Thursday, November 1, 2012

The old pool

Seems like I always knew how to swim
but I took lessons anyway
as a kid
at Harding’s “old” swimming pool.
The old pool
sat by the old laundromat
which we called laundrymat
for some reason.
In swim lessons
we learned to stick our faces into the water
and hold on to the edge of the pool
and kick our legs like crazy
kicking the kids next to us.
There was a lot of splish splashing
and goose pimpled arms
and eyes bloodshot from chlorine.
And yelling.
During free swim you could yell and scream to your heart’s content
with a chorus of voices echoing off the walls.
Where else could you do something like that?
But you could not
should not
run around the pool.
If you did that
you might slip and bust your head wide open
or worse.
And after all of the lessons were over
I joined the kids’ swim team.
There were 3 of us on the team I think.
Maybe there was a fourth boy
who was sick a lot.
And I always hated swimming laps or
using a kickboard or a pull buoy
which we called a float
or something like that.
And in my first and only swim meet
I got beat like a drum
by Randy
in every single race except for one.
I won the butterfly.
I took 1st place, the big blue ribbon
because I was strong in that race
with my butterfly arms
and my breaststroke legs.

My brother was on a swim team too
for older kids
nicknamed “Miller’s Killers”
after their coach
Harry Miller.
I can barely remember Harry
but a few words come to mind
like nice and funny.
He was one of the first people I knew who died.
I don’t know how I felt about it then
but I do know how I feel about it now.
But mostly there are good memories of back then
in the old pool
with separate swim times for girls and boys.
There was no mixed swimming
or mixed bathing
as we sometimes called it.
Memories of
diving and back-diving
and can-opening and cannon-balling
and somersaulting
off the diving board.
And of all-fishes-under
and water polo
and a half-dozen other games
until we were so tired
that we were ready for bed
right after The Partridge Family
or maybe even earlier.

And then
one day
later on …
leaving the old pool behind.
Walking back home
with wet hair
and flip flops slapping on the sidewalk.
And cutting through Harbin dorm
with its glorious air-conditioned hallways.
And the feeling
that all
was right
with the world.


A few more words about Harry Miller:

“I remember the swim team was called ‘Miller's Killers,’ probably not the kind of name they'd let you have today.  I really liked Harry.  He was young, relatable, and fun-to-be-with.” – Jimmy Allen, my brother

“Harry had a huge impact on my life and I consider him as one of 3-4 people who are my mentors. Harry was the most enthusiastic person I have ever known. He was a great encourager who could also call you out when it needed to be done. He had the greatest work ethic of anyone I have ever known. I think about Harry pretty much daily. He was a great man and a major reason I am where I am, doing what I'm doing today.” – J.D. Yingling, associate professor of kinesiology and aquatics director at Harding University

Harry, 1977 (photo courtesy of JD Yingling)


  1. Mike, I love this! I hadn't thought about "Miller's Killers" in years. Probably decades. And his death. It was sad.

    My main memory of swimming lessons was Coach Tipton (I think that's right?) asking me if I were cold. I was to shy, or something, to admit it, said no, determined to stick it out. But I was shivering in the water and paralyzed by the cold, and he took me out and wrapped me up in a big towel and had me sit out a while. I've always thought that was so sweet.

    Coaches are so important, for good or for bad. I love it when they are for good.

    1. Exactly, Sheila ... a good coach (in athletics or other) is priceless.