Is there anywhere better than the pool on a hot summer day? Allyson Loomis tells us about the carefree community that forms around her city pool.
The Fairfax Pool is a public pool on the south side of Eau Claire. It’s a half-acre of cool, chlorinated aquamarine, a blue earth-set gem, with enough reflective power, it seems, to bounce the summer heat right back up into the sky. There’s a waterslide, a kiddy fountain and a diving well, too. A canvas canopy over the concrete deck shades dozens of summer-weary adults—the parents, guardians and caregivers of all the swimming kids. There have got to be about 200 kids frolicking in the pool on a July afternoon. I’m there with my two children who, once sunscreened and goggled, turn their backs on me and skip toward the water.
Toddlers piddle around the south shore of the pool, which, at its edge, is only as deep as a shot glass. Bigger kids venture out to where their feet don’t touch. You have to be 40 inches to ride the waterslide alone, a fact that forces some lumbering adults into the mid-pool crush. Down the slippery chute come these brave elders—mothers and fathers, big sisters and big brothers—each one holding a grinning preschooler, each one raising that small fry up high, protecting that child from the slide’s final, face-rippling plunge. Exhausted-looking mothers dip their infants’ feet into the pool. Somebody’s granddad shouts at a pack of grade school boys, “Time to get out! Time to go home!” Nobody’s listening. Finally, Grandpa kicks off his shoes, wades in, and grabs a toe-headed yeller by the rash guard.
None of the assembled kids are swimming, really, not in the manner they’ve been taught at swim school. Mostly, this is cats-in-a-sink-style swimming, the Bounce-and-Plunge, the Twirling-Geyser, the Full-Body-Fling, the Mom-Watch-This! Kids hang on to each other, chase each other, sneak up on each other using the silent-underwater-predator approach, angling for the ankle grab, for the sudden splash in the face. There are backhand splashers, fist-to-surface splashers, palm-forward splashers and whole-arm splashers; there are laughing splashers and screaming splashers. If you don’t want to get splashed, then stay out of the pool.
Equal opportunity, fully-saturated joy is what the Fairfax Pool offers up in the short blaze of Wisconsin summer. Everyone—black kids, white kids, Hmong kids, Latino kids, privileged and underprivileged, generically abled and differently abled—everyone becomes a touch unhinged in the cool brilliance of the pool. “Oh my god, this water feels so good,” says a woman in a skirted, thick-strapped bathingsuit. She has bent, arthritic hands. Near her is a man with a fully tattooed arm that features the names and dates of departed loved ones. He sinks into the water with his little girl against his chest, singing a nursery song.
Surely at 7:00pm when the Fairfax closes, all the swimmers, the young and the old, will wrap up in towels and go back to their lives, their troubles and losses waiting for them right where they dropped them, on their way to the pool. Surely we will all go back to our fears and suspicions, our various grievances, for we are imperfect beings.
But for now, I’m up to my knees in the Fairfax Pool and I’m watching my kids, frog-faced in their goggles, capering and laughing, diving and surfacing. I’m watching all the kids in this shared public place. Here, we are all soaked in happiness, during this brief, precious season of long days and light. Here’s what I’m thinking: “This is my community. This is the life.”