Middlesex Swim Club Darien, Connecticut Summer 1975 Home movie frame

Is there room, amongst your rightful worries, contemplations of what you’re living through, and what you’re wondering for the future, for me to take your hand and guide you back to the hot summer of 1975? You might not remember it.  Indeed you might not even have been alive then, but trust me, Middlesex Swim Club, Darien, Connecticut 1975 is a good place to be. 

I’ll walk you up the wooden steps to the entrance gate. Pretty steep for a kid’s legs, even my long skinny eight year old’s, but we’ll manage.  There’s a black cast-iron swing gate to push through, at the top of the stairs with vertical bars set a kid’s foot width apart, perfect for catching a ride on in the quieter hours at the club when the lifeguards don’t mind if you stand on its base while your friends push you back and forth on the hinge.  Careful not to put your fingers too close to that hinge, they could get a pinch as I can attest by the scar on my right pinkie where it once got caught (OUCH!) and later had to be sewn up by, I kid you not, Dr Raah!

Anyway, step up onto the green astro carpet and glance to your left where the club’s record holders names and times are recorded on a big board.  All the boys’ and girls’ age groups and relay teams swimming from 8 to18 and under are included.  Diving is there too and if you’ve got a sec you can find my brother, Jeb, listed for diving, my big sister, Kathleen, for backstroke and a spot I’m gunning for in the 8 and under 25m breaststroke.

It’s mid-July and we’re making our way through the swim team season – practices at 8am for an hour before the pool opens and again in the late afternoon for another hour just before dinnertime at 5pm. It’s been hot. “Adult Swims” have had to be called when the pool has been so busy the lifeguards whistle to clear it of kids to let the moms and dads have a peaceful lap or two or just a dip to cool off free of “cannonballs” and splash fights.

We sign in at the desk on the right.  You have to put your family name on the form and the number of guests coming in. I guess to keep tabs on how many of us are streaming in to use the facilities, although I don’t ever recall a maximum capacity being hit or the pool gate being closed to hopeful swimmers. Aaah, remember now it’s the seventies when it was permanently (for better or worse) truly, like they say nowadays, “chill”.

As you walk on to the main stretch of cement, overlooking the pool, you’ll see on either side burnt-out grass covered in towels and the chairs arranged for the spectators along the length of the edge of the pool. Loungers have been put away to make more space for the team and their supporters.  We aren’t coming for a leisurely excercise.  No, we’re here for a big meet to determine if Coach Sangster’s team can win another Division Championship for Middlesex and head off to the State Champs with some serious summer swimming kudos.

There are nerves in the air as we walk down to our corner of the grass where the team has hung groovy surfer “Hang Ten” towels over the fake red cedar wooden fences with signs saying “Go Middlesex!” and the likes.  If you want you can wave at my mom by the timers’ table as she and her fellow timers collect their watches and then pull them over their heads to dangle from their necks until it’s time to time a race. My dad is somewhere in the crowd talking to neighbours and no doubt keeping an eye on my little sisters: three-year-old Patty and six-year-old Mary Kate who hasn’t quite decided to join the rigours of the swim team practices and meets.  Mary Kate’s probably playing with Missy Millar to be honest or riding her new light blue banana seat bike out in the parking lot.  

Check out the flags hanging across both ends of the width of the pool to mark the last meters to the wall so backstrokers can count their strokes into a flip turn or a strong finish. There are nerves, as I said, but even more an excitement amongst the crowd, the coaches, and the teams. An energy building in the wonder of what will happen come race and result time.  Will all the training have paid off? Will swimmers remember the kicking and breathing rules so no DQs (disqualification) are called, remember their stroke techniques and how to make the most of their starts from the blocks?  Everyone is wondering, in the back of their minds – WHO WILL WIN? As they greet each other. Hope they’ve done enough to prepare for this moment. Oh, and pass out red Jell-o packs to dip your finger in and lick the sugar off “For energy”(remember we’re pre-FDA regulations curtailing food dye consumption). 

Over the swim club PA, Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Claire” will be turned down so the announcer can alert us it’s time for team cheers.  Our cue to gather in a huge circle of psychedelic patterned speedos.  We’re the blue and green team in case you forgot.  You’ll have to excuse the speedos which all pretty much have saggy bottoms at this point in the summer. They’ve been snagged and bobbled by directly sitting in them on the warm cement eating a popsicle during a round of Crazy Eights and then standing up only to have them pulled by the velcro-like connection of the synthetic swimsuit material detaching from the sear of the pavement. You might also notice some of the swimmers have goggles wrapped around their wrists which they wore to protect their eyes from the chlorine during the warm up swim.  Only if you are one of the big kids, like Gina Leighton who was destined for the Olympics, will you be racing in them. All us mere mortals would periodically try and dive in wearing a pair of goggles for a race only to have the slack rubber straps roll the eye pieces down the length of our faces upon immersion into the water. We’re wearing our google bracelets because we want to be like Gina and some day good enough to aspire to represent our country.

So we’ll gather and the captains (an 18&under boy and girl) will stand in the middle of the circle and take turns shouting out “Give me an M!” You’ll learn, once again, how to spell ‘Middlesex’ this summer even anticipating how the last three letters will make the older kids laugh a bit without really understanding why.  We’ll go ahead and just laugh along with them— loving being part of the team.  Loving being part of something bigger than little ‘ole me who missed the swim season last year when I broke my arm playing Kick the Can with our neighbours up on Alpine Lane one block up from the swim club.

