Posted: May 2, 2019 The Longest Summer of my Life
As many of you know, I grew up in New Richmond, the City Beautiful. Before the building of the infamous New Richmond Movie Theatre, where legends aren't just made on the big screen, there weren't nearly as many places for kids to go to be entertained. Mom made things worse by taking the cords to the Nintendo with her to work during the summer so that we would have to go find something to do. I've always loved swimming. My coworkers will tell you I still bring a swimsuit to every convention and business trip in the hopes I might get to swim. When the resort gets busy, I try to work the pool before anything else.
We'd go to the park, the library, the ball field and all of the other places, but we ended up riding our bikes to St. Mary's park outdoor swimming pool 4 times a week on average. The front desk staff knew us by name and the full-time lifeguard, poor Ben Frederick had to tell us to stop running and that whatever we were planning was a bad idea multiple times a day. As luck would have it, poor Ben Frederick would end up also moving to Eau Claire, and become a police officer, where he still has to tell me multiple times a day that whatever I'm planning is a bad idea.
The pool itself was nothing crazy. It averaged 50 degrees for a temp and had a diving board, but we spent more days in that pool with my sisters and friends than anywhere else. So, when they announced that it would be closing after the summer of 1994 and replacing it with a much larger indoor pool with a splash area and a waterslide inside of our upcoming Community Center, we were sad to see our pool go away, but very excited that we'd be able to swim year round in a brand new and much larger pool with cooler features.
Which brings us to the worst summer of my life.
As 7th grade came to a close, our community center was not quite ready to open. We would be beginning the first month of summer without a pool. We were more excited than disappointed and my sisters and I decided to cram a lot of the rest of the summer activities into the first month so that we could go swim the rest of the month.
Two days before the opening of the long-awaited pool, tragedy struck. While carrying a trombone on my 12-speed bicycle, I had a bump in the sidewalk and ended up getting 12 stitches in my leg...and a no swimming restriction until the stitches would be gone in about 3-4 weeks. I remember watching my sisters, their friends, and MY friends hop on their bikes two days later and ride away excitedly to go try out the new pool from the window, like watching a baby when their mom leaves the room. They then had the audacity to come home and talk about how awesome it was all night, before returning every day for the next two weeks straight.
So, when those stitches came out, nothing was going to stop me from going to the pool that day. Not my sisters saying they wanted to do something else. Not my friends not having money that day. Not even the horrible stomach ache I was having and the fever I had from my emergency room nurse. (She could smell a fake illness to get out of school from miles away, but couldn't figure out I was sick for real and faking I was fine? )
I rode my bike down there as fast as I could despite what felt like boulders in my stomach. I splashed in the little kid area like a happy toddler, despite being an eighth grader who probably should have been embarrassed by how many people were watching. I swam laps. I dove for rings on the bottom of the super deep end. I rode the slide so many times that I thought I was going to puke from the pain of getting up the stairs. I even dove from the race platforms dozens of times and belly flopped and let the pool wash away the tears of happiness and pain of my stomach feeling like it was on fire as I bellyflopped on it over and over.
It was the best day of my life up until that point.
Five hours of swimming later, my sisters dragged me out and we rode our bikes home. Pulling into the driveway just as mom got home from work. She asked me if I had loved the pool and then if I was feeling all right. I told her my stomach hurt a little and I was tired. I went to take a shower downstairs before Dad got home for dinner and after getting dressed, I got to the foot of the stairs and sat down too tired and in too much pain to try to get up the stairs. So, I put my head on the 3rd step and fell asleep.
My dad found me an hour later and I asked to skip dinner because I didn't feel well. He helped me to the bed where I stayed until midnight when Mom came to check on me and my fever was on fire and my stomach felt like it was going to explode. Two hours later, I was in surgery for an emergency appendectomy. The doctor said he had never really gotten to see one explode on the table before.
I was okay after a week in the hospital, a whole bunch of stitches later and a really inconvenient moment waking up from anesthesia where I convinced myself it was thirty years later. I was okay... until talking with the poor doctor who gave me the Pete Rose of Punishments, a swimming ban that would last until after school started. The next summer I got a job and then high school. Going to the pool with my sisters and friends became an afterthought. They tell parents all the time, you only get 18 summers with our kids. They should also tell kids you never know that the summer in Mary's Park was your last summer to be so carefree.