Sunday, July 30, 2017

Racism at the pool...

Today, Bill and I visited a public pool in Nagold, which is a nice town near us.  Nagold happens to have a really awesome public pool.  As we were sitting there marveling at how nice the pool is and how you don't have to buy a membership to swim there, I remembered the public pools I belonged to as a kid.

One was the Sideburn Pool in Fairfax, Virginia.  By late 70s standards, that was a pretty nice place to swim.  It had a diving area, lanes for laps, and a kids' area.  I remember my mom used to just drop me off there and I'd stay all afternoon.  I took swimming lessons there and some of my friends were on the swimming team.  I inherited my next door neighbor's bathing suit.  Suburban Fairfax County is a fairly wealthy community, so we had nice "stuff" there.  But even as nice as the Sideburn Pool was in the late 70s, compared to the German pools, it pretty much sucks.

When we moved to Gloucester, Virginia, there wasn't a decent pool in the county.  What we had was the American Legion pool, which wasn't nearly as nice as the Sideburn Pool was.  It was basically a medium sized pool with a deep end and a low diving board.  I used to spend a lot of time there as a kid.  I remember that besides being kind of sucky, the American Legion Pool also had horrible shower houses that were just flat out gross.  You definitely wouldn't want to pee there, which probably meant people were peeing in the pool.  I probably was, anyway.    

I remember it was super cheap to be a member of that pool.  It was maybe $150 for a membership and 25 cents admission per visit.  I knew the lady who was the manager.  She was a member of my church and was the pool manager at the American Legion for 37 years.  She had an Irish Setter named Molly who used to come with her to the pool.  The lifeguard was the mother of one of my friends.  She used to sing duets with my dad at the Presbyterian church we attended.  Sadly, she died suddenly of a heart attack in 1995, when I was living in Armenia.

What I didn't know back then was that the pool had racist policies.  Since it was privately run, the American Legion Pool was free to exclude black members.  I never knew about that until years after I quit going there.  I was taking a speech class my senior year of high school and a classmate was trying to make a case for why the county needed a public pool.  She cited the American Legion's then racist policy of forbidding black members as one major reason why the county should build a public pool.  I'm pretty sure Gloucester did get a pool, if only because my high school now has a swim team, which they didn't have when I went there.

I remember being pretty shocked that the American Legion Pool omitted black members, but then years later, there was a discussion on Facebook.  I remember one guy I knew from my class angrily posting about how he and his brothers weren't allowed to swim there because they're black.  Another friend made a comment that came across as flippant... clearly she hadn't known about the policy, either.  And our classmate was a bit snippy as he chastised her for laughing about the pool.  She apologized profusely.  I guess it's just hard for us to believe that even in the 80s, there were organizations with very openly racist policies.

When I was a teenager and could drive, my friends and I would visit the two sand pools at Fort Eustis.  Unfortunately, those pools no longer exist.  They closed one years ago.  The other was closed in 2007 after a small child drowned.  It's a shame, because they were like big lakes, complete with sand, and the water was frigid, which was great during Virginia's steamy summers.

Anyway...  Bill and I were very impressed by Nagold's awesome pool.  It's not expensive to visit.  It is very civilized, with lockers, clean changing areas and toilets, a lovely biergarten (try finding that at a typical American pool), and lots of fun stuff like awesome slides.  And you know what?  I'm pretty sure that nice facility is at least partly paid for by taxes.

One thing I love about living in Germany is that people are so community minded.  There's a great work/fun balance.  Sundays are for family time.  And many communities have great assets that are available to everyone.  Just last night, Bill and I visited two farms and picked up fresh eggs and milk. We were on our honor to pay for the eggs, while the milk came from a vending machine.  You'd never see this in the USA.

Yeah... I think it's safe to stay that I'll happily live here as long as they let me.  God bless Deutschland.

Next time we visit, I'm trying the slide.


  1. Actually in rural areas like where I am many farmstands run on the honor system. Only once do I remember hearing of someone having all of his eggs and money taken. There's one with lots of great baked goods I've stopped at a couple of times in my travels. All unmanned - they put prices on stuff and I guess they haven't had problems.

