My “swimming pool” was a metal tub, about 3 feet wide and 5 feet long, made of galvanized steel. The outer surface was painted a light green. My grandfather had constructed it for my father years before. It was stored in the loft of the garage in the winter, but in the summer it was brought out and filled with water. Clearly there was no way, even at 7 or 8, that I could swim in it, but it served as the perfect place to splash around and cool off on hot summer days.
Billy Winship was the only person I knew who had a real swimming pool, a real dug in the ground one behind his house on Pondview Drive. The neighbors were not happy when the machinery arrived to dig up the yard. The homes on Pondview were newer and more expensive. The neighbors were afraid this would bring down property values.
They were not the only ones wary of swimming pools in those days. Summertime meant hearing about children paralyzed with polio, seeing images of iron lungs, and feeling a growing panic about this disease. Many parents saw swimming pools as a breeding ground for this disease. When I invited friends to join me in my “pool,” some of their parents wouldn’t let them come.
Polio was scary, but not an unfamiliar word to me. My father didn’t talk about it much, but my mother told me about how he had contracted it as a young man. His father worked with him daily to try to restore him to health, but, in the meantime, he lost his job at Mass Mutual, and his girlfriend at the time left him for another man. (My mother always told this part with a smile).
While I was splashing around in that steel tub, I never made the connection that this had been a place of healing for my father, that this tub had been made for him by his father as a place to work his muscles in an effort to save them. It must have been a painful experience for both of them. It cannot be easy to purposely inflict excruciating pain on your only child.
My grandfather spent day after day working his son’s muscles. My father told me once that one of the happiest days of his life was when, after week upon week of work with his father, he had been able to move his arm just two inches away from his side.
By the time I was born several years later, my father showed no effects of the disease except for the spot at the base of his thumb which was concave where the muscle had atrophied. All those days my grandfather and father had worked together had paid off. .
When I remember that green tub now, I remember less the summer days I spent cooling off in it, but more of the love and dedication of the two men it represents.