Moving in with Aunt Joyce and Uncle Jack was horrible – which had nothing to do with them. It was the circumstances of WHY we had to move. In fact, with the hindsight of forty years, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to eleven and twelve year old orphaned boys.
That weekend Uncle Jack had borrowed a pickup truck to move all Dave and mine’s worldly possessions to their house. What I didn’t realize, as the truck rolled passed Deerfield’s Mitchell Pool that Friday evening, was how much of a role that community pool would play in my healing process.
John & Jim are my cousins so it wasn’t like I didn’t know them. But living with someone is very different then just seeing them at family get-togethers. Our move had caused a kink in John and Jim’s living arrangements – they had just gotten their own rooms and now they had to go back to being in the same room. Dave and mine bedroom was tight with just two feet between our beds, four feet from the foot of the beds to the closets and just a foot between our dresser and my bed. Needless to say, we didn’t spend alot of time in our bedroom.
One of the first things we did as members of the Beckman family was to get our pool passes. Because Aunt Joyce and Uncle Jack lived outside of the Village of Deerfield, the pool passes were more expensive. Dave and I never had a pool pass before. I remember once going to the Des Plaines Public pool and seeing so many people there. It was a little unnerving so I wasn’t sure how this whole Pool Pass thing was going to work out. John and Jim told me their pool was great and they loved hanging out there. So we were all hauled off to the community center in downtown Deerfield. We each dutifully for our picture which would eventually end up in a hard plastic laminated card that we would pin to our beach towels.
The next thing we needed were goggles. Lee used to have a face mask that I rarely got to use. Goggles were small plastic lens that replaced a face mask at pools. The few times I had been in a pool, opening your eyes underwater was a challenge we would issue to each other. The downside of winning that challenge was the chlorine would would turn your eyes redder and redder with each glimpse. Goggles solved this and, as it turned out, were pretty normal at public pools. In fact, tinted and colored lens turned them into fashion statements.
John, Jim and Aunt Joyce took Dave and I for our first swim. We dutifully showed our new pool passes to the high school or college girl behind the open window. She returned the favor by counting us with her clicker. John and Jim took us through the mens locker room. Despite the signs, we didn’t take a ‘nude shower’ but the life guard manning the locker room made sure we showered enough to get our hair wet before we met Aunt Joyce outside by the pool.
It was a bright warm June day as Dave and I were led to the lounge chairs in the northwest corner of the fenced in pool area. We each picked a lounger with our towels while Jim threw his towel on one and ran to the pool – only to be called back by Aunt Joyce.
“Suntan lotion?” she questioned already knowing the answer. Dutifully we all formed a line behind John, applying what we could to ourselves and helping each other. Once we were properly covered we were allowed to escape into the pool.
In June of 1975 I was close to 200 pounds. I was never comfortable in a swimming suit but once I got in the water I was part fish. As a dinosaur enthusiast, I thought, like a brontosaurus, spending a lot of time in the water would help support my weight, and it did. I felt much more comfortable hiding in the water so others could not see my flabby body.
Mitchell Pool became a sanctuary for me. Once I was in the water I was very comfortable – swimming anywhere and everywhere. Dave, Jim, John and I would goof around playing Marco Polo, diving for things on the bottom of the pool and spend the entire afternoon swimming and playing around in the water – you know, being kids. Sometimes we would even go back after supper and stay until closing. By August it would start to get dark by 8:30 and the pool was lit with plate sized lights that we could explore with our goggles.
There was one thing the kids at Mitchel Pool had to deal with, as did most kids of public pools – the Adult Swim. Every hour, for 10 minutes, they would have Adult Swim. This meant the life guards would blow their whistles and anyone 17 or younger would have to leave. This left the entire pool to the two or three adults who occasionally felt obligated to swim a lap or two. Us kids would wander back to our saved loungers, dry off and wait out the 10 minutes. I always had a book I was reading so I would pick that up and read through Adult Swim. That summer I was beginning to shift from my ghost stories to science fiction, specifically Ray Bradbury. Sometimes when the life guards would whistle Adult Swim was over, I would be too engrossed in a story to leave it and sometimes read straight through that swimming session.
