When we were kids, and school was out, we would no more ask our mother what we were doing that day than wonder if the plans included flying a space shuttle somewhere. Growing up in an apartment complex near Philadelphia, one of six kids, there was no money for summer camps, and we didn’t know to miss them. Lucky enough to catch a few Girl Scout camps with my troop, I was thankful for those.
When summer came, we waited impatiently for the apartment complex pool to open, riding our bikes down for days before to hang on the chain link fence and watch as the staff over-chlorinated, mowed grass, put out the rusty tin cans for cigarette butts, made repairs to the frayed straps of the aluminum lawn chairs that really needed replacement, and installed the faded umbrellas to the white-painted round tables. I don’t know whether jasmine grew near the pool or the chemicals smelled somehow bizarrely similar, but to this day I get the two scents confused, probably from too many “who can swim to one end of the pool and back underwater” challenges.
There were lollipops shaped like UFOs that had a chalky consistency and were $.25, Fun Dip packs brought a higher price at $.50. Any kind of ice cream was available, but normally we’d rather spend our quarters on the video games: the opening jingle of Pac Man still echoes in my head. If my brother and I got lucky, our grandmother, who also lived in the apartment complex, might be around and spring for lunch, a cheeseburger, fries and a Coke and we’d won The Pool that day.
Lifeguard crushes were the common discussion for my friends and me in our early teens; we’d watch them walk from the admission booth area down the long sidewalk in those red shorts, swinging their silver whistles, adjusting their sunglasses, grinning in our direction if we got caught gawking. We were lined up by the side of the pool, feet dangling in the water for “Adult Swim,” that torturous 15-minute “no kids in the pool” hell where we waited while maybe one or two swim-capped geezers did agonizing laps across the pool’s length, taking gasping, open-mouthed breaths like giant bass. Sometimes we’d go over to the kiddie pool, but we’d have to be pretty desperate for that, since it was generally known as the “pee pool” and we wouldn’t go anywhere near it if there were actual children there.
We could walk to the King of Prussia Mall if we cut through the giant old cemetery, complete with its creepy baby grave section. (A pond there served as a perfect ice skating rink in winter.) I’d spend paper route or babysitting spoils on the sticker store (my scratch ‘n’ sniff sticker album was a showcase collectible), lip gloss from the CVS, arcade games, or if we were feeling splurge-y, an Orange Julius smoothie or Cinnabon. Our town didn’t have a downtown, so the mall was it.
Mom always made sure we got to the library to take out and return books. I always got the maximum number, read them all, sometimes multiple times, because there was never enough young adult, but I’d moved on to Stephen King by 13. So many summer hours (on the rainy days, when the pool wasn’t open) could be spent just reading, and I always brought a book to babysitting jobs for when the kid went to sleep.
My own kids know better than to tell me they’re bored. I can’t imagine the look on my mother’s face if one of the six of us had ever told her we were bored in the summer, but I know the response would have been “Oh, I can think of something for you to do.” And it wouldn’t have been something fun.