When the temperature soars past 90, as it has here in New England recently, the suburban landscape changes. Children turn into amphibians, and the whole social order is redefined. Suddenly there are just two classes of people: those who have sprinklers and those who have pools.
On the dead-end street where I grew up, three families owned chlorinated pools. The rest of us kids spent our days trying to wangle an invitation into those tempting aqua waters.
But once a week the social scales were tipped in our favor, thanks to Mrs. Ouellette, whom we thought of as patron saint of the poolless.
Mrs. Ouellette owned the nicest in-ground on the street, and each Wednesday she'd invite all of the neighborhood kids over. Even those who could swim at home joined in.
Part of the attraction may have been that Mrs. Ouellette's swimming pool, which was fenced in and always locked, sat in back of her house, far from anyone's view. It was the one place in the neighborhood that we kids couldn't manage to sneak into.
But there was also the allure of swimming where the teenagers did. Mrs. Ouellette's children were several years older than the rest of us. They radiated an air of "cool" - something our skinny bunch wanted but didn't have.
For the two hours of Open Pool, however, we splashed in the teenagers' shadows. And the sprinkler kids and the pool kids became equals.
Mrs. Ouellette probably never realized that she did more than help us beat the heat. In some ways she gave us a weekly rebirth. To this day I can't recall any sweeter summer treat than baptism, of sorts, by chlorinated water.