My mother announced the family’s change in fortune over dinner. “I’ve accepted the bookkeeper position at Kingswood Country Club. Isn’t that great? Maybe we’ll find someone who can help support your training.”
It was all part of my mother’s plan. As a young divorcée, she was always on the lookout for ways to promote what she referred to as my Olympic dreams. My mom had big ideas, you see, big goals for all of us. She’d use her bookkeeper certification to earn money while she got her M.B.A. She would work her way up to general manager, and one day, oversee the extensive grounds and elegant facilities. After that, who knew? For my mom, each challenge always led to bigger and brighter things.
I vibrated with expectation. My mother’s chirpy outlook had infected me. From the top of my head to the ends of my tippy toes I throbbed, certain 1969 would be the best summer ever.
As a benefit of my mother’s employment, her children were allowed (within reason) to use the club facilities. Pool fees were waived. Teenagers, if well behaved and properly clothed, could enter the pro shop to buy golf balls, tees, and caps. They could use the tennis courts and traverse the golf course, providing they did so in the less desirable times. The hot mid-day hours when reservations dwindled and members preferred to sip their gin and tonics on the upper veranda or sought the cool refinement of the clubhouse dining room; its French doors open wide to the lake breezes.
I decided I would prepare for fall try-outs by drilling every day. In seventh grade, I’d grown six inches and four the next. It transformed my petite gymnast’s body into a nascent Amazon’s. The changes in my center of gravity led to tumbles and falls, slips and injuries, culminating in the decision to leave competitive gymnastics and try diving instead. The Country Club’s pool had both ten- and thirty-meter springboards. I wouldn’t try anything fancy, but I could perfect my half-pikes, tucks, and summersaults, and practice ripping those all-important entries.
The actuality disappointed me. I spent most of my time laying on a low-slung beach chair watching my younger sister, Jeanne, play in the kiddy pool. Sometimes, the wind puffed the spray from the mushroom fountains over my sunburned legs. A few times I took Jeanne into the big pool to try swimming. My sister would cling like a baby possum, too frightened to let the water lift and support her. Swimming lessons were a failure. Each time, my sister cried and clung to the side of the pool, shivering and wretched until the instructor took pity on her.
The smell of grilled hamburgers wafted from the Snack Shack. I stared as a boy extracted wet bills from a hidden pocket of his swim trunks and ordered four at a time. Fives and tens fell to the ground like discarded gum wrappers. I hid the small cooler containing oranges and peanut butter sandwiches under my deck chair. The warm jelly oozed from the smashed centers when Jeanne and I picnicked under the pine trees, far away from the others.
Sometimes Jeanne would abandon the kiddy pool and dash into the clubhouse. Her wet towel bouncing behind as she scampered up the back stairs. Jeanne could color or play with her dolls on the carpeted vestibule outside my mother’s office. She’d burst in to find my mother inspecting her hair or lipstick in one of the compacts she invariably tucked into her purse. At the time, I considered it vanity, but knew enough not to say anything.
She’d close the compact with a little snap and say, “Go practice your dives, Gwen, but be sure you’re back in an hour.”
It freed me to race back to the pool. I ran on the grass and risked kicking up hornets rather than touch the broiling sidewalk. Girls in bright bikinis strolled from beach to pool. Their skin golden. Their long, sun-streaked hair falling like drapery down their backs. The pavement scorched my bare feet as I hailed them.
The fifteen-year-old son of a doctor fascinated me. I examined him as he walked by, his dark hair wet, a towel wrapped around his hips, laughing with a band of privileged young men. All of them sons of physicians and lawyers, knowing they too would one day become surgeons and CFOs. The Young Lord ignored me, but he didn’t object to copping a feel in the pool’s deep end if the opportunity presented itself.
He swam below, smiled up at me. “Come on, show me your best dive,” he said, his tone teasing and flirtatious. Pleased at the attention, I jumped off the springboard and executed a perfect jackknife. As I rose through the cloudy blue water, his hand came over my shoulder, slid under my swimsuit and latched onto my breast. He held it tight, like a pitcher holding a baseball. I elbowed him in the face then kicked out. I caught him in the pelvis and pushed him deep into the water. Our bodies churned in a swirl of bubbles and wash. We headed in different directions, like boxers returning to their corners. My fingers clung to the side of the pool until my fluttery breath calmed.
Now I understood the rumors about late night trysts spent on the furthest greens. People would tip their chins up at the sight of him in a golf cart. They’d twist their mouths into smirks and note the attractive girl sitting beside him. “Won’t be able to do much golfing in twilight. Will they?”
Two weeks later, Jeanne and I headed to my mother’s office. A handsome man in a linen suit flashed past as we reached the vestibule. He was distracted and cut across the foyer without noticing us. I gawped as my mother tucked her blouse back into her skirt and smoothed her tousled hair. I remember the fury in her eyes, the dignified way she said, “I’m sorry Gwen. The price is too high. We’ll have to find another way.”
I trailed behind as my mother strode down the curved stairs that bordered the clubhouse entrance. She crossed the broad expanse of marble flooring and smacked a set of keys on the General Manager’s desk. She took Jeanne and me by the hand and straightened her shoulders; together we walked out the clubhouse doors. The bright sunlight bouncing off the parked cars blinded us. We paused under the awning, barely long enough for our eyes to adjust.