If the day was cooler, legions of little kids stood shivering, skinny arms wrapped around our chests as rivulets of water dripped from the hems of cotton bathing suits.

“Thank you, and back to your swim” was the signal for hundred of kids to throw themselves back into the water, resuming the joyful screaming that was the normal audio backdrop to a day at the pool.

All good things must come to an end, of course, and our swimming day over, we’d troop up the ramp to the bathhouse and into the locker rooms to change back into our street clothes. We’d bring our locker “keys” (numbered disks on elastic bands that we wore around our ankles) to the teenage attendants who would retrieve the corresponding baskets and slide them over the counter to us (I was fascinated by this job and always thought I’d jump at the chance to do it when I was a teenager, but unfortunately, when that time arrived, I was no longer interested in hanging out at the pool.) I loved the way the sun filled the roofless space and warmed our bodies as we stripped off our dripping suits and rolled them up carefully in our towels.

Somehow, as soon as we stepped out of the gate and into the parking lot, the temperature went up 100 degrees, and the trek across the lot seemed like a brutal army mission, picking our way in flimsy thong sandals across broiling asphalt, running with streams of melted tar. I broke the toe loop in more than one pair of sandals by getting them stuck in the gluey mess. I can still smell the sweet and pungent aroma of that hot tarmac!

Everything about those days is so much a part of my memory that now, whenever I hear some public announcement and it ends with the usual cordial “Thank you,” my mind’s ear automatically appends the words, “…and back to your swim!”

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About rangermoi

I'm a former park ranger and teacher, mother of two no-longer-teenage sons, avid cook and reader and the Official Family Memory. I thought I'd better get some of those remembrances down before they all leak out of my senior-moment-affected brain!
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20 Responses to Salt in my Wounds, Chlorine in my Eyes

  1. Tara says:

    Thanks for the memories. I have the same exact ones. I long for those summer days again without a care in the world.

  2. Memory Lane! I also remember the swim team and the competition between Mineola & Floral Park (I live in FP now and my daughter was on their swim team against WP – made me a little sad that we were on the other side!). I also remember joining the sychronized swim team – what fun that was… looking back at all of us in our matching bathing suits & swim caps with the flower! Oh if only I was able to do a swan dive off the high diving board!!! And yes.. the male life guards were bronze gods!! Jeff (who also worked at Chicken DeLight taught us how to swim! And Mr. Kitt (who was a St. Aidan’s social studies teacher was also a lifeguard back in the day! I had him in 8th grade! Later on they had more female guards – my sister Maureen among them! : ) Fun, fond memories!!

  3. Patricia Cosenza says:

    This was great–you really nailed it!! I think the first summer of the pool was 1963–for some reason I seem to remember that the cost of a family membership was something like $60–unbelievable! Our preferred towel spot was in the corner by the diving well, but otherwise it’s the same as you describe. My sister Pam and I did Water Ballet for years, and I also remember going to watch all the diving competitions–Laura Sheridan and Cuppy Hines were the main female contenders in those days, and Denis Wood and Richie Sherman the males. (Readers, if I’m wrong on any of those names, feel free to correct me!) We also used to go watch the Mineola vs. WP staff softball games. Some of the other lifeguards were Paul Scherer, Bob Scheffel (now deceased), Sheila Granito (who married Tom Mohrman, whose brothers’ names were Dick and Harry!), Artie Johnson (also deceased), Tim Wood, Fred Peterson, Ed Zapke, and so many others. Joe Miller is an excellent photographer and used to take a lot of pictures around the pool, and then he would have periodic evening slide shows in the courtyard of the bathhouse to show them–everyone always hoped to see themselves in a shot! And who could forget the pool dances! We even had live bands–I remember one particular night where the AMBs (Ambassadors), a group of guys who were our friends (including Bob Rau and Mike Hinz) played–they were so good! I spent one summer working in the locker room as one of the basket fetchers, and it was a fun summer job (which included being able to go to the staff party at Salisbury/Eisenhower Park). To this day the smell of chlorine and Coppertone will take me instantly back to the pool–those were indeed the best of times!

  4. rangermoi says:

    Pat and Kathleen – so glad you enjoyed my pool memories. I love your contributions, and remember some of those same people!

