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!”