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The Longest Day of the Year

June 26, 2022

It was Monday, June 21, 1965: the longest day of the year. My tiny private country day school had been in summer recess for at least a week.

My father had caught the 7:40 AM train to New York that morning, as he did every morning. My mother, pursuing a decorating B-Roll to her “housewife” cultural designation, was going to New York City. My brother was a freshman finishing up another disappointing academic year, this time at Dobbs Ferry High School. My sister was in Los Angeles, having left The Masters School before her graduation last year. That left me.

I was 9.

I had, the summer before, gone to Hackley Summer Day Camp, up Route 9. But starting next week, I would spend my first month of sleep-away camp, at the Pequot (for boys) Program at Incarnation Episcopal Camp in faraway Connecticut. I was in-between, as was often the case.

There was only one choice for a 9 year old that day: spend it at our Country Club, the Ardsley Country Club, also up Route 9 from our home. It was too far for me to walk, so my mother dropped me off in my swimming trunks. With a fresh booklet of brightly designated tickets: 5, 10 and 25 cents each. The pad was color-coded with many 5 cent coupons and very few 25 cent versions – all scored at their connections for easy removal.

New York City was only 40 minutes away. My mother simply had to look at fabric samples for an interior she was designing (she loathed the word “Decorator”.) So, I was dropped off at 10 AM when the pool opened. It was a hot, sunny day at the break of summer. Since taking any lessons of any kind was never thought of, I had no skills at the tennis or golf facilities that were offered at the club. So, pool it was.

Since I was officially labeled “Husky” by the department stores my mother frequented, I had the mixed emotions of a fat pre-adolescent with a loaded Snack Bar and a new, untouched, $5 pad of Tickets. And a day to spend in a bathing suit, in public. As usual, I had no friends at the club, or anywhere else. I do not know if I packed comic books, or any book, or really anything. But I would “keep busy” at the pool.

In 1965, concrete pools had 3 major components: so much chlorine that your eyes stung when you jumped in, vicious swirling yellow jackets searching for the food remnants left behind, and those foam boards you could hang onto and kick. The club would move to a grander location in the following year, but for now was accommodated in an old “mansion” (really a big house) – so the pool was small, and surrounded by flagstone and addressed by the whining AM radio left on at the Snack Bar.

I jumped in, with very few others. After 30 minutes I left the chlorine bath with newly wrinkled finger tips and bloodshot eyes,. My mother did not pack her Ban DeSoliel tanning gel (with an SPF of 5, if they even determined that in 1965) so that meant seeking shade as, being WASP, my skin has the sun resistance and tone depth of butter. Fortunately, the tables mostly had worn canvas maroon and white umbrellas over them. The painted wood loungers were as old as the pool, so the nails, splinters and ragged edges needed towels to be applied.

And towels there were. Small, thin Pool Towels with the appropriate maroon “ACC” (“Ardsley Country Club”) emblazoned end filled shelving and hampers at one end of the pool.

By 11 AM I thought it was late enough to get a hot dog, and that meant both Heinz pickle relish, and the virtually radiant light yellow French’s mustard all set out for personal application.

That three minute consumption triggered the terrifying “Forty Minute Rule” – which meant instant death if any part of my body touched the chlorine pond within that time limit. So, I watched the screaming, jumping and wading kids. The mom’s were reading a magazine, having a smoke or, occasionally stuffing their hair under a hideous rubber cap and jumping into the shiny water, only to pop out and spend far longer reconstituting their hair helmets than they spent swimming.

I jumped in for another thirty minutes, then had a Sealtest Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich. Surveying the spent 35 cent void in the ticket booklet, I knew my limit. So, the next “Forty Minute Rule” was spent under cover, amid strangers. A pastime I was used to.

Until The Rule was satisfied, and I jumped back in, and rested my arms akimbo upon the flagstone edge of the pool, looking out into the trees, shading the far side of the pool. My mother would be back in an hour. Or so.

For no good reason, I murmured, “This is June 21, 1965, the longest day of the year. I will never forget that.” And I didn’t.

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