  5. Carole OBrien says:

    Thank you so much for this blog. I somehow stumbled upon it and I immediately thought “I need to share this with my brothers and sisters.” We lived in Albertson, and our property backed up to Old Motor Parkway. We LIVED at the pool – Mom made sure of that. We took swimming lessons, swim team practices, I think my sister and I did Water Ballet one year. But your descriptions just brought me right back to 1972. I smelled the Coppertone, the rubber swim caps, heard the clink of the metal coin things we wore on our ankles, the rolled towels, the hot, hellish parking lot, the cute lifeguards, the memories of an inocent time. The response I got back almost immediately from my siblings was one of “Oh My God – remember……” It has been decades, but your beautiful descriptions and memories (along with the comments from others) has made this day one that the four of us O’Brien’s all want to email back with additional memories. The Slo Pokes? I had forgotten about them – they were the fire department’s version of how bad ass each of the departments could be. Foxcroft Road (where we lived) used to have Memorial Day and Labor Day block parties. It ended with a huge bonfire on Old Motor Parkway and sometimes a Boogie Patrol (where the adults hid in the darkness with the kids walking with flashlights just waiting to be scared. I don’t know who enjoyed it more, the adults or the kids.) Here are some of the comments from my brothers and sisters:

    From Mary: Oh my gosh. I asked Jake (her son) to read this to me on the way down to hilton head and I would say wait before you read that let me tell you about the lifeguards or the locker room or the hot as hell parking lot and then he would read words I just said. He and I were cracking up he kept asking me if I wrote it. Thanks for sharing.

    From Jim: Every time I drink Nestea from a can and feel that burn at the back of my throat…it takes me back. Also, every time I put one of those stretchy hair thingies in Katie’s (his daughter) hair to hold her ponytail, I remember the brass circles with the numbers on them that we would wear on our wrists. Were those for lockers or to id a floater? I still like to hold my breath underwater like Dad used to. The kids love it! Actually it freaks them out unless I puff out my cheeks like he used to so they know I’m not drowning…..good times. What a great article, thanks.Love you guys,Wow!

    From John: To be a kid again for 1 day…. Maybe watch the Slo Pokes practice racing to the tower or simply to ride my banana seat bike down those hills! The block parties, keep away, kickball, and riding bikes with no hands around and around the block. Waiting for Dad to walk home from the train station. Delivering newspapers and shoveling snow. The Big D, Joanne’s Pizza, Mike’s Barber Shop and all those times we played wiffle ball and hide the bacon in the Back-Back. Even today, every time I see a willow tree I still look for squirrels…. I think all of us have made the pilgrimage back since then, even bringing our kids to show them where we came from. Foxcroft was our own little paradise. We couldn’t have lived in a better place. I’ll see y’all in two weeks…..

    Again, thank you for posting this. You made our day! We moved to Georgia in 1978. We have individually been back to Albertson and for each of us it was a time to remember and remind us of a magical time – when we were kids. Williston Park Pool was a huge piece of that part of our lives. Also, you are a great writer – keep it up. You got four middle-aged people incredibly excited this Sunday, reliving and remembering some really wonderful times. Thank you for that.

    Carole O’Brien

    • rangermoi says:

      Carole, I must say you made my day, sending these comments from you and your sibs! I totally forgot about the Slo Pokes – we used to love going to see the competitions on Old Motor Pkwy (which, by the way, was one of those places where us kids liked to congregate – secretly – my parents didn’t like us hanging out on the Parkway but it had great appeal to us for some reason) – that, and the sand pits behind Park Ave school, where we once made a little raft out of scrapwood (after scaling the chain-link fence, on Easter Sunday, in our best dress clothes, no less!) to pole across one of the huge puddles that would collect there.

      Your block parties sound like great fun! We had them on Park Ave too, but no bonfires, and certainly no Boogie Patrol – great name, and what a lot of fun and great memories for you all. Are your parents still alive? You should share with them your Boogie Patrol memories. My dad died a few months ago at 87 (Mom’s still alive), but he always loved when all of us kids got together with them and shared our childhood memories. It seems like sort of an idyllic childhood, doesn’t it?

      I’m so glad you and your siblings enjoyed my WP Pool memories – and with yours, it seems like you could write your own blog – I’d be happy to read it!