    As for the racism, I think that was more a southern thing at that time. We had community pools, not run by a private organization, so we didn't have that issue, but the lifeguards could be dinks. Sean Hannity was a lifeguard for a time at one we usually went to and I have a friend who swears to this day he was the one who was always on our backs like we shouldn't do anything in the pool except stand there.

    I agree about the community feeling too. It's something we've lost here. Goes back to the "nothing matters unless it's important to me" attitude that came out of the 1980's. Maine developed a walking/bike trail to the NH border that one day they want to extend all the way to Portland. It runs along a pretty much abandoned railroad bed. They've been trying to extend it from the border up into our town for years but one guy on the Town Board keeps blocking it because they won't allow snowmobiles on it. There are plenty of other places for snowmobiles to ride - it really wouldn't make a difference. But that's important to him, so screw everyone else.

    1. Do you have vending machines for fresh milk where you live?

    2. I can totally see Sean Hannity as a facist lifeguard.

    3. I really don't know why the American Legion pool prohibited people of color. Bill says they once had a reputation for racism, but I don't know that for sure. Like I said, at the time, I didn't even know about the policy. It wasn't until I was about to finish school that I even heard about it. And years late, it was confirmed by black people who were my age.

  2. In the parts of California where I grew up and where my parents currently live, most middle-class families have pools in their backyards. almost nowhere are there membership pools available. For membership fees that are a a small fraction of the cost of putting in and maintaining home pools, families could have access to much nicer pools. when we visited my cousins in raleigh, North carolina, we went to the pool at which they had a membership. it was so much cooler than any pool they might have had in their backyard. I understand that California's Central Valley is hot and that land is mostly quite cheap there, as is the labor cost of putting in pools. I also get that many adults
    are more likely to use private pools in their backyard than to use a common pool. Still, the home pools end up being underused in many communities because practically every kid has one. the California backyard pool concept is wasteful.

    My mom said when she was a kid, the farmers tended to have pools because they had so much land and their own wells (water tables were higher then and people didn't worry much about their wells drying) adn because they lived in a state of perpetual debt anyway, so adding the cost of digging and surfacing pool onto the rest of their debt didn't even make a dent. Otherwise, it was only legitimately upper-middle class people who had them. Dentists, doctors, really successful business people, prominent architects, and a few attorneys owned pools. Otherwise, people used the lakes, owned doughboys, used the community pool, and swam friends' pools. There wasn't such an over-abundance of them. Now there is, and while it was fun having a pool in my backyard, i think I would have enjoyed a membership in a really great pool a lot more.

    I'm going on a bit of a tangent here, but in today's economy in that same area where my mom grew up 9and in the less-gentrified areas near where I grew up), school custodians and their families, if the wife also works (nearly always at a non-professional position), often have both pools AND boats, along with houses that aren't far beneath those that dentists might have owned a generation ago. prison guards have all of those things WITHOUT a spouse working. I'm not meaning to put school custodians and prison guards down (though there's often neoptism in getting the school custodian jobs; they're highly coveted positions in many areas because it's difficult to be fired after a probationary period, and the pay, hours, and benefits are apparently pretty good in most areas) , but I'm not sure our economy can continue to support school custodians and others similar to them in a manner that allows them to maintain lifestyles equivalent to those of highly educated professionals of prior generations. It used to be that if you did really well in school and completed college and possibly grad school, depending upon your field, or if you had at least a little capital and took some risks in business that paid off either through luck, hard work, or both, you had a decent chance of a relatively cushy lifestyle. Now it seems as though everyone who works at a job that is considered above the level of a fast food worker expects to own all of the things that professionals (including military officers) and successful business owners have. I'm not trying to be elitist, but I really think it's a lot of the issue with our economy and mounting national debt. I'm not sure it was wrong to tell kids they had to get a really good education, make it big in business, or have a highly marketable skill in order to have everything they ever dreamed of owning, and even then a person might be forced to prioritize.

    1. I have to admit, I loved having a pool in Texas. It also had its drawbacks, though.


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