That summer I learned that I loved the water. But not just the water, but the entire atmosphere at Mitchel Pool. When I wasn’t swimming along the bottom looking for things with the clarity my goggles offered me; I would be reading one of my books on the yellow loungers; or maybe just hanging on the side of the pool – taking in the great sunshine like one of my cactus – except without all the water. I remember the warm afternoon summer sun heating the concrete to near painful levels.
Most days Aunt Joyce would drop us off after lunch and then pick us up sometime after the pool closed for an hour for dinner; or Uncle Jack would pick us up on his way home from work. We’d come home, eat and sometimes go right back to the pool. I remember a number of times after the pool would close for dinner we would start walking home bare footed trying to avoid rocks and pebbles on the sidewalk. Once in while we would see the family station wagon coming down Wilmot road from the house and turn around to pick us up. And as Aunt Joyce pulled up, we would never miss the chance to put our thumbs out like we were hitchhiking – because we were cool that way.
Mitchell was my home away from home (which was away from my last home). Reconignizing the lifeguards that would change from year to year. Trying to get through the shower area without taking the nude shower. The fenced in yard herded the yellow plastic webbed loungers that were scattered on the that concrete, claimed with towels, bags and mothers. Spending carefree days swimming, reading and just hanging out. Trying to sneak glimpses at the pretty girls in their bathing suits, or watch the life guards in their chairs who were watching me. Watching the bravado play out with the kids in line for the high dive. And alot of time listening to radio they played in the pool area.
The radio was rigged to play through probably the worse set of speakers I ever heard. Back then WLS was king of the AM station in Chicago. The life guards would tune in WLS on their radio in their office. While the signal may have come in crystal clear in the office, by the time it got to the megaphone speakers placed around the pool area, it sounded more like it had been funneled through a kazoo rather then the current electronic wizardry available in 1975. But after a few hours you got used to the wax paper rattle and you could actually make out the music that was being played.
This was way before walkmans and VCR’s. This was the land of Hi-Fi and Polaroids. This was an old man looking back and remembering his carefree childhood days – before his responsibilities, before jobs, before girls, before commitments and obligations. As a kid, I was at a point I just wanted to ‘be’, to exist – to be happy – and to forget. That summer, the past winter seemed like a lifetime away but the reality was as bright as the summer sun. During my time at the pool when my mind would wander, it would many times wander to the darker corners of my mind and I didn’t like that. There was a twisting and trapping feeling I was trying to avoid. The Summer of ’75 at Mitchel Pool offered me the brightness, the sunshine, a childhood and, dare I say – the happiness I was so desperate to find.
With my family we listened to music sporadically – in the car, the occasional ’45 sessions’ or through the clock radio. But this was the first time I experienced being someplace where the radio played continuously for 6 hours or more. I would hear songs over and over. And I would get happy when a favorite song would come on; and found I had a lot of favorite songs.
I would be hanging on the side of the pool just listening to the DJ’s on WLS as they introduced the next summer hit. I would sing along to the sad story of the girl and her dead pony when Michael Murphy sang “Wildfire”; or fantasy with thoughts of being in love with Pilot’s “Magic”; trying to imagine what it would be like to have a girl fighting for my attention like the guy in Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together”, the heartbreaking loss if someone played B-17 during Olivia Newton John’s “Please, Mr. Please” hit; the strength I felt from Glen Campbell as he taught me to smile through the pain in “Rhinestone Cowboy”; and whenever I heard “The Hustle,” I wondered how the hell K-Tel could sell one album with 20 hits for only $4.99! plus shipping and handling.
One of those stand out songs for me was Wings, “Listen To What The Man Said”.” I didn’t know who the Wings were but I might have been able to pick Paul McCartney out of a lineup if I was forced to back then. From the lively guitar strumming and the alto sax solo that would cut through even those horrible pool speakers the intro would start my foot tapping. If it was the sax solo that told me the song was coming, the lyrics “Soldier boy kisses his girl, leaves behind a tragic world” locked me into the next three minutes. It was a great song but not only because it was part of those great summer memories at Mitchel Pool. Dave, Jim, John and I spent hundreds of hours over the next couple of summers there.
