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Archive for the ‘Nostalgia’ Category

I wrote an entire book and movie about the changes in America over the past one hundred years. (I shamelessly encourage you to order “Gamaliel’s Advice” on Amazon or wherever.) While I can’t vouch for living through a full century, I can offer somewhat of an eyewitness account for the past six decades.

One such testimony includes that of The Green Brook Swim Club, the site of so many of my boyhood-to-adolescent summer memories. I recently went back for “Family Day” only to find out that it is struggling to keep its gate open. The question is, “Why?” It is not as simple as arithmetic.

To say that organizations, in general, have run their course because of a lack of membership dues is a little too simplistic for this sentimental swimmer. No, I think the fate of my former club has more to do with the “why” of the decline in membership. It seems to mirror the changes in our country. The waiting-list here used to stretch past the three-year mark. There were good reasons.

My mom was the mother of seven. The swim club’s dues were a financial sacrifice for our family. After all, there were plenty of bills ahead of R & R. But, in the end, it was a steal for that many kids and their guests. It was a magnet for family picnics. In the midst of the typical barbecue wafts, Mom had the distinction of spicing up the picnic area with the smell of homemade tomato sauce. The nose of every man in the club were teased enough for them to drift over to compliment Lucy and beg a taste. As they looked down into the gigantic pot of sauce sitting on a BBQ grill really meant for burgers and dogs, they might see chicken one week, pork the next or meatballs and some varied  combination the following Sunday.

For my mom, the club was a bargain and a rallying place for our family, not to mention a great place for Lucy to get out of her hot kitchen.

Green Brook was not exactly next door which means it drew members from several towns. We regularly rode our bikes from neighboring North Plainfield through scorching heat and wicked downpours which made the jump in the pool all the more rewarding.

Once inside the gate, there seemed to be an endless, albeit routine, list of things to do. I loved shuffleboard and can still hear the scrape of the chalky discs rubbing against the concrete as they slid onto the favored “10” or the dreaded “-10.” There was “Beep, Beep” which was our version of “Marco Polo.” Leading on the unfortunate one who was “It,” I’d tap them on their shoulders, then quickly dive directly under them only to emerge several seconds later, customarily to accuse them of opening their eyes.

My first great pool memory involved Lucille, my older sister. One day, I was walking along the deeper end with her when we heard the lifeguard’s whistle, followed by the foreboding cry, “Deep Water Test in fifteen minutes.”

“Why don’t you try it?” she asked. As a seven year-old, I didn’t dare. That was 12-feet deep and who knew what monsters lurked down there. Just then, a ladybug landed on my shoulder.

“That’s good luck,” she prodded. What a great persuader. No wonder she ended up becoming a lawyer!

One minute I was holding her hand tightly, the next moment I was proudly holding the coveted “Deep Water” badge which opened up a new world of diving board acrobatics and marked me with a bit of honor that I left permanently pinned to my bathing suit. It also allowed me access to witness my brother John’s impressive gainers and backflips from the high board.

As I grew into my teens, I loved to bake in the sun, get the best tan in town and go up on the sun deck where members of the opposite sex were baring their wares. It was there that I discovered that a particular blonde was the most beautiful girl in my class. I could almost notice the subtleties of her basting perfection and progression from her tan lines with each passing day.

Speaking of “hot,” there was the basketball court in the parking lot. Between the competition and the sweltering temperatures, it was the place to be. Upon reentering the pool area, we felt as if we had marched through the city gates as triumphant soldiers with more than one glance up at the sun deck.

Meanwhile, my brother Paul seemed to be unbeatable in Pinochle and it ranked as a rewarding pastime because it was one of the few pleasures that my dad indulged in whilst being my baptism into the game that would become a family tradition that still goes on today.

All of these memories seemed to be a counterpoint to the possibility that the Green Brook Swim Club could become just that: a memory.

Life doesn’t offer a lot of simple answers, but I’d venture that this pool’s troubles have something to do with our nation’s prosperity. What was a Memorial Day-through-Labor Day continuous-vacation-on-the-cheap for my parents turned into a big yawn for succeeding generations and their parents. For example, I looked across the club’s fence to the back yard of a single-family home and there stood a a sophisticated playground – easily bigger and grander than the one the entire club uses in their picnic area. That means that it’s an economic reality that individual families can afford a bigger and better play set than what the dues of many can purchase. It made me wonder how many families now had their own pools. I have one and just yesterday I went to a party and they had a park-like pool, complete with a water fall.

And while towns have had pools for many years, it seems that public ones now have more guaranteed funding than private swim clubs can sustain.

When asked if he would join the club today, my brother Michael noted that it would take his attention away from his boat. His boat? When we were kids, a boat was for the upper crust. I’ve had a boat. They are a bit more common today.

Additionally, the sizes of families have shrunk dramatically. If my family and two other good Catholic clans showed up on the same Sunday, the whole club would joke about a takeover with our numbers of nine, eleven and thirteen, respectively, leaving little room in the picnic area for others. With smaller families, there are a few more bucks to throw around at summer camps, second homes, vacations and the aforementioned boats and pools.

“Family Day” seemed to be ironically named because although there were several there, the parking lot attested to the fact that families had taken their action somewhere else. It’s ironic because this generation and their younger parents’ mantra is all about “community.”

Joining the Green Brook Swim Club in your area may knock off two birds with one stone: you’ll save  the money that it takes to build and maintain a pool and you’ll discover the community that families and individuals still need.

Come in. The water is fine.

BELOW: (CLOCKWISE) THE OPENING IN THE FENCE WHERE MOM USED TO PUT THE HUGE POT OF SAUCE; THE WONDERFUL POOL WHERE MY SISTER PAULA AND I GOT A FEW LAPS IN, SMILING AS WE SWAM TOWARD ONE ANOTHER JUST LIKE THE GOOD OLD DAYS; THE ADOLESCENT BOY’S DREAM – THE SUN DECK; THE SHUFFLEBOARD COURT WHERE I LOVED TO REPLACE MY OPPONENT’S DISC WITH MY OWN; THE YACCAS PROUDLY DISPLAYING THE 50-YEAR CLUB MEMBERSHIP T-SHIRT; MY BROTHER MICHAEL CELEBRATING HIS BIRTHDAY JUST LIKE WE USED TO DO WHEN HE WAS THE AGE OF HIS DAUGHTER, ERIN, SEATED TO HIS RIGHT; MY OLDEST SISTER, MARY ANN (IN YELLOW), WHO STILL BELONGS TO THE CLUB AND INVITED US ALL DOWN FOR “FAMILY DAY” AND FAMILY DAY IT WAS, PERHAPS ONE LAST TIME. 

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