For the past three years I’ve lived not even a half-mile from the St. Louis Park Recreation Center with its beautiful swimming pool. (To be precise, Google Maps tells me it’s .4 miles, or an 8-minute walk.)

St Louis Park Pool.

St Louis Park Pool.

I grew up in pools like this. During our three years in Puerto Rico, where my dad was stationed on an Air Force base when I was ages 9-12, I spent entire summer days in the pool, punctuated by breaks to leap out to get a plate of french fries or an ice cream cone from Tommy, the young Puerto Rican man who worked at the snack bar. After a lot of swimming on a hot day, there was nothing like those plates of french fries with ketchup dribbled all over them, shared with a friend. The teenage lifeguards were the ultimate in cool: so grown-up, so tan, so fit, twirling their whistles, their marks of authority. At 5 p.m., when we heard Taps wafting through the air, we’d leap out of the pool and stand silently and reverently, dripping, hands over our hearts, facing the direction of wherever the American flag was being lowered for the evening. And just to show you what a year-round paradise Puerto Rico was for an outdoors-fun-loving kid, I had my 10th birthday party at the pool, and my birthday is around Thanksgiving.

I learned to swim years before that, though, at pools at other Air Force bases, in Japan and in Waco, Texas. I never took a lesson. Never feared the water, like so many of the friends I met later from more northern climates, without easy access to an outdoor pool (speaking of which, I have never been able to abide an indoor pool. They’re too cold, dim, utilitarian. Swimming, to me, means fun, freedom, sun and warmth. Not just swimming laps.) In gym class, I was generally a klutz. But when we had our swimming unit, I was right at home, while other girls, terrified, one crying even, as I recall, were shoved into the water by our sadistic gym teacher with her cane. My father was a terrific all-around athlete, always playing a sport on some just-for-fun men’s team. Also, he had grown up without parents, since they died when he was little. So, growing up in an orphanage, he was extra conscious of being an involved dad who would leave work to see me in a swim or track meet.

I’ve always been grateful to him for teaching me to swim so young without even really “teaching.” I just picked it up, and I have always felt at home in the water. Later, when I learned more about Judaism and after I’d known for some time that my father was Jewish, I read that the Talmud instructs a father to do three things for his child (son, actually): 1) teach him a way to make a living, 2) find him a spouse, and 3) teach him to swim. I know my father didn’t realize this. He was just being a great dad. But it delighted me to learn that, that he’d unwittingly followed that instruction for being a good Jewish father, like he’d absorbed it from the generations.

Anyway, it was a hot summer afternoon, near 90, humid, too hot to run, and I thought of how great it would feel to be in cool water. In a pool, as in my youth. Pools, where the black lines on the bottom always reminded me of stripes on a watermelon, one of my favorite foods. For someone who loves school and loves to learn, I am such a summer person. Summer always meant freedom, and Iove and need warmth and light. Plus, as an Air Force brat, we moved every few years, and some new schools were halls of dread. I thought of that St. Louis Park city swimming pool that I’ve eyed for 10 years now but never quite had the gumption to visit because I didn’t know how it worked (sounds so silly now that I write it.)

So I went, I swam, I loved it, I thought “how have I lived near this pool for 10 years and never come here?” After swimming laps, I lay on one of the lounge chairs, thought of the ultra-cool “older” lifeguards of my youth, of the Puerto Rico pool. How they are replaced by new ones now who look just like them but were born decades later. I think of those lifeguards I watched from the pool and of what they must look like now. Life goes on; we get older so that there will always be young people on our earth to experience those new stages for the first time.

Finally I packed up my things and left, and as I walked out the door of the Rec Center, adult men were coming in, hauling big gym bags and toting hockey sticks. I realized they were in some kind of rec league. They were enjoying the sports of their youth and the freedom and joy that came with it. For me it was summer swimming. But for these guys raised in Minnesota it was winter afternoons after school, whizzing around on ice skates on a neighborhood pond.