  6. Pingback: Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer | Tangents and Hyperbole

  7. The first year of the pool was 1963, they are having a 50th anniversary dance in August. It was $60 for a family membership in 1963.Patricia-I remember all the life guards you mention. I passed swimming in Sheila Granito’s class.Other life guards were Jim Beatty or Beattie, Paul Popson, Jean Henninger. We called Ed Zapke the “blue whale” the manager in 1963 was Mr. Baldassare,I believe,assistant manager was John Mormanis, head life guard was John? McGovern.Such memories!

    • rangermoi says:

      The name Sheila Granito does sound familiar. Can’t remember who my swimming teachers were, but my parents didn’t allow us to go to the pool unaccompanied until we’d passed at least Swimmer. To my great mortification, though, I never passed Beginner! I took it twice in ’63, then was supposed to take it again in ’64, but refused – I was embarrassed about being in a class with kids so much younger than me (I was almost 10 that summer), and I was afraid I wouldn’t pass, yet again. I also hated the fact that the guards who gave the lessons frequently didn’t get into the freezing cold water with you, just stood on the side and told you what to do. So I signed myself up for Advanced Beginner instead, and passed (to my great relief!). On to Intermediate, then the next summer, Swimmer and Lifesaving. I think I still have some of those little cards and buttons they awarded you for passing (that was the evidence we had to present to my parents in order to go to the pool alone!).

      • I passed Beginner,Intermediate on my first try but I think I took the Swimmer class 3 times and finally passed the third time. When I passed, I was given a Red Cross patch that said “Swimmer” I too hated the fact that the guards frequently did not get into the freezing cold water with you. Sheila Granito married Tom Mohrmann and they are still married. Tom Mohrmann’s dad, also named Tom, died about a year ago. He was in his 90’s. The story in the Williston Times listed all his survivors and mentioned “daughter-in-law Sheila” among others.

  8. Mary Beth Lynch says:

    So fun to read about a place I cherished and frequented as a child myself. Talk of rubber bathing caps made me instantly think of Leisure Time!!! The “locker keys” were a source of entertainment for my friends and I, no paying for “dive sticks” like today…it was provided for us. I can remember anxiously waiting on the edge of the pool for the “adult swim” to end and jump back in. The list of memories could go on and on and I thoroughly enjoyed reading yours. The “Pool” and Williston Park was, I think, a uniquely special place to grow up. While I haven’t lived there for 20+ years, I remember it so fondly and am grateful my parents raised us there!!! Oh, I did work there as a teenager and that was fun too!!!

    • rangermoi says:

      Leisure Time – the store that took over when my favorite, Richmond Hardware, finally closed! Bought a few Speedos there myself! Thanks for your comment, Mary Beth!

  9. Pat says:

    No one has mentioned the special events the beauty pagent, when MIss Williston Park Pool was named, the diving exhibition by the life guards which would usually include some trick dives by costumed clowns and the water ballet performance. I think these were held on 4th of July.

  10. Jayne Clements says:

    Wow! I remember it all. I think I still have a pool pass from 1964. The BEST of times. Cartwheels off the diving board. The chicken broth, swim lessons, bus, baskets, and those beautiful bathing caps!

  11. Pat Sjursen says:

    I was one of the first families to join the pool. I lived on Park Ave. in front of Park Ave. school and was the first bus stop from the pool. The pool was the best for the community, the children all learned how to swim and made many friends and joined in many programs. It was great to spend half the day there. I am happy it is still a great place for the new families that are joining

  12. GSan says:

    Great recall. I spent many, many days there in the 70s, either with my mother and neighbors, or getting dropped off early in the morning for swim lessons. Can still recall trying to get into the freezing water down at the 3 foot end of the pool. No heaters back then. And it was at those vending machines that I discovered Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink.

    • rangermoi says:

      I also was one of those who had to take swim lessons (my parents made us pass through Swimmer before we were allowed to go to the pool alone!), and the pool water was freezing during those morning lessons. Not much sun hitting us, either. And I wasn’t impressed with the lifeguard/teachers who taught us from the pool deck, rather than getting into the water with us poor kids!

  13. chris tree says:

    OMG … the chicken broth!! Brought back so many great memories, thanks!

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