Sunday, July 05, 2009

There's A Summer Place......

As I've mentioned here many times, I grew up in the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh. Growing up in a place like that has given me a lifetime of stories, enough to fill this here blog for the next hundred years.
Yeah, at least a hundred years. I have so many book ideas in my head about Lawrenceville, I can hardly keep track.
One could do a book just about the characters we grew up with. Henny Nicols, Kemosabe, Russian John, Kashu, Six Pack Sally, Chucky Boom-Boom, Jimmy Hanlon aka "Fighting Solders from da sky", Gootchie Joe and Indian Mary, just to name a few. God rest most of their souls.
I think just about all of them are dead except Six pack Sal and Goochie Joe.
Those of you new to Lawrenceville don't know what you missed. What a place!

Anyway, one of the greatest things about growing up in Lawrenceville was spending the summers at Leslie Park Swimming Pool.

THAT was living. I remember counting down the days to summer while sitting in Sister Edith, Aka Sr. Jane's 6th grade class at St. Mary's. I could hardly sit still.

You knew summer was close when you rode past and saw the water in the pool. I would run home and try on my bathing suit to make sure it fit. It was usually a hand-me-down from Ginny Ann or The Madonna. Come to think of it. I don't think I ever had a "new" bathing suit until I grew taller than both of them in the 7th grade.

I remember meeting Mary Alice or in later years Ski and heading to the pool an hour before "Girl's Session" started.

Yes, that's right, GIRL'S SESSION. Can you believe it?
Here was the schedule.
12-1:30 - Girls
2-3:30 - Boys
4- 5:30 Mixed (Over 14 only)
6-7:30 Adult (Over 16 or accompanied by a parent)

Could you imagine today's teen-agers, swimming with no boys?
Too funny.

So there we were, we would sit in a line along the wall waiting endlessly for Annie to open the locker rooms.

Annie was the locker room nazi. Oh my God. She seemed like she was 100 years old, but she was probably 40. When she would turn off Butler St to walk up the steps. Hundreds of girls would scream in delight. It was probably more like 40 of us. But it seemed like we were there for hours.... and there were hundreds of us..... and Annie was 110..... plus it was 110 degrees out!

We would race through the locker room. Through the shower room and out to the pool.
But wait. We still weren't allowed to swim. We had to wait until the lifeguard blew the whistle. So all us girls would surround the pool, and wait anxouslly until Walt the head lifeguard blew the whistle.You were hot shit if you were the first one in!!
Esp. if you were first in line for the diving board.

One thing strikes me. I don't ever remember seeing a parent. Can you imagine. Sending your 8, 9, 10 year old down the park to swim WITHOUT SUPERVISION. Yeah kid, have fun, see ya later. But we all lived to tell the tale.

When 1:30 came around we would see who could get farthest away from the ladder. Being the last one out. Yeah, we were so cool.

Time for the boys. We would go back into locker room and God forbid if you forgot your "Basket Number" You had the wrath of Annie. 110 year old Locker Nazi. And if you gave her an attitude. She had the authority to ban you from swimming for a week or more. Can you believe it?

When we were old enough, we stuck around for boy's session. We would walk down Virgie's for a frozen coke and wait FOREVER for mixed session.There, the boys would show their stuff on the diving board and with that came the summer crushes. I remember thinking "Oh, if only so and so would look my way". Funny after thought, thank God they didn't, most of them are dead from drugs!

After mixed session. And some flirting with the life guards. We would run home for a fast dinner and then my dad would bring us to Adult session. He would bring in half the kids at the park too.

That was our summer. Except for one week in Conneaut, that was it. And we thought we were the luckiest kids on earth.

The last day at the pool was bittersweet. There were diving contests and races. And both boys and girls were allowed to swim together. (thank God no one got pregnant from the water!)The best part, they filled the bottom of the pool with coins and you got to keep all the money you collected. We were rich! Oh yes, we sure were. We were so rich to have grown up in a place so special and ummmm colorful.

As we got older and bolder, we jumped the fence to swim after hours. I have a scar on my left palm from climbing the fence while running from police. Until the day she died, my mother thought I got it when I tripped in my own back ally. (Her Eileen would never jump a fence and swim after hours!)

Leslie Pool wasn't without tragedy. Dan's cousin Jackie drown swimming after hours. Dennie Golardo broke his neck diving off the top of the locker building.
In the early 70's the park and Lawrenceville changed. Vietnam came to an end and when the boys came home, they brought heroin and drug habits with them. Leslie Park became known as "needle park". Sometime in the 80s they redid the pool into something that became tough to actually swim in. The pool eventually was closed as a casualty of an almost bankrupt city.

It's taken a while but Lawrenceville and Leslie Park are on the upswing thanks to the hard work of lots of people.

What got me thinking about all this? An email I got from Lawrenceville Stakeholders
about an event IN Leslie Park Pool. The Accordion Pool Party. Does that sound like fun or what? I am so in!

OMG, wonder if any cute lifeguard's will be there. Ya know I'm single again!

*I spent half of the night searching for a picture of Leslie Pool. I can't believe I don't have a picture of something that was such a big part of my growing up. I looked on the Internet also. Nothing. Weird. Oh well, every inch of it is etched forever in my mind down to the very smell of the locker room, the red life guard chairs and the chain separating the shallow and deep ends of the pool. (it was an actual chain!)


Judi said... should write that book!
This was my life at Dormont Pool....for so many summers! Yes, we had the actual chain too!!
Thanks for the memories!

Anonymous said...

You forgot a few major events on Labor day, in addition to the coin toss -- we had a water ballet show, a diving show usually by Priscilla Baginski and Janice Salac and a Miss Leslie Park pageant. We never won because we had dark hair -- only blondes won!! (unless, of course, their last name was Salac).

Eileen, Founder, Organizer, Mayor and Chief Cook And Bottle Washer of the Anger Management Girls. said...

OMG, I forgot.
I had drinks with Janice Salac at the Waldorf Astoria in NY last year. We've come a long way since Leslie Park!
I should have asked her if she used that on her resume when she moved to NY.
I'm sure being Miss Leslie Park was the hightlight of ones life!

Anonymous said...

I saw Indian Mary walking across Liberty Avenue (by Dels)in her bathing suit yesterday!