Every year at this time, I catch myself getting nostalgic about the Memorial Days of my youth.
Not the holiday itself, but two of my favorite things about it. Both were only marginally related to the purpose of Memorial Day, to remember and honor those who have gone before. Chalk that up to the priorities of youth.
The first was my Aunt Amy’s fried chicken. Every year the clan motored to her farm to lay flowers on relatives’ graves and enjoy a dinner that began with chasing down chickens in her barnyard. The chase was the first step in preparing what is, to this day, the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted.
The second was the opening of Lowell Pool, next door to Lowell School in Boise’s North End. It opened every year on Memorial Day weekend. For families who lived in that part of the town, Lowell Pool was the neighborhood pool — and a magnet for every kid old enough to dog paddle.
I happened to be in the old neighborhood last week for a Little League baseball game at Lowell School. The team we’d come to cheer was running away with it, and with the outcome seemingly assured I decided to walk over and have a look at the old pool where so many carefree summer days were spent.
If the changes in it were an indication, my last visit was longer ago than I’d thought. When we were kids, the pool was new. We were there, towels and nose plugs in hand, when it opened for the very first time. Now, it’s ancient. Brown smudges stain its cinder block walls, and despite ongoing maintenance the overall impression is one of benevolent decrepitude.
Curious, I walked around to the northwest side to see if the old pine tree was still there, the one we used to sneak in before the annual opening on the holiday weekend. The days were hot, the nights sultry. Waiting for a swim was patently impossible.
Readers familiar with Lowell Pool know that it’s one of the above-ground variety, identical to the one at South Junior High School. To get to the pool level, you passed through the shower rooms on the ground floor and climbed a flight of stairs to the pool itself. The pine tree had a long, lower limb that ended above the circular walkway around the pool. With the help of an accomplice providing a boost to get to the limb, it was possible to crawl its length, drop to the walkway and enjoy a dip.
This was the method my buddies and I used to sneak in under cover of darkness and have the pool all to ourselves. There was an element of risk, of course. You could fall from the limb or, worse, get caught and be grounded until you were middle-aged. This lent the delicious aspect of danger to the proceedings and made the payoff even better. Cold as the water was that early in the season, the memory of those forbidden moonlight swims remains a thing of beauty.
The limb is gone now, removed long enough ago that the scar on the trunk has long since healed. A skeptic would question whether there was ever a limb long enough to facilitate trespassing. Some limbs higher up are plenty long enough, however, and a call to one of my former partners-in-crime confirmed the story. He remembered the exquisite pleasure of the illicit swims, too.
The pool’s high dive is gone now, or perhaps taken down for the off season. How many trips did we make to the end of the diving board and stand there, shivering, only to chicken out before taking the transformative leap that brought instant admiration from lesser mortals?
Across 28th Street, Hamburger Korner also is gone.
Hamburger Korner was almost as popular as the pool itself. It served a zillion varieties of flavored Coke but was best known for its signature sandwich — the Belly Buster. Anyone who ever had one will tell you that the Belly Buster was among the greatest burgers ever made. It was a sad day when Hamburger Korner closed, giving way to a succession of businesses in the diminutive, flat-roofed building it once occupied, the latest being North End Nails.
The Little League game was winding down by the time I ambled across the decades back to the ball field, having stayed longer than intended. That night, I dreamed about those sun-drenched afternoons at the old pool.
Billy Bader was there, giving as good as he got in a water fight. Timmy Hally was practicing cannonballs off the low dive. Ruth and Kip, two of the lifeguards with whom every boy in the neighborhood was hopelessly infatuated, were as gorgeous and unapproachable as ever. They were a few years older, and to us they were goddesses. To them, we were obnoxious pests.
We were there virtually every summer afternoon from the day the pool opened until the sad day in September when it closed and school started. We couldn’t get enough of the place, often returning after dinner and swimming until the pool closed for the night. It was easily our favorite summer haunt, the scene of happy moments beyond counting.
Kids today have so much more than we did. Nicer homes, better schools, infinitely more entertainment options. They’re beneficiaries of a digital world we couldn’t have imagined.
But at risk of being curmudgeonly, I wonder if they have as much fun.
Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.