Dave and I got a big upgrade in our lifestyle moving in with The Beckmans. The Beckmans had a lake right behind them, a big backyard and a chicken. It turned out Jim and John had hatched chicks and Fluffy was the result of one of those chicks. Fluffy was kept away from the house with a small pen by the garden. Dave and I soon learned how to feed and water Fluffy. How to let him out in the morning (which would be mostly me, when I remembered) and locked him up at night. We soon learned it was a test of manhood to have Fluffy chase you but that took time for me. Only Jim was master of that chase. So when Aunt Joyce and Uncle Jack had guests over there would be an eventual race between Jim and Fluffy with Jim always winning. The race was always offered to the guest or their children but very few accepted the challenge. And after the race John would pick Fluffy up and drop him back into his pen.
The lake was another rest spot. After moving in, Dave and I were soon equipped with our own fishing poles and tackle boxes. John and Jim showed us how to dig for worms in the garden and fish in the small bay behind the house. I have spent weeks, if not months, sitting on those railroad ties, legs dangling over the water and pole out laying next to me. Uncle Ray would come over and give a few fishing lessons – and lures. He taught me how to fishing with plastic worms for bass. Uncle Jack taught us how to filet but Uncle Ray taught us how to skin a bullhead for our rare fish fries. John and I fished the most – passing summer mornings quietly together down by the lake.
The first summer we were there the Lake Eleanor Association was having the lake dredged. It wasn’t long before the bulky derelict floating platformed made its way into our small little bay. We would wave to the dirty hairy guy working the dredger. He would wave back and slowly work his way toward our bay swinging his extension out in front of his rig. It was like watching floating construction with only one truck. After awhile we got bored and just started fishing but fishing wasn’t any good when the dredger was nearby. When he was deep into our bay, we wouldn’t even bother to fish. And within a couple of days he would be gone and in another part of the lake so we could fish again.
Aunt Joyce and Uncle Jack also had a canoe. John and I would go canoeing and find our friend The Dredger. We would wave ‘Hello’ and we would paddle around him. We would head out to the island in the middle of the lake to explore. But since the island was only 30 or so foot circle, there wasn’t much to explore once you looked behind the few trees and bushes there.
I remember one time fishing on the island by myself. I was using a plastic worm setup just as Uncle Ray had taught me. Off in the distance was a Mallard duck. As he swam toward me I practiced my casting by seeing how close I could get to the duck. A few weeks earlier I had actually hit the duck freaking it out and sent it swimming, then flying, away. So this time I was more careful.
I was actually impressing myself on my control of my Zebco spincast. In another year or so I would graduate to a spinning reel. I found if I cast in front of the duck he would come towards my worm. So I would lead the duck towards me to see how close I could get him to me. That was a mistake. At one point I cast too close and Mr. Mallard swam toward my worm and diving for it! Well, he got it – or rather I got him. In my fear of hooking him, I jerked the worm away only to hook him in the chest. He started squawking (quacking with fear) and swam away from me. I started reeling him in so I could unhook him. On the other side I wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with a flapping duck when I finally got him in. And he was strong.
The harder I tried to reeling him the stronger he seemed to get. For every yard I would reel him in my drag would peel out two more yards. I realized I wouldn’t be able to deal with Mr. Mallard if I actually got him to shore. I was also afraid he might pull all my line out and then what? And the awful noise he was making…
So I grab the 8 pound line and broke it. Squawking and thrashing he swam a good distance but he was too tired to fly. He floated for a bit and then took off flying a short distance only to land near the far shore. Crap. In our struggle I could see my worm firmly planted in his chest. I felt terrible so and didn’t feel like fishing anymore. So I got back into the canoe to paddle back to the house.
John and I would also canoe around the lake but it wasn’t a ‘swimming’ lake. Dave and I were told it was too dirty to swim in so John and I were surprised on one of our canoeing trips on the far side of the lake when we found some kids swimming in the lake – they must not have gotten the memo. As we paddled pass them, one of them swam over and tipped us over! We got a little freaked. It was one thing to get wet in your swimming suits but quite another to be tipped over fully dressed – well, shorts and t-shirts. After that we kept our canoe trips away from the far side of the lake, away from people who would actually swim in the lake. The lake water must cause mental lapses. We kept our swimming at Mitchel Pool.
