Mid-July has always been a special time of year for me. As a child growing up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, summer days meant hanging out all day at the swimming pool. Our family had some kind of Social membership at Meadia Heights Country Club south of Lancaster. That let us into the pool, but we could not play golf. That was for the “real” members of the golf club.
But it made no difference to us kids. We showed up when the pool opened at 9 or 10 a.m. It was a common point of summer to spend the entire day in the sunshine.
Some summer along the way a bunch of us were recruited to join the swim team. I recall those cold morning practices when the clouds hung low in the sky. It was always tough to get into the pool. We traveled around to other pools to race. That was the extent of my competitive swimming career.
Most days I’d grab my towel and run the half mile from my house at 1725 Willow Street Pike down to the pool. We lived right next to the practice range, a broad, open field of grass dotted with those tiny plants whose heads stuck between your bare toes when you ran. There was plenty of clover as well, so you had to be careful not to step on a bee and get stung along the way.
But it was green all around. The massive acreage of the golf course was so inviting that at times I’d go out in my bare feet to sprint across the fairways in late afternoon when the golfers had finished and the grass was cool. That sensation of running on closely mown summer grass has never been lost on me. Later in my college years, we ran plenty of races on golf courses, wearing medium spikes to get a grip but not tear up the turf too much. I don’t think that happens as much as it once did. And that’s a shame.
These associations stick with you in some way. Even as adults, there are tiny impressions from youth and summer memories that slip through. The smell of the lily blossoms I clipped from the garden have filled the house with sweet smells. That richness in the air was rife in Pennsylvania, a humid, often rainy environment rich in gardens and farm country.
In fact, the rains are about to arrive here in Illinois this morning. I’ll go out to the three-season room to work on my writing projects and wait for the rains to come rushing in. So many mornings in Pennsylvania I’d be working on drawings or putting a model together when the thunder would gather and the rain came down in sheets.
After the rains, I’d sometimes go out in bare feet to stomp in puddles and wander the neighborhood. This was heaven to me. The cool water rushing over my feet. Worms crawling across the road.
Then came the sun again. Steam would rise off the black streets as the rains evaporated. We’d then pedal our bikes down to the pool for the rest of the day. The pool water would be slightly cooler from the rain at first. But the sun would do its job as the afternoon proceeded. Then it felt good to be deep in the blue water, hidden from the world in a way.
All these elements; the swimming, the riding bikes and the running. These have been constants in life for so long. Now they’re combined in the sport of triathlon, which feels much like play. I pray that I don’t have to give up on any of them. The height of summer is also the center of life.