My sister and her husband bought one of those above-ground pools, the kind you see in the Sunday circulars in the spring. The advertisement shows a full-page aerial view. Father stands beside a barbecue wearing an apron and holding a big fork. Mother floats leisurely on an air mattress. Brother is about to toss a beach ball to Sister, who dangles her legs in the azure blue water. Neighbor children play in life jackets and a few other adults lounge in deck chairs holding drinks, slices of lemon stuck to the rims of the frosty glasses. The ad implies that this is the way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon in America.
My sister Karen wanted us to come and pose like that ad. So the whole family came for a barbecue and swim one summer Sunday. It didn't quite work out like the ad. First, they starve the models for a month before snapping those pictures. We looked like a herd of white walruses stranded at low tide.
And what are you supposed to do in those above-ground pools besides lie on an air mattress sipping iced tea? Brother-in-law Tom, who'd never seen the pool advertisements, jumped right in. He gathered up a bunch of "noodles," hollow rods of floppy foam used for floating. He stuck them over the end of the circulating pump nozzle and created a mega Super Soaker - until the water pressure blew holes in the sides of the noodles. (They don't show that in the ad, either.)
I jumped into the pool after Tom blew out all the noodles and stopped spraying people. The water seemed too quiet. Lakes and oceans have waves. Muddy farm ponds have water snakes and snapping turtles. I tried power walking counterclockwise. After a half-dozen laps the water was moving in a gentle current.
More people jumped in - several kids from 3 to 17 years old, plus my brother. The wives, sensing danger, stayed out - except Karen. It was her pool. We uncles wondered how fast the water might flow. I grabbed my daughter and pushed her ahead of me like a snowplow. The current increased.
"Everybody grab a noodle and form a circle!" my son yelled. We formed a circle, holding on to the noodles, and pushed the water ahead of us, faster and faster. Around and around we went.
"Arms out!" The circle widened. "Feet up!" We stuck our feet toward the center like spokes of a giant wheel. The circle widened further as the centrifugal force of the swirling water pushed us out. We were revolving around the pool.
Then we all joined in a round of "Day-O! Da-a-a-a-O! Daylight come and we wan' go home!" When was the last time your family sang together? Probably in the '60s, the day before Dad bought the first family car with a radio in it.
Cooperative efforts break up quickly without a worthwhile goal and leadership. Could we create a whirlpool funnel in the pool's center? Some goals, like stars, must be striven toward without hope of reaching them.
We crossed an invisible threshold and couldn't stop. The pool ladder tilted in the current. Brother-in-law Peter picked it up and threw it out of the pool. Now we were committed. The littlest children held tightly to bigger ones or pulled themselves around the circle, little comets in their own eccentric orbits.
"Six foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch! Daylight come and we wan' go home!" Karen moved into the galaxy's center and slowly rotated. Her husband did his best to recline on an inflatable ring. Instead, the current dragged him around the pool's circumference, bouncing him off the walls. The ring broke up several times, but reformed before the current slowed down. We calculated the water's velocity at 3 to 4 miles per hour.
We sang and orbited for more than an hour, adults who forgot they were adults and children allowed to be children. The aerial view shows an irregular ring of walruses singing off-key. A group of anxious women sit around a table, looking out the corners of their eyes toward neighbor houses, hoping no one is home. The grill sits alone and untended.
People grow up. Families drift apart. But every now and then, if they reassemble, something may click. Hours later, as we gathered tired children and wet socks, suits, and towels, we looked down at the pool from the picture window. Leaves dropped from an overhanging honey locust and drifted in a lazy circle on the azure blue water.