Monday, November 17, 2008

Community Pool

Week of November 9 - 15

The pool re-opened last week. At last!

The past two months the swimming pool doors have been closed to lessons and morning deep-water aerobics and dogged lap-swimmers (or lagging dog-paddlers) – while the pool was resurfaced, a changing room re-arranged. But now this month the pool again re-opens to our rough-edged-mill-town-morphing-into-commuter-community. And just in time.

Last year, I began the morning aerobics class as a reason to meet and talk with a dear friend when our natural paths no longer crossed often enough. But I hadn’t realized how dependent I’d become on the twice-weekly immersion itself.

The first day back last week - rainy gray and cold outside, balmy and bright inside the pool’s fogged-up greenhouse - I felt I’d stepped through into an alternate reality. Through the scratched-up glass I could still glimpse the dismal world I’d left behind, but here was warmth and light and laughing voices, voices softened by echoes re-echoing off the rippled water. Here were friendly faces I hadn’t seen since summer – grandmotherly many of them, or like myself, women of a certain age – but softened and clean, our bodies buoyed up not only by the water and our excess lipids, but by the matching light-blue foam belts strapped snugly around our waists, right over our navels. Here was, in fact, a return to the primal sea, maternal and cradling.

Malyssa, who leads us, made us work hard and at the end of the hour, we could feel it – muscles, blood in our veins, our lungs filled out with effort. Our cramped and tightly bound individualities relaxing and expanding in the safety of the community pool.

This weekend my husband took our son to visit grandparents the next state over. And – while the cat’s away – my daughters and I went to a friend’s to make rolls for Thanksgiving. Though if that had truly been our only goal the afternoon and evening would not have been a success – yeast refusing to rise, the oven’s top element refusing to heat. In the middle of all our talking, laughing, grousing, and the kids (her teenage boys, my daughters) in the background playing board games like the cousins they were meant to be – we broke away – she and her boys to another friend’s for dinner, my older daughter splitting off for ice-skating with her group of girls and boys, my younger daughter and her friend with me to the Island to serve at a benefit dinner for a 9-year-old boy who’d just undergone open-heart surgery.

The dinner was held at the Island's community fire station. We stopped for our CSA share at the farm on our way, though no one was there and the barn was dark, the walk-in cooler stacked doubly, triply full with the gathering harvest – evidence of a good week’s work by many hands.

Turning out toward the main ring road, we noticed how dark the way and all the roads unlit. I realized I’d left the directions to the benefit dinner at home. But on a small island there are only so many places a fire station could be, so we drove out to merge onto the ring road. Lights from a few cars approached, passed, obviously traveling together. And further down the way, headlights converged from an intersecting road.

“Should we just follow them?”

“Sure, why not.”

And of course, another curve of the road and there was the sign for the fire station, dimly lit, and an impromptu parking lot already filling up in a neighboring field. Inside the barn-like station: tables and chairs ready for diners, longer tables full of donated pies, garden implements and other gifts for the coming raffle, and a kitchen of eager helpers. The girls with their friendly faces were set up with a roll of tickets and a cash box. I donned plastic apron and gloves and found my place behind mountainous bowls of potato salad, macaroni salad, green salad, jello salad and corn on the cob, chatting with the women on either side, joking with the people coming through the line.

Half the faces coming through the line I knew – my congregation shares our church building with another congregation taking in those who live out this way. But it became obvious as the dinner progressed, as the kitchen cleared out and my daughter and her friend and I paid for our own plates of food and found seats with neighbors of ours, that the community here on the Island was more neighborly, more tightly knit than our own small town. The auctioneer seemed to know all the other Island-people by first name. And then, the easiness and private jokes between passing Islanders, cheerily fighting their way through the crowd to their seats. Even many of their faces, rosy, round-cheeked, seemed to share a family resemblance. I wanted suddenly and deeply to live there and be part of that knittedness. Later, when we returned to my friend's house to finish up roll-making, I comment on the Island’s tight community. “Yes, and lots of cancer there, too. I think there’s something in the water.” I suppose she would know after her years on the watershed council.

Why do all our dreams of safety, snugness, coming home, have to break and wake this way? Because hasn’t everyone at some time toyed with the dream of living on an island – with a single bridge like a drawbridge over a moat? Or a ferry only. Or no ferry service, just your own boat, water dripping from the paddles and no other sound but the sudden flight of a white crane as you approach your island’s shore and your own familiar town waiting, all the houses of your friends. No longer strangers . . .

My schedule is certainly easier with husband and son gone this week. Nearly full-grown daughters are fully capable of dressing, feeding, transporting themselves, directing their own schedules. Meals are easy. 

From some fresh green beet tops another member of the CSA had trimmed away as so much refuse and left in the pass-along bin (even though beet greens are close kin to chard, sweet and green-and-red, and full of nutrients!) I play around and make up something new for dinner. Everything fresh from the farm: new carrots, fresh-grown celery, good hard onions. Well, almost everything – I had a half-used carton of beef broth in the fridge and I suppose if I were a full-cloth back-to-nature fiend I’d have made homemade noodles. But not when Mrs. Weiss' Kluski Noodles are to be found in the local Safeway. The girls and I dub this new creation Poverty Soup, made as it is from discarded vegees, though it is rich and filling. 

I love the freedom of these days, but then as evening draws on I feel unsettled coming back up to the house, knowing our menfolk are still away. I sleep in the middle of the bed with extra pillows piled up all around me and a stack of books and the light on.

On Tuesday, back at the pool, I find myself exclaiming how great it is to be back in the water, working out together, how I can feel the pieces of my life falling back into their places. We drift around in the water, working against our own currents, trying to stay out of each other’s way. Dressing afterwards – actually, blow-drying my feet before putting on my second (dry) set of socks before going back out to bike around my errands in the pouring rain – I fall into conversation with a woman coming in all swaddled up in coat and hat and gloves.

I don't think I've ever spoken to her before, but soon I know her husband's also gone this week. He’s in the fishery, often and regularly gone. While I don items of attire and she doffs, we talk about the freedom of being alone, the chance to divest ourselves of routines, schedules, other people’s clutter. We talk about owning things, how they get to own us. There is complete agreement between us and as I stand there, zipping up my raingear and buckling on my helmet, it strikes me that there aren’t many places you can have a serious philosophical discussion with someone dressed only in a fur cap and a bra.

Maybe only at the community pool.

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