Summer Fun

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In case you haven’t noticed, it’s summer. If you’re a parent, your kids are begging you to take them to the swimming pool. So now is the perfect opportunity for one of those, “When I was a kid” lectures that kids enjoy so much. In this instance, you get to tell them all about how, when you were a kid, you couldn’t afford to go to the pool because—while there may not have been a depression on, the 70s were on, and—at least as far as we remember it—that was way worse.

Growing up in Abilene, TX, there were no public pools. There had been, but they were all memories by the time I got old enough to go swimming. I can remember riding around in the car with my parents and—I’m not making this up—having them point out all the places where public swimming pools used to be. Apparently, at one time in Abilene’s history, public swimming pools were as numerous as evangelical churches (if you don’t know what I mean by this, you’ve never been to Abilene) but, at some time in the late 60s or early 70s, they all got filled in. I don’t know why. Maybe it wasn’t intentional. Maybe it was just all the dust and, one spring, they decided it was no longer worth having someone clean it out so they just filled it in the rest of the way.

The nearest public pool, then, was at the Abilene State Park, a wonderful facility with nature trails and picnic tables and a spring fed pool that couldn’t have been any colder if they’d filled it up with dry ice. It was twelve miles south of town and, for the last couple miles before the park, we’d make my father roll up the windows and turn off the air conditioning* so we would be hot enough to really appreciate the pool. This insured that, when you took that first plunge into the pool, you were completely blind for the next seven minutes as your head, literally, split in two. You know that feeling we call “brain freeze” you get when you have a really cold snow-cone or bad potato soup? Imagine that times ten and you’ve got the pool at the Abilene State Park (which is actually closer to the town of Buffalo Gap, but who’s counting?).

* Turning off the air conditioner didn’t really make the temperature in my dad’s car any less cool. The only people who were cooled off by that air conditioner were those on the front seat who got sprayed periodically with what we were told was “condensation” but I’m pretty sure was a mixture of Freon and antifreeze.

Without a pool, this meant that we had to find a way to cool off at home. One of the greatest ways to do this was to invite some friends over to play with a product the Wham-O corporation called the “Wiggle Worm”™. The Wiggle Worm was this thing that looked like a cross between a space alien and a rubber mushroom that you attached to the end of a standard garden hose. What it was supposed to do when you turned on the water was use it’s powerful nozzle (hidden under the mushroom) to blast water all over the yard and dance around and get everyone wet and provide hours of good clean fun. What it did in reality was lay wherever it was you had put it when going over to the spigot to turn the water on and use it’s high-pressure nozzle to drill a hole in your yard. At this point someone gets the idea that maybe all it needs is a little help. So they would pick it up and toss it gaily in the air as everyone giggled in anticipation.

At which point it would fall back to the earth and start digging another hole. I think this was what it was intended for. Years later someone would come up with a high pressure hose that would allow you to cut a trench in your yard with water without damaging tree roots or underground pipes. I’m pretty sure all it was, was just a Wiggle Worm with the head pulled off.

Eventually, someone would just hit on the idea of grabbing the Wiggle Worm and pointing the spray nozzle at someone else, causing welts the size of anacondas but satisfying everyone as this was basically why we got out in the yard in our swimsuits and with a water hose to begin with. I can’t imagine why they took it off the market. Probably some personal injury lawyer ruined another childhood rite of passage for all of us.

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