As summer draws to a close, you might reflect on your favorite outing, evening, or moment of this past season. Go ahead. Think about it. I’ll wait.
My turn. Because this past summer has not been especially fun, I like to recall happier days, particularly my teenage years.
A summer day when I was about 15, is etched on my memoir as one of the happiest in my life. I went with a group of 3 or 4 friends to Coney Island near Cincinnati. Its Sunlight Pool was known as the largest swimming pool in the world. For the price of a day pass, you could swim all day, ride the rides on the midway and dance at Moonlight Gardens, and that’s exactly what we did. My day started with boarding a city bus and traveling across town to Ruth Ann’s house. I knew Ruth Ann from the dance studio where we studied tap, ballet, and modern jazz. From there, she and her friends, two boys about our age, and I took the bus the rest of the way to our destination of adventure. This was a really big deal for me, and it must have taken a lot of courage for my parents to allow me to do this on my own.
I have snapshots in my head of the fun I had all day, just as if I had had a camera. There I am, paddling out to the concrete island and posing as only a 15-year-old girl can do. There I am splashing the boys, standing on my hands in the water, and practicing diving off the side of the pool. There I am standing by the railing at the deep end, cheering on my friends as they jumped or dived off the low board, wishing I had the nerve to try it myself. There I am watching, with awe, the really brave kids go off the high dive. We spent hours in the pool, and I remember how delicious it was to still be there when the crowd thinned out about dinnertime, and I didn’t have to go home.
I can remember sitting at a picnic table, munching on French fries in the late afternoon sun, as if it were yesterday. Even at the age I was then, I was acutely aware that I was doing something that was typical of kids my age. My parents weren’t exactly overprotective of their visually impaired daughter, but I was constantly pampered, praised, and preened for perfection. This day, like no other, I was just a kid having a day of summer fun. It was a feeling of liberation and of belonging at the same time. I belonged to the elusive club of ordinary teenagers who laughed, flirted, gossiped, strutted, and enjoyed just being alive.
When the sun began to set behind the roller coasters, we went to our respective locker rooms, and Ruth Ann and I took showers, washed our hair, and set big fat rollers in our hair and used the high powered hair driers. Out came the sun dresses and perfume, and after about an hour, we were ready to cruise the midway and eventually enter the grownup world of Moonlight Gardens. The boys we were with were not boyfriends, but they would do as dance partners. That day might be considered a “coming of age” day without the sex and drinking that you ordinarily think of with that phrase. Or, you might say it was a “coming out” party for me, coming out of my well protected shell. It was proof to myself that I wasn’t so different after all.