I don't like the heat much. There was a landing in the desert somewhere long ago. The recorded weather gave the temperature as one hundred and twenty six. I asked the controller to confirm that, as we didn't have the performance data for even one degree higher. He said "but it's a dry heat". Flying a big Pillsbury crescent roll tube with wings while the Junior Officer with me couldn't whip one mule's worth of cold air out of the a.c. system, I was less then amused. My delicate ladylike reply was "so's my *#(* oven but I don't want to land there. . . . .
For this weekend, after Barkley is napping after a day of playing in the pool EJ bought him yesterday, and friends gather for a cookout, a story of cool, liquid refreshment. . . .
Certain smells bring back certain memories.
The smell of Charlie perfume reminds of a six month stint I did working in London, when I bought some from the local chemist and wore it every day. Probably because I couldn't find any Hoppes No. 9 to wear behind each ear.
I love the smell of a deer camp first thing in the morning, the air soft as corn silk but crisp with the burnished odor of dying leaves. So many thoughts that wake to the hint of coffee in the air as someone brews a pot before the sun has even peeked out from under the cover of night.
I love the smell of sap, the essence of honeyed wood as I split a piece for the fire, driving into the heart of it, releasing its essence.
And that unique smell of ammonia, bleach and cold wet feet. Ahhh. The swimming pool.
We started lessons there as soon as we could run away from our Mom towards the water. I remember a silly little girl's bathing suit, with flowers and some awful skirt thing, and worst of all, a swimming cap. Why did I have to wear a bathmat on my head, I lamented to my Mom. It smelled like one, and pulled on my hair as it went off. She said "they don't want long hair in the pool, only boy's don't have to wear one".
My answer to that - a short haircut. A very short haircut. Not short enough someone would think I was a boy, but short enough that I got to use that cap for a turtle transport system when cleaning out their little plastic bowl and not for the pool.
We'd jump around in the warm water, pushing ourselves through its form with our growing bodies. Pressure, movement, force, displacement, never seeming to tire. Then, a big splash from another kid jumping in, the surge a tide against my back. Or was I "it" again? To our imaginations, it wasn't a swimming pool, it was an ocean, full of pirates and sharks. A sun kissed stream with mysterious currents waiting to grab us by the ankle and pull us under, or is that my brother?
We'd have to be drug from the water, protesting like Greenpeace, not wanting to put on our street clothes and eat supper.But we would, as tomorrow would be an early morning back in the station wagon, headed southwest to my Uncle's ranch where we'd spend our vacations.
During the school year, we'd head to the Y for the occasional family swim night; in the summers we'd go several times times a week, chasing each other around like seals until shooed out by the lifeguard. A quick rinse off and we'd be back in shorts and a T-shirt, my thick auburn hair, still short, drying in the breeze as we rode in the back of a pickup truck in the hot night air, the few miles back to home.
That's likely illegal now, riding in the back of the truck, but in a town with about 3,000 residents, a slow speed limit and my Mom the sheriff, no one was likely to attempt to play chicken with the vehicle or run us off the road.
In high school the whole pool situation got even better as we actually had a high dive. The high dive was the best thing in the world, four quick steps, a spring and a big leap of faith out into the abyss. I never tried out for the swim team, I got my letter in track, but my oldest brother was a star competitor, and there weren't too many nights when we didn't come home into the kitchen famished and smelling faintly of Clorox.
Pools and I sort of lost touch in adulthood, vacations being a thing of the past with family and land to take care of and a busy career. Though I did get a survival course that plunked me into a body of water with a bunch of guys and an uninflated raft which we were somehow supposed to climb into. As typical, I went first, and realized that without something for my toes to spring off of, getting into that raft was going to be a little harder than I thought. I turned around, looked at the faces behind me, not sure exactly how to act with a girl in their midst and said "look, forget the sexual harassment crap, put your hands on my ass and PUSH!" And they did, popping me into that raft like a cork where I could get it stable and help them in.
Still makes me laugh. (as did the "no diving" instructions for foot and a half deep kiddie pool).
Perhaps it's just the memory of happy childhood times without all the angst and emotions that adults can put in your lap, dragging you down. Perhaps it's just that ebb and flow of water, setting a cadence to the flow of innocence as it is slowly swept away, by time, by experience. But it's been too long since I climbed in a hotel pool.
Travel in those days wasn't a chore, as children we didn't dread it, we lived it. We'd sleep to time's carousal and wake to the laughter of God, echoing in the splash of the perfect cannon ball into the deep end. The deep end, where we threw ourselves, our reason and restraint, into the blue and simply waited for it to embrace us.
So there I was the other night in a a fancy hotel with a pool. I could sit and stare at the walls waiting for seasons to pass in their ordered immortal sequence. I could make origami out of USA today, for it's no good for reading. There had to be something else to do. This place was too expensive for families with kids, and all the businessmen were having free drinks at happy hour. No one was going to notice if I slip into the pool in a pair of work out shorts and a T shirt and swam a few laps.
And I did, watching my shadow on the wall as I did a cannon ball right near the big sign that says "no diving", watching the water lap against the pool filter outlet as I manage to do an underwater turn coming up in a butterfly stroke that I thought I'd forgotten.
But there was no response.
I climbed from the pool, heart pounding from the exercise, and grabbed my towel to head back towards my room. There I climbed into the shower, still clothed, to rinse the chlorine from my workout gear and my hair, letting the water sluice over me until it grew cold.
As I stared in the mirror at a wet haired form, I only saw memory. For in memory, I would see my small, wet self there so many years ago in the silly swim suit with flowers. I'm still as unfashionable as ever, but now I wear my hair down my back like a red badge of defiance.
The water does more than baptise us, it washes us clean, it propels us out on waves of laughter into one buoyant moment when there are no worries. Children aren't the only ones to drop their guard in these moments of play, when for a moment the evanescent clutter of an adults life sweeps away. So not caring if I was kicked out of the pool for diving or for actually having a good time, I splashed and cavorted in a pool of water that had the bottomless candor of a child's face. Simple fun without unreasonable expectations, something we adults seem reluctant to grasp. And for the first time in a few long, hot, hard weeks of work, my face emptied of worry, I laughed like a child.
And I wonder about the next time I jump into the water, not caring what people think. Will I recall at that moment, all those days of freedom, of the smell of lemons in the California air, the sun on my nose, growing yet another freckle, all the worries of anything other than this moment, washed away? Will I taste the water, clear and smelling ever so faintly of bleach, as it swirled down the drain with all my future tears?
The worlds will ring out like the slap of water against a childhood friend.