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Get the Point: Tyndall Park Pool memories: Lessons, fear, fun, camaraderie

August 6, 2013

By David Hughes

Looks like the new splash pad park is a big hit, but compared to the fun we had as kids at the Tyndall Park Pool – it’s got be “… like kissin’ your sister ... ”
I don’t mean to denigrate the effort and treasure put into the attraction, but let’s face it – it DOES have a limited attention span for children, young folks and parents.
I still say our generation growing up in the '50s and '60s had the best experiences to set us on the road to life. While we didn’t have hundreds of TV channels, computer games and all kinds of electronic geegaws to keep us occupied, we found plenty to do – especially in the summer – to keep us occupied, OUTSIDE and healthy.
Unless you were rich and could afford memberships at Trace Creek Country Club, kids (that includes ages from 5-20-something) spent a LOT of time at the Tyndall Park Pool because it was a place to cool off and “be seen” at the same time. Plus, parents liked it because if they wanted to keep an eye on their offspring, there was a great covered seating area outside the fence adjacent to the diving board area.
But most kids did NOT want their parents there because of the “embarrassment.”
The pool was the cheapest child care place in town. For five bucks a SEASON, you could show up when the place opened, stay all day and for 25 cents come back that night if you wanted. Most of us just left our cards at the office and just regurgitated our “number” at the window and went on in.
Well, you were SUPPOSED to take a shower first, but lordy that water was cold!!! Once inside you asked for a basket to put your clothes and stuff in and were awarded a numbered pin to get it back. WOE unto you if you lost it.
Many of the folks walking around Benton today learned to swim thanks to folks like Sylvia Carter and Peggy Harvill and other Red Cross Volunteers who selflessly donated their time and talents to help others. As I remember it, one had to demonstrate swimming prowess to be able to get out of the shallow end of the pool.
I can still remember how proud I was when I was able to swim across the pool (sideways – of course) and being told I had passed.
There are so many memories we have from the pool and some of them are connected to fear. I can remember hanging onto the rope separating the diving and swimming area. I was going to swim over to the diving board and was scared I might get sucked into the drain at the bottom. I was rewarded with a whistle from the lifeguard telling me to get off the rope (grin).
I’m sure you can remember the walk of death the first time you climbed on the small diving board and working up the fortitude to walk to the end and look off. That first trip and a few subsequent ones ended in “chicken” jumps instead of a dive.
The first “dive” was quivering and shaking on the end of the board, arms extended hands together – praying – and slowly leaning over until gravity prevailed. Hopefully, you were not a belly flopper.
THEN came the day you walked up to the ladder of the high board – usually on a “dare” – and slowly went hand-over-hand to the top. Hands gripping the rail tightly, you made your way to the edge and looked doooooown at the water soooooo far below.
How many of you crawfished back down that ladder to face it another day?
Of course, the worst day of your life is when you were probably showing off for a girl and tried to do some acrobatic feat off that board and all that happened was a big SPLAAAAAT! and you did a belly flop knocking every breath from your body.
Those lifeguards you thought were just languishing and preening on their stands making your life miserable with their whistles suddenly rocketed from their perch and within milliseconds were in the water helping you to the side and making sure you didn’t drown.
Other memories of the pool revolve around time spent at the concession stand eating and listening to tunes, maybe dancing a little before getting caught.
The thing about the tunes was the juke box was not grounded properly and sometimes you got a shock putting money in.
Here are a lot more memories from folks on Facebook about the pool. I could fill up pages full, but I prefer to let YOU reminisce.
Willie Pickett: "Starving to death after an hour of swimming lessons! My mother always brought snacks for the ride home! Also loved watching the beautiful girls ballet group swimming in sync!"
Robin Burks Garrett: Vicki Robinson taught me how to swim there. Great memories!"