I continued my stamp collecting which was going full tilt with the Bicentennial coming the following year. We got swept up in the beer can collecting craze that was going on in the seventies. Aunt Joyce and Uncle Jack indulged us taking us to dumps (literally), Beer Can Conventions in local hotels and strangers houses and the liquor store in Lakehurst that stocked to take advantage of this fad. We would have to get full cans from the liquor store. So when guests arrived to the house, we would offer them a beer so the emptied can could be added to one of the three collections. We each had a collection – except me – I had to be different so I collected pop cans. Maybe not as cool but it was the beginning of me rebelling – at little of a rebellion as it was.
I would also start collecting records. I know Hope and Lee had gotten 45’s before, at least I think they did, but I had never actually owned any myself. This was how I was introduced to Lenny’s shop – the Deerfield Record Store. Record collecting would prove to be a life long passion.
Many Sundays after church we would stop at Deerbrook Mall, an indoor/outdoor mall on the corner of Waukegan and Lake-Cook Roads. Back then the mall was anchored by Turn Style and Montgomery Ward department stores. We almost never ventured into the outdoor part to the north. Aunt Joyce would typically show at Turn Style so we would go to the indoor mall through Turn Style entrance.
The mall was decorated with dark brown stone with various copper fountain areas. Someone in the late sixties must have decided copper was the sculptures newest media – all the malls were using it. The mall had maybe thirty stores including Baskin Robbins, Musicland and Waldenbooks. I would begin my record collecting with purchases from Musicland and my friend Jeff Raveria would eventually work at Waldenbooks where I would officially buy my first hard cover copy of a Stephen King book.
Being in 7th grade I had been getting pretty good at the impulse begging for trinkets when at the store. So that late morning as we wandered around Turn Style waiting for Aunt Joyce to get her purchases together. We learned John and Jim begged liked any kid their age. Dave and I, however, stood around like friends accompanying their friend’s family on a shopping trip. These were not our parents so we have no legitimate reason to beg for gifts or trinkets. Yet we stood on the sidelines hoping that maybe we could be included since we now lived with them. So it was ‘wishes come true’ when Aunt Joyce relented and said we could get something as long as it was under a dollar – and Dave and I were included.
I went back to the music department and got Wing’s “Listen to What the Man Said.” It would be my first 45. Now I could listen to Paul McCartney and drift back to those afternoons at Mitchell Pool any time I wanted. Back to the pool where I felt comfortable. Where I could play with my brother and my cousins. Spend time reading my books. Enjoying the bright summer days.
I thought it would be great to collect all these songs and be able to play them whenever I wanted. And I did. In the years we would have a stereo in our room and in our many trips to Deerfield Record Shop we would purchase the top 45 – based on the WLS survey chart Lenny had available at his store.
Dave and I marked all our 45’s with Aunt Joyce’s Dymo labeler. We used our three letter initials – ‘DBZ’ or ‘JMZ’. John and Jim couldn’t because theirs were both the same – ‘JLB’. At one point Dave and I went in together, 50¢ each. Those 45’s were marked with ‘DJ’ (yea, we thought it was cool but it was actually only cute then realized it was dorky). I still have most of those 45’s and most of their labels are still attached.
So when school started that Fall, I was the new kid. Something I slowly got over – among other things. But in that process not being ‘the new kid’, I would go downstairs to Aunt Joyce and Uncle Jack’s basement , which was now our basement, and setup the portable record player we had. Using the record player’s 45 adapter, I could play “Listen To What The Man Said” and be transported to a summer afternoon a few months earlier. The single speaker on the record player reminded me of the terrible bullhorn speakers at the pool. And as the soldier boy kissed his girl, I left behind my tragic world and found myself in the warm sun at Mitchell pool. I would be years until I would fall in love, or what I thought was love but that alto sax spun me back to those carefree days of my first summer in my new home with my new family.