When the weather turns warm, I am reminded of the Watson’s girl. You remember the Watson’s girl, right? Also known as Jennifer Eichler, she hawked swimming pools, spas, and billiard tables in popular regional TV commercials. Perhaps her most memorable spot was the one where she peeled off a trench coat to reveal a black bikini. “It’s gonna be hot,” she’d say, “and you’re gonna need a pool.”
I was struck not by her sultry tone but by the notion that anyone might need a pool. We need food and shelter, but a pool? Seriously? When I was a kid growing up in our un-air-conditioned home, I would take a nightly swim in the bathtub. I remember practicing my strokes in place, but that lasted only as long as I could fit full-length.
Our family was fortunate to belong to Broadmoor, a country club with a real pool, where, come summer, we would actually swim. During the dog days, when heat and humidity reached their peak, my father feared we would contract polio from the water and kept us out. Otherwise, we jumped willy-nilly off the high diving board, hosted pretend tea parties at the bottom of the shallow end, and performed back flips finished off with butt-bumps. Boys dunked but did not drown us girls, and the lifeguards in tall chairs blew their whistles when things got rowdy.
Swimming stopped being fun when it was recommended for fitness. In middle age, I tortured myself at various indoor pools, getting in my 25 laps—50 if you count back and forth—before work. On those early mornings, submerging myself in cold water took bravado, and I admired my fellow swimmers who could just jump in and get going. I made a show of lowering a few inches of bare, goose-bumpy skin into the water at a time, until I reached shoulder height, when I would slap myself and jump from foot to foot to get over the shock.
Never one to keep my misery to myself, I complained so much about the water temperature at Five Seasons Sports Club that I finally quit the place, fought for a lane—at 5:30 a.m.!—at the Monon Community Center, tried lunchtime laps (but no lunch) at the Conrad hotel spa, and eventually gave up entirely. The activity was too much trouble, not to mention the aftermath. Men have it easy, what with little hair to blow-dry and no makeup to apply. An exercise swim for girls requires an hour to undo the damage.
My grandkids enjoy the pool more than we terrestrial people ever could.
I never wanted a pool in my own yard, scared off by horror stories about broken heaters and over-chlorinated water, as well as all manner of nature’s debris—bugs to branches—on or below the surface. We had vacationed enough times at an oceanfront condominium to know the truth. I don’t think I ever approached the pool when I didn’t find George, the building manager, with his arm in some sort of pit, checking stats and shaking his head in disgust. One time, I came eyeball to bulging eyeball with a giant crab, which was making better time down the pool length than I. This discovery sent me dripping and slipping across the marble lobby floor in search of George.
We didn’t buy the vacation home we have owned for two years with a pool in mind. It just happened to come with one. The blue water shimmering in the sunlight and rippling in the breeze is nice to look at, and sit beside, lounging in a chaise with an iced coffee and a good book. Truth be told, however, I’ve only been in the darn thing three times.
To brave the depths, first I have to activate the pool heater to 90 degrees. My father used to quip that he wore a size 8 shoe, but a 9 felt so comfortable, he bought a 10. That’s the way I view pool temperature. I can tolerate 80 degrees, but 85 feels so good, I require 90. And a pool is like a computer printer: The implement itself is cheap; it’s the cartridges that cost the money. Filling a cement hole with water isn’t what robs you. It’s heating it. When our grandkids visited for a week, the electric bill was $600 more than our normal rate.
With economics in mind, if I desire a few short laps (which is all the small, kidney-shaped pool can accommodate), I must make the effort pay off. Every minute is another dollar-and-a-half, I figure, so along with the constant pool upkeep—no George!—and the threat of that submerged twig turning out to be a snake, I suffer guilt. It’s not worth it.
I’m back to my daily walk for exercise. All I need are sneakers, and the air is free. I put cheapness aside when my kids and grandkids visit, as they enjoy the pool more than we terrestrial people ever could. They jump fear-free into the deep end squealing with delight, swim in the rain—figuring they are wet, anyway—and at night, when the lights cast wavy shadows in the water. They are happy, and so, then, am I.
In retrospect, I guess I’ll give the Watson’s girl a break. Maybe nobody needs a pool, but considering the sheer joy it brings my beloved offspring, I sure am glad to have one.
Illustration by Clare Mallison