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Steve Mullen: The Y pool experience, without the Nehi

 

Steve Mullen

 

A kid shouldn''t be forced to make it through summer without access to a body of water. In "Caddyshack," Chevy Chase said he had pool and a pond. Either would be good for the kids. But we have neither, so we had to go looking. 

 

Luckily the downtown Columbus YMCA is up the street. My wife joined us up yesterday, putting my kids in that special fraternity of children that swim with strangers. 

 

Actually the Y is nice here. The pool is enclosed, and isn''t crowded -- at least it wasn''t yesterday afternoon. Maybe half a dozen kids, mine included. 

 

Back in Clinton, I grew up in a Y pool. In my memory I can picture the Clinton, Miss., YMCA, circa 1978, as a small bunker-like cinderblock building with a few weight benches inside and a gigantic pool in the back, surrounded by a 12-foot chain-link fence with barbed wire at the top. It was like a Y that German POWs would use. And it was full -- and I mean full -- of kids all summer. 

 

In 21st century Columbus, kids check in to the Y, at a desk. They don''t climb the fence. They''re given a wristband, just like in a hospital, so responsible people know they belong there. In 1978 we had no wristbands or responsible people, though chances were pretty good we might end up at a hospital. 

 

No food or drink is allowed at the Columbus pool. This is unlike 1978, when you could buy a Nehi orange soda -- in a glass bottle -- and run wherever you want. (Flip-flop technology was substandard then. The strap was loosely connected to the base with a little circular piece of plastic that often popped out, causing children to trip, fall down, and shatter their Nehi bottles on the concrete.) 

 

These were real issues that didn''t seem like a problem 32 years ago.  

 

Also, somewhere along the line, diving boards became dangerous. You''re hard pressed to find one at a public pool anymore -- the best you can do is find the shaved metal bolts and discolored concrete where one used to be. (What happened? Did Gloria Allred sue somebody?)  

 

When I was the age my kids are now, the Y pool in Clinton had two diving boards. To an 8-year-old, the first one was frightening. The second one -- the high dive -- was downright repressed-nightmare terrifying. Kids who just climbed the 12-foot fence to sneak into the pool wouldn''t go near it. To dive off either one, you had to stand on the edge and yell at the 3,000 children directly underneath that you''re coming, and hope they all follow the unwritten Law of the Pool and get out of the way.  

 

Never mind the diving boards, we''re not going on them anyway. The water itself is dangerous enough. With all these kids, who knows what percentage is water, and what is ... recycled Nehi?  

 

Growing up, my dad eventually put a pool in our backyard, and we said goodbye to the Y. But I''m glad I get to take my own kids and say hello again, only without the barbed wire and glass bottles.

 

Steve Mullen is Managing Editor of The Dispatch.

 

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