The community swimming pool in Three Springs Pennsylvania has been in operation for at least fifty years. Far larger than a standard Olympic size pool, the swimming hole in Three Springs has an area where toddlers and non-swimmers can glide down baby blue and girly pink slides into sparkling, chlorinated waters. Tucked with precision into the rolling terrain of South Central Pennsylvania, the pool is located eighty feet below the limestone cliff upon which the First Baptist Church rests. The community pool and the chain-link fence which surrounds it serves as left and center fields to the adjacent town ballpark.
An arm of the expansive waterway has a section that is twelve-feet-deep. When I was a youngster swimming up there, that part of the pool had two diving boards. One was eight feet high. Most were terrified of even jumping from the highdive but some kids in town were like acrobats. We learned to flip backwards in mid- air and entered the waters seamlessly, head-first. The entire town gathered there on hot summer days. The dive seemed like a stage to me– everyone below had no choice but to watch. Sometimes, I completed double flips before entering the waters, other times a loud crack would pierce the country air that smelled of freshly cut hay.
Admission to the pool was just fifty cents, but most families had annual memberships that were only $300 for unlimited summertime access.
The Three Springs pool was where I learned breath control– a meditation technique that I call upon, even to this day, despite the fact that I am not underwater. At the bottom of the twelve- foot deep section of the pool, the poor children of town, like myself, would scan the bottom for loose change and jewelry. Going to the bottom was not easy. Our ears popped and one ran out of breath fast. Mike Zimmerman taught me how to hold my breath longer. The secret was yoga based breathing techniques– mind over matter. Mike could go to the bottom and stay down there for what seemed to be five minutes.
“First get as much air in your lungs as you can. Hold it for three seconds. Blow it out. Now do that three times and on the fourth, take in as much air as possible. Keep your mind calm. Do not get excited, it causes your heart to beat faster when nervous. Stay calm and conserve your air…”
There was a large drain at the bottom of the pool, just below the dives. I’d swim down to the bottom and grab hold of the large metal grate and relax. Because I had something to hold onto, there was no need to kick my legs and move my arms to prevent floating to the top. Time passed slowly. I sat and watched at least a dozen divers enter the water from above. Someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was Barbie Walker, the lifeguard, who saw me down there for all that time. She thought I had drowned. Even under water I could see anger in Barbie’s face as her long blonde hair moved like seaweed before her eyes. She pointed her finger towards the surface.
“Don’t ever do that again,” She screamed when we got to the top.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But look what I found.”
I held up a gold class ring that belonged to Jeff Rupert, the pool show-off who did swan dives to impress Barbie Walker. Several days prior, Jeff lost his ring in the pool. It was big news in town. Every kid in town who had learned the Mike Zimmerman breathing techniques was down at the bottom of the pool, feeling their way across the bottom, appearing like child stingrays in ocean waters, searching for that gold ring. It was at the seam of the drain where the metal meets the concrete.
“Give that here. I know who that belongs to,” Barbie shouted as if she had saved Jeff Rupert from drowning.
Jeff never thanked me for finding his ring. I wasn’t expecting a monetary reward or anything, but a kiss on my cheek, like the ones he had given to Barbie at the lifeguard stand would have been nice! He only asked me what happened to the gold chain it was attached to– as if I may have stolen it while I was resting comfortably at the bottom of the Three Springs pool.