What is a young man to do with his summer idle time?  For Steve, it was all about the pool.

The club is still open for business. Photo Credit: Steve Howen.
The club is still open for business. Photo Credit: Steve Howen.

Every time I fly out of and back into Dallas I am amazed at the thousands of aqua dots populating the landscape.  Growing up, a backyard pool–particularly of the fancy in-ground variety–was reserved to the rich and famous. Now it seems everyone has one.  Later in life we did too, for about ten years.  At the time I thought of pool ownership as a good thing because I had daughters; the fact they were in my pool let me  watch over the testosterone-crazed creatures eyeing them.  Even if the maintenance was a hassle and cost a small fortune, we could take mini-vacations on summer nights when the heat would not die.  A Corona in one hand and your feet in the water is a good remedy for what ails you.

As convenient as the backyard was, however, that arrangement could never replicate the beauty of the neighborhood pool.  Ours was “Regency Place,” sponsored by the homeowner’s association. For the tween-age and slightly older set,  the club was a twenty-five meter, L-shaped slice of paradise.  The shaded patio to the side and the largely unused volleyball courts at one end gave us plenty of room to spread out.  A real diving board to show off from was a huge bonus.  Open 12-9 everyday from Memorial Day to Labor Day,  Regency Place was the in-spot, at least until you got your driver’s license.

We lived not more than a block from the pool but that did not stop me from saddling up my orange hot rod of the pedaled variety, complete with the banana seat and high handle bars, to make the thirty-second trip to freedom.  There was always some vague plan to set out on our rides and explore, but those schemes generally died on the vine. We would usually show up after lunch and stay at least until supper-time.   It is hard to fathom how we could keep occupied for six hours or more.  You would think there would be some sort of limit on sharks and minnows, marco polo and backflips but I never wanted to leave.

Of course, that feeling intensified when I first began noticing girls. Remember the part about testosterone-crazed creatures? Personal experience.  Anyway, a bold claim here but a subjective one, so you cannot prove me wrong.  There has never been a more interesting and beautiful group of young ladies than those who frequented the Regency Place swim club in the mid-1970’s.  The Sports Illustrated swimsuit models had nothing on these girls, or so it seemed to me.  Everyday was full of intoxicating possibilities. Nothing ever came of if it but when you are just starting out, hope springs eternal.

This ground is where the backyard pool and the neighborhood pool differ. With the backyard set-up someone has to get up the nerve to ask the other sex to be there; with the neighborhood pool it just happens.  Perfect for a guy like me, who was social but never good with the “ask.”  Add to that convenience the fact that parents were always lurking at the house while the club was run by quasi-adult lifeguards and the preference for the neighborhood pool becomes a no-brainer.  The bottom line here is that absent Regency Place, there was no way I was going to end up with a bikini-clad beauty sitting on my shoulder while I enjoyed the wonder of a chicken fight. Like I said, a slice of paradise.

Beyond the girls, there was just so much freedom about the set-up.  Ours was the last “home-by-dinner” generation.  For kids, outside should beat inside; learning things on your own is better than being trained or taught.  I learned all types of lessons at that pool without even knowing it.

Our second home in Dallas was in Sparkman Club, a neighborhood almost exactly like the one I grew up in, with an even better pool.  Sparkman has a swim team, playground, full clubhouse and tennis courts, in addition to the pool.  That pool makes Sparkman a true community; to this day if someone says  “middle-class neighborhood” in an approving manner, I think of Sparkman. Foolishly, we left when we could afford “to move up” so my daughters never got the full experience.  I am sorry for that even if it means they would have been chicken-fighting away from my watchful gaze.

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