Eden says her favorite time to go to the pool is in the afternoons during the first couple of weeks it’s open, before school lets out for the summer. “It’s all locals, our friends are here, and it’s like playing at the playground after school but…something different.” We agree.
Our small town’s pool is at the top of the big hill at the park where the baseball, softball, Tball and little league fields are (Matthew would like to add that these diamonds are not well tended, the drainage sucks, they need dugouts and nobody cares about them). In the winter we use the big hill for sledding, and on Easter the AME church members put together an egg hunt for the kids. There is a serious-looking weekly game of Ultimate Frisbee all year, a slide and some baby swings near the climbing trees, and on the 4th of July we bring blankets and chairs and spread out all over the hill and field for the community band concert and fireworks display.
‘The big hill used to be a landfill,’ we say knowingly.
‘Really?’ we ask incredulously.
‘Sure,’ we say, ‘there aren’t big hills around here because of the glaciers.’
‘Oh yeah,’ we muse, thinking of boulders around town that the glaciers left behind. ‘I wonder how deep you’d have to dig before you would get to the garbage.’
New uses for old garbage heaps notwithstanding, we are very proud of our history here. Gaunt Park is named for Wheeling Gaunt, the wealthy landowner who gave the property to the village in the 1890s. Our generous patron was born a Kentucky slave in 1812 and when he was 32, through hard work and frugality, he bought his freedom and that of his wife and children (it’s unclear if it was all at the same time, or little by little). When he moved to our village in 1860, Gaunt was already a wealthy and landed man who was known by Frederick Douglass and Bishop Payne, and when he died he left money and property to his living relatives and his church, as well as a large amount of cash and property to a nearby black college of which Payne was a founder. To his village, Gaunt bequeathed the lands we know as our beloved park, with the stipulation that the village use rents from the land to provide flour to widows. We honor that wish each December when village employees deliver 10 lbs each of flour and sugar to all local widows.
December is far from our minds on this beautiful day at the teetering edge of summer. We park our bikes, hoof up the steep path, past the teenaged lifeguards at the gate and toward the cool blue squares of our pool. On these uncrowded afternoons it’s easy to spot our friends’ towels, clustered together on the shady slope. We hurry to smear sunscreen onto backs and necks before little fish have slipped through our fingers and into the water.
We stay too late on these days, knowing we should go home, get something onto the table, get people into and out of the bath-it is a school night after all-but we stay and stay until the fish grow legs again and rise, shivering, from the shady depths.