By Dori Owen
My fondest memory of summer growing up in small town Arizona is my brother and I riding our bikes to the Elks Lodge swimming pool, about four blocks from our home. The pool seemed nearly Olympic-sized to me as a child and once we jumped in we stayed in the water for the entire day.
We played Marco Polo, practiced our dives, and a very young me would strut my 10 year old stuff before boys who couldn’t care less. I even joined the synchronized swimming club where we performed regularly before a group of bored parents. Break time was lining up in front of a small snack bar to purchase melting ice cream or candy with our allowance money. There was an adjacent kiddie pool filled with about a foot of warm water that my youngest brother would splash around in, but only on days my mother accompanied us.
About my mother and the pool:
Her presence cramped our style because rules of no running, no swimming after eating, and no dangerous dives would suddenly be enforced. One of my brothers and I nicknamed her The Creature from the Black Lagoon due to her black bathing suit and joykill interference. We were merciless young heathens.
One day, she decided to take my very youngest brother from the kiddie pool into the big pool; with him clinging to her like a baby koala, she held on to the side, wending her way toward deeper waters. My baby brother, out of sheer panic, grabbed the front of her very vogue black one-piece and pulled hard.
This, of course, exposed my mother’s breasts to everyone within sight.
Needless to say, that was my little brother’s last foray into the big pool. My other sibling and I pretended we did not know my mother for the rest of the day.
It is very difficult to spend summers in the Arizona heat without a pool, but one summer my uber-liberal mother learned that the Elks Lodge (at the time) did not permit African Americans as members. My father promptly quit the organization and it was buh-bye Elks summer pool.
I owe my mother a debt of thanks for this human rights lesson, which would be the first of many she modeled for us. It is not easy to be a liberal growing up in the very conservative state of Arizona. This small act of defiance was one of many I would learn and absorb from her awareness of societal wrongs which instilled a true belief in us that everyone is equal and should be treated this way.
This grew from who we were allowed to play with to where she ultimately spent her career as a teacher. She refused to teach in our all white neighborhood and instead taught in a south urban Phoenix area, where she believed she could truly make a difference in young people’s lives. And she did indeed.
I will forever treasure my memories of halcyon summer days; but staying with me for life, more importantly, are the lessons learned from my mother.
Dori Owen blogs on ArizonaGirlDiary.tumblr.com, is a columnist on FeminineCollective.com, created the Facebook Page DiaryOfAnArizonaGirl, is contributor/editor for TheLithiumChronicles.org, and is a zealous tweeter as AZGirlDiary @doriowen. Her essays have been featured in books FeminineCollective’s RAW&UNFILTERED VOL I and StigmaFighters Vol II as well as LOVE NOTES FROM HUMANITY. Dori is a former LA wild child who settled into grownup life as a government project manager, and collected an MBA and a few husbands along the way. She spent her adult years in Southern California and has recently returned to where she ran away from in Arizona. Dori lives with her beloved rescued terrier Olivia Twist and has an adored grown son in Portland, Oregon.