The kids are out of school, and the world is beginning to smell like hot pavement. Morning gloom gives way to hazy blue and long summer afternoons spent in the swimming hole.
It may be the pool in your backyard, or your neighbor's; maybe the community pool, the beach, a pond or creek in the woods.
For me, it's the pool at the private country club near my childhood home. But before pictures form in your mind of haughty exclusivity, caddies and pretentiousness, know that I am talking about the Chevy Chase Country Club. The Everyman Country Club.
Nestled in a canyon where palm, oak and pine trees stand guard, CCCC (as those in the know call it) is a serene patch of grass, simple clubhouse and raucous swimming pool. For nine months of the year, it's a quiet refuge for golfers to enjoy nine holes in relative serenity.
I have few childhood summer memories in which the CCCC pool isn't in the background. Which is why it's so jarring for me to lounge there now, watching my children frolic in the water. Perhaps the same cloudy water that I did.
Remember the pool scene in “Caddyshack”? For 15 minutes one day each summer at the elite Bushwood Country Club, the ragamuffin, uncouth, hell-raising caddies are allowed to swim at the club's private pool, frightening and chasing away the upper-crust members. It's kind of like that every day at CCCC in the summer. Weathered tattoos replace family crests.
The regulars — tense, deeply tanned chardonnay moms with sun hats and too many pools toys — get there when it opens and lay claim to the choice seating in areas with equal parts shade and sun. They'll be there all day so they need both.
Soon, every other seat and table will be taken over by the semi-regulars, not-so-regulars and irregulars.
It has the feel of a large pool party; all the liveliness of a crowded public pool, but with poolside food and beverage service. The friendly staff hurries about bringing mediocre food and much-appreciated drinks to all walks of life — old, leathery and wrinkled; tight, toned and tan, and everything between.
It's a Target crowd: they care about quality, but settle for a good deal.
There is no blue blood at CCCC. Though a summer membership does entitle one the right to complain if it takes too long to deliver an ice cream sandwich and feel a little privileged lounging on a deck chair sipping a Mai Tai.
Youthful lifeguards — college students earning a summer paycheck — stand sentinel over their charge. I'm glad to see their primary task is still telling kids not to run on the wet deck.
A parent's daydream is constantly interrupted by beseeching children.
“Come in the water with me!”
Just ate. Half hour. Doctor's orders.
“My goggles don't fit!”
There's no such thing as goggles that do, honey.
“She won't let me on the raft!”
Then flip her over and splash water in her face.
It's equal parts summer camp, cruise ship and Mommy & Me class, where parents attempt to relax as apron strings stretch and lifeguards earn their pay.
One doesn't come to CCCC for leisurely floating upon calm resort waters. In the shallow end, pool toys and floats become public property. I'm looking for a more original analogy than “packed like sardines,” but nothing else seems to fit.
The deep end is that great unknown; an intimidating zone that may take a few summers to explore. Little ones cling to the edge like shipwreck survivors. The bottom, 12 feet below, is the Marianas Trench.
The high dive is a perch from which all must eventually leap in a coming of age ritual. It’s no more than 8 feet above the surface, but it's a Grand Canyon cliff when you stand up there.
I dare not do the things from this precipice that I did 30 years ago. So I settle for a cannonball, strangely proud that my personal splash zone has grown over the years.
Summer: When blond hair turns green and bodies smell like eau de chlorine. When memories and reality merge, and life seems all too real and surreal at the same time.
And waiters serve you margaritas as past blends with present at the swimming hole where everyone can feel special.