Susan Trickey White:Vicki Robinson ... And her whistle .... She was great with all the kids."
Pam Puckett Harcrow: "I LOVED that swimming pool! Remember long days there with my mother and my aunts lounging in the shade of the pavilion that crossed the shallow end. I can still see my little brother playing in the tiny round splash pool. I would so love to have another like it. I remember eating Cheetos and my wrinkled fingers would be full of cheese powder. Good times!"
Reba Hargrove: "Whatever the reason they took the pool out, we lost our pool and our fun — I always regretted losing it. It seems they could have made another type decision without taking the city pool out."
Kenny Hall: "Full Dinner candy bar and a Coke in a cup. Oh and the little feet washers coming out of the dressing rooms — remember those any one ? Song of the day "Wooly Bully." Ha!... chasing everyone around and poppin' 'em with a wet towel.. I hear the lifeguard whistle now ... peeeeeeeettttttttttttt."
Joy Buchanan: "I got popped a few times with a wet towel. It was more fun trying to get away from the boys. Course we had to act like it bothered us. Remember how cute we looked in our one-piece suits? (Grin.) Then came two-piece suits and we just knew we would end up going to hell for wearing something so skimpy."
Brenda Melvin: "Fourth of July in the mid-'60s. Someone drove by that evening and tossed a bag of bait goldfish into the pool. We spent the night catching them, before the chlorine got to them. You had to corner them. They shot off fireworks that night and my brother and I watched them through the fence. Mom could come home for lunch and take my brother and me to the pool. We'd be ready. She would pick us up after work. If we were lucky, we could go back for the evening swim. I taught my brother to swim at the pool."
Joy Hockersmith Allen: "Judy and I walked (yes, we walked!) to the pool almost every day... we were brown as berries and hair fried by chlorine, eyes red by the end of the day, but had so much fun. I remember the first time I swam all the way across the pool underwater! Felt like I really did something!"
Linda Ann Yarberry Bragg: "I think I taught half of the children in Benton to swim. Started at 14 helping. WSI at 16 and never looked back until 50 and I could not teach and work. Then I turned the teaching over to my oldest daughter, Cheri."
LouJane Adams Wills: "I also spent every hour possible at the pool. Baby Oil and Iodine was our 'bake' of choice. One day as I was diving from the high board, the strap on my suit broke and by the time I was all the way in, my suit was down around my waist. I was so embarrassed, but I don't think anyone realized what had happened ... but no more diving until I had a different kind of suit."
Stacey Bragg Brooks: "I remember taking swimming lessons there, too ... but when it came time to dive, I was so afraid ... I just kept going to the end of the line. Ha! I kinda wish I had been called out, as I never learned how and am still very fearful to this very day. It's truly a shame we don't have a place for the kids to go swimming in Benton. But now we have fancy water parks and fitness centers. I highly doubt any kids today would even be excited by a 'public' pool. That said, I would love to find out. 
Joyce Shaw Robinson: "One summer when I was 4-5 years old, we came here on vacation. My cousin and her friends took me to the pool. I remember it was gigantic and scared me a little. After we moved here I was probably one of the few that didn't take swimming lessons from Vicki Robinson, my future mother-in-law. Stacey Bragg Brooks, I was just like you. Still won't go off a diving board."
Jeff W. Johnson: "First swimming lessons. First jump off of a 'high' dive. And first dance in a pool with that cool, totally hip jukebox playing rock 'n' roll. Great times. Oh, and Frankenstein on the juke box.”
Yes, dear readers, it was a different time ... Five bucks a summer was affordable for families living on paychecks from the plants, furniture makers and small businesses. There was no such thing as malls and many local stores were not air-conditioned. Families had one car, but not a lot of places to go. The pool was a safe place and Mr. Mac didn't allow greasers or the tough crowd. It was a place to go evening and days to have fun and hang out.

David Hughes, who now lives in Herndon, Va., is a former Benton resident and a former staff photographer for the Benton Courier. Email him at dhughes248@gmail.com.

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