Monday, July 25, 2011

Sweet Bindings

It was the summer of 1993. I came home from work to our house in rural North Texas to find my two young sons (Daniel 12 and Andy 8) sitting on the side of a large foxhole. You guessed it, they were playing army. 

I walked down the slight grade of our large yard to their location under a beautiful old oak tree near the edge of our property. I sat down with my guys on the side of that foxhole and we began to "bat the breeze" as boys will do.

Oh, the subjects we undertook that afternoon. We covered the gambit of schemes, and dreams, and plans. How big and exciting the world is to young boys. Every possibility is new and deserves to be explored. 

So, sitting in a neat row on the side of that foxhole with our legs dangling down, the three of us were exploring some of those great possibilities. And, as conversation tends to do when it is coming out of boys (of any age), the longer we talked, the "grander" the possibilities became.  Until, the grandest of all ideas (at least for that afternoon) occurred to us. I said, "You know, if this hole was a little bigger, we could make a swimming pool out of it."

The next afternoon, when I arrived home from work, the dirt was flying. The hole was now several times yesterday’s size and depth. Eventually, over the course of a few days, it was sculpted into a near perfect rectangle that was 22 feet long, 12 feet wide, and Deborah deep.

Deborah is the boy’s younger sister (6 years old at the time). We decided that for safety’s sake we would keep the depth of the pool at shoulder height to her. The corners of the pool were carefully shaped to about a one foot radius. And steps were carved very precisely from the dirt so that they became an integral part of the shape, just as you might see in a formal concrete pool.

My part in all of this was just to serve as the steering committee. The boys did most all of the actual digging and shaping work. And their shovels were fueled by pure enthusiasm. Sometimes I could hear them from our porch discussing and deciding on the details of "pool building." Sometimes they would disagree and argue; but always, in their voice, there was the excitement of the what they were doing.

Oh, and I had one other responsibility to discharge in this process. On pain of - well, I’m not quite sure of what, but, I was supposed to devise and build a pump and filter system adequate to keep the pool clean. Fortunately, neither of the boys had ever heard of a "Performance Bond." If they had, I’m sure I would have had to secure one to guarantee that I would finish the pump system on time and on budget. At any rate, even without the bond, I did eventually bring in the project as prescribed. 

We lined our "dirt sculpted pool" with a blue plastic liner made of two layers. The first was a regular blue polyester tarp (for the proper color, you know) and the second layer was clear builder’s plastic (to actually contain the water).

It was a truly grand summer afternoon when we began to fill that pool with the garden hose. Every inch of rise in the water was duly noted. We remained a long time after dark with flash lights watching that liquid joy rise in our new pool and talking excitedly about the possibilities that lay ahead.

The filling went through the night and into the next day until the water was within about four inches of the rim. We estimated about 6500 gallons of pure pleasure to be in that pool. And finally it was jump-in-the-pool time. 

In we all went at the same time, making as big a splash as we possibly could. We estimated that first "splash-in" to have cost us at least, at least, 6200 gallons of water. But luckily, most of it fell handily back into the pool.

We reveled in our accomplishment all afternoon. We played every pool game we could think of; and then we started making them up. We swam on the surface and under water. We did flips and flops and laughed and splashed until we absolutely wore ourselves out in the joy of it all. We had a real pool! What could be better than that in hot North Texas in the summer?

Eventually, near the end of the day, it dawned on us that we had not check out the pump/filter system, and that it was now time to do so. So, we all got out of the pool, dripping wet, and gathered around our beautiful new metallic blue pump.  

The pump was attached by PVC piping to the five gallon bucket that held the filtering material, which was connected to more piping that would return the filtered water to the pool. If ever there was anything that qualified as a genuine, bonafide, low tech "contraption," this plastic and cast iron labyrinth was it.

Nevertheless, it was like something magic sitting there on that platform made of plywood at the end of the pool. So, for a short minute, we all just stood there dripping and staring, in due reverence to the occasion.  And, there was one unspoken, but very much shared, question in all of our minds: "Is this thing really going work?" 

To answer that question, I dipped water from the pool to prime the pump. I poured the water into the intake piping, and replaced the large pipe plug that had been removed for that purpose. 

When I was ready to switch the pump on, I remember telling the kids, "Stand back." I suppose they all thought there was the real possibility of an explosion because, without hesitation, they all did so - immediately.

I flipped the switch; and, we all held our breath. Instantly the pump started to make a low whine. At first, there was nothing. But within a few seconds, a tiny stream began to flow. And then, a bigger stream. And then a bigger and bigger stream, until the return pipe reached its full capacity. At that point, it was party time all over again.

We watched until dark, with rapt fascination, that wonderful little metallic blue pump, doing its beautiful, amazing, magical work of keeping our new pool clean. We got a big spoon to catch the return water stream and the impact of the water turned it into a beautiful aquatic display.  

And, by the time the day ended, a miracle of transformation had actually taken place regarding our "contraption."  Indeed, it had come to look more like an elegant fountain than the gaudy knot of pipes and buckets that we originally understood it to be. Once we saw it actually working, its hideousness just melted away.

We swam in that pool for three seasons. Each year we would peel out the liner, dig the pool a little deeper (Deborah was growing).  We would then refill it with that beautiful, clear, cool water that would set us free of the Texas heat and bind us together in innocent fun. 

Eventually we coped the edge of the pool with stones.  And, we installed overhead lighting in the area as well as some benches and landscape flourishes.

The intrinsic value of that swimming pool was just south of $100 dollars. But, the closeness that it brought to our family - the shared achievement, the bindings of laughter, and love, and dear shared memories of the good times were and are truly priceless. Thank God for foxholes, and little boys and girls, and the homemade swimming pools of life.