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Woster: Swimmin’ hole memories

I learned most of what I knew about swimming by splashing around in the stock dam in our north pasture.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster
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My first memories of the swimming pool along south Main Street in Chamberlain came during the summer after my fifth-or-sixth grade year in school.

I learned of it through a classmate who lived less than two blocks from the pool. He invited me to spend a couple of days in town with his family. Wonder of wonders, my folks said I could, right in the middle of the summer’s farm work.

Being a farm kid, I never expected to do things in town during the summer. Oh, sure, a Saturday night haircut at Elmer’s Barbershop. And maybe I’d get to buy a bag of popcorn from the theater or from a wagon that sometimes parked on a downtown corner. That popcorn wagon was the forerunner of food trucks like the ones that post up for River City Friday Nights in the summer.

So, yes, I got to town for a few hours on Saturday evenings. I sure didn’t get to the swimming pool. I didn’t even get to play any sort of Little League baseball. It was a quick into-town-and-back-to-the-farm excursion.

Being a town kid, my classmate got to spend many afternoons hanging around the pool. He’d take a thick towel and spread it on the warm concrete, do some diving and paddling around and then flop down on his towel and catch some rays. By the time school started in the fall, he’d developed a deep, dark tan from afternoons at the swimming pool. He even took swimming lessons with other kids. It wasn’t long that he qualified as a lifeguard.

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Before the time I visited my friend in town, I’d never been in an actual, professionally made, pool in my life. We traveled some as a family, but the tourist cabins and mom-and-pop motels my dad found along the way didn’t offer amenities like swimming pools.

I learned most of what I knew about swimming by splashing around in the stock dam in our north pasture. The bottom was slick with mud. Moss floated in yellow-green strings, sometimes accompanied by a worried grasshopper. The cows drank at the shallow end. Frogs and orange-striped snakes floated by, generally paying no attention to the human.

I'm pretty sure my dad didn’t toss me into the deep end and yell, “Sink or swim,” like a scene from a John Wayne movie. But it wasn’t too far from that. He pointed at the family dog and said I should imitate that stroke. I did that for a while and managed to keep my head above water. Eventually I learned to float on my back and to perform some awkward strokes, that if one were being extremely kind, might have resembled something I saw as I watched on television the swimming competition at the summer Olympics.

The first time I visited the Chamberlain pool with my friend, I realized how little I knew about swimming. Forget the diving boards. I didn’t even trust myself on the deep end of the pool. And when we climbed out of the water and plopped down on the towels, I realized nobody in the place was pale except me. Who cared on the farm, right? “Get some sun, Woster,” my friend said. I felt pretty conspicuous for a while.

I grew to enjoy the pool. I learned a bit more about swimming. I never did get the hang of diving, and I sure never climbed to the platform of the high board.

That simple pool was an amazing place. Years later, on a news assignment in Hoven, I drove through Lebanon, I passed a highway that said the town was the site of South Dakota’s first outdoor pool. Well, I’ll be!

In the time I was gone from Chamberlain, the old pool was turned into a marvelously entertaining place, a sort of aquatic center, with water slides and diving boards and water spraying every which way. It’s colorful, inviting and packed with laughing kids on warm afternoons.

I haven’t paid attention, so maybe this sort of pool is common among communities these days. I’ll say this: It’s enough to make a guy want to be a kid again, even a town kid.

Opinion by Terry Woster
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