The daily Weed Laundry whistle had just sounded as the noon day sun slowly crept across an azure sky. The young boy had just finished lunch and was recalling the celebratory moments of his last day as a fifth grade student at East Ward School the previous day. His fond memories of the school year ending were a gentle prelude to today’s joy of swimming at the local YMCA pool, an annual rite of summer shared by Corbin’s youngsters.
The day’s brightness was only dimmed by the thoughts of his dog, who had disappeared with other neighborhood dogs for their customary late spring spree. Not even those fleeting dark clouds dampened the spirits of beginning the summer swim season with so many friends from various neighborhoods.
The path to the pool was punctuated by familiar landmarks, sounds and aromas. Turning the corner from Center Street to Main Street presented a panoramic view of the small city that had become so familiar to him. With the sound of a locomotive belching smoke and hissing steam as it crossed the underpass behind, he was greeted by a colorful array of traffic lights directing cars, delivery trucks, and a southbound greyhound bus rolling slowly along the street before him.
Walking down Main Street, he quickly glanced at the Hippodrome Theater’s posters of coming attractions, spoke to a couple of local business owners who were entering the First National Bank, then slowly inhaled the distinct aroma of onions, chili and hot dogs wafting from the Dixie. When he turned the corner of Third Street and Main, he could not miss the sweet scent of leather emanating from Thurston’s Shoe Repair. As he approached White Oak Street, he heard the delightful shouts of those who had reached the Y earlier.
The expansive lawn between the sidewalk and the pool was a beehive of activity. Kids were pitching horseshoes, tossing baseballs, or engaged in animated conversations, while others had begun to form the second period swim line along the walkway adjacent to the pool’s office. Just as he mounted the steps to join the que, he heard the familiar buzzer signifying the end of the first period and the call to check in those who were waiting to enter the pool.
As the line moved past the office counter, the boy announced that he had a membership to the Y’s beloved athletic director, Ted Meadors, then went inside the pool area. Proceeding from the entrance to the boys locker room, he passed the slide and lifeguard chair on his left while skirting the gymnasium on the right.
At the north end of the pool, he descended the steps to the first dimly lit locker room where he found an empty cubby. After stuffing his shoes and clothes inside the cubby, he traipsed through a larger locker room to the showers. There, he had to take a mandatory cold shower before going into the pool.
Dripping wet with the frigid water, he rushed to the top of the steps where he encountered the two dreaded “inspectors” who were seated at the door to the pool. It was their responsibility to rub wrists, elbows, necks, knees and ankles to make sure each entrant was clean enough to enter the pool. The least amount of dirt or even flakes of skin uncovered by the intense rubbing would condemn an aspiring swimmer back to the dreaded cold shower.
Once approved to swim, the boy’s 45 minutes of sheer joy with friends began. It was only muted by the recurring thoughts of not seeing his dog for the past three days. Standing on the side of the pool he could see the familiar rope that separated the shallow and deep ends of the pool and the bleachers on the other side. The slide rose to his left while the two diving boards posed an inviting challenge to the right.
Cheerful sounds of friends vanished as he dove to the bottom of the pool and swam to the other side. After emerging from these breathless underwater strokes of bliss, his friends and he became involved in water games they created for the day. Later, they went to the deep end of the pool to dive off the springboard and high dive.
The high diving board was eight feet tall. From the top of its ladder the boy could see the roof of the gym just above the sun deck where the older girls had faced their chairs to take advantage of the sun’s bright rays. Four steps forward with one spring on the end of the board vaulted him above the sight line of the pool’s office roof before he plunged into the eight-foot pool below.
When he surfaced from the pool’s depths, he realized that only five minutes remained for this afternoon frolic in the YMCA pool. Soon, the buzzer summoned everyone out of the pool and into the locker rooms below. The brief despondent feeling of the afternoon’s delight was soon replaced with the anticipation of rejoining his friends the next day for another swim!
Taking his time on the walk home, he glanced into the windows of various shops and businesses along Main Street then turned down First Street so he could see the afternoon L&N passenger train, the Southland, awaiting its departure for Cincinnati.
Following the train until it crossed the underpass, he ambled along Center Street, then turned north on Ford, the last leg on the trip home. As he approached his family’s house, he was suddenly greeted by the ecstatic howls of his best friend, the black and white collie, who had been ushered home by a distant rumble of thunder. On this day of carefree delight, all was right with the world in Corbin!
Noel Taylor is the author of “A History of Corbin.” He is a retired public school administrator and Professor of Education, Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a 1959 graduate of Corbin High School.