A summer at the pool of doing practices of laps and laps and laps, has been the rite of passage to call ourselves one of the team.  Already the training and swimming our hearts out in races, winning or losing, has earned us a place to be here. The team stands in that circle and cheers for the moment, for each other.  Taking time to recognise each race will count and how collectively, if we all want to win the only way we can do it, is by being a positive part of it all. Sure, Gina lapping her competitors in freestyle to win her race is fun to watch especially, because she has the most exquisite stroke gliding through the water, but her race, her first place, only counts for 5 points and there are about 70 races to be swum today.  All of us need to contribute – each 1st, 2nd and 3rd -no matter what the colour of your ribbon, each one counts.  Each individual swimmer counts.

Try and feel that surge of what you can do when you work well together towards something positive. Before you know it, you’ll realise it’s not just the power of what you are doing, but the experience of the joy and the fun, too. And how together, we can make something good happen in the ways of the world.

In 1975 we were still throwing peace signs at each other and giving thanks for the safe return of troops from Vietnam.  Living in the hope they would be honoured as much for their services as generations before and after.

In 1975 we were reaping the benefits of the ban on DDT making steps to contribute to the Keep America Beautiful campaign as encouraged by the crying Native American man ads not to pollute. We were also watching, PBS’ Big Blue Marble which was encouraging us to communicate inter-culturally and to consider world ecology.

In 1975 Gerald Ford was president having come into the role post Nixon’s Watergate scandal.  Seeds toward cynicism for our politicians and government were surely being sown then, but don’t let that stop you from appreciating how hard the job must’ve been with Ford presiding over the worst economy in four decades, growing inflation and a recession.  We did not know it yet, but in next year’s election, he would loose to Jimmy Carter, however, through the grace of both men, he would find a way to set aside their enmity and go on to develop a close friendship with his former rival.

It’s hard to believe my memories of 45 years ago bring such echos to today’s world issues.

Yet my nostalgic dip is actually helping me to remember how the world has been through some of this stuff before and how it can emerge from these experiences. No doubt there will be scarring as distinct as the white one across the pad of my pinkie finger, but I hope no permanent damage.  I’m hoping if we can share the weight of our burdens across our team we can come together without division.  Our team being our family, our country, our world.  

And at this point, can I share with you where our team might take inspiration? Richard Attenborough, at ninety- years-old, has made a film he’s calling his witness statement to the world acknowledging where we are in the natural world and what we can do to start fixing things.  If you haven’t had a chance yet, please can I encourage you to spend the time watching “David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet”.  You’ll see how he acknowledges the serious state of our world, but offers some concrete suggestions on how things can be improved. He gives even my 1970’s optimism a place to dream in 2020.

And now, the roar of the crowd poolside is picking up.  I’ll have to leave you for a moment to watch while I take my turn in the race. My hair is pulled tight in a pony tail as I wring the tension through my hands awaiting the starter to call us onto the blocks.  I step up, put my toes on the edge of the slanted stand, and upon hearing, “On your marks” grab on and pull myself back to launch myself off and out above the water when the starter’s gun pops. I’ll try and stay airborne for as long as possible and then remember to take just one long pull and one kick underwater to see if I can make the most of my nervous, coil of energy released into the competition.  The crowd is silenced for those submerged moments underwater and it’s a wonderful balance of them cheering me on while I internally urge every muscle to push myself forward. I know we are all tired of the news, but it’s critical now to step up and do our part to contribute to the team.  Whether it’s a vote or a mask or a kind, reaching out —to share, the likes of red Jell-o, sweet energy, let’s make sure we keep our team strong by encouraging each other and appreciating what each individual race means and what each individual contributes.

Finally, if you’ve joined in, don’t forget to count your good luck, that your mom will be there on the far side of the pool after each trial, ready to hug you dripping with water, no matter what the time says on her stopwatch.  Even if it’s just a memory, it will feel good to behave in the manner we were taught way back when we were eight.  

*Listening to our hearts *Respecting others *Sharing *Including everyone *Standing up to bullies *Turning off the lights and not littering (and in my personal eight-year-old case) *Singing along to Captain and Tennille’s Love Will Keep Us Together


Image stolen from iHeart Radio July 17 2019



Then put your little hand in mine. There ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb.

Babe.  I got you babe.

I’d like you to try and tell me you haven’t thought about this scene once or twice, in say, the last six months or so. Please feel free to hold your hand up admitting you, too, feel like you are Phil (Bill Murray) stuck in Punxsutawney reliving Groundhog Day over and over and over and…

Sonny and Cher ringing in the new day on the clock radio feels exactly like life under COVID.  Sure we’ve got a few “distractions” along they way BLM, RBG, EU v UK, JB v DJT.  We’ve had our equivalents of Phil bumping into Ned and stepping into the puddle, Phil learning piano, Phil learning French poetry, Phil learning ice sculpturing, Phil trying to hook up with Rita /Andie Macdowell (why he’s so nuts about her is a whole other mystery surrounding that film). Definitely there’s been as much eating during COVID as Phil’s bingeing scene at the Tip Top Cafe.  All these distractions yet none to help us find a way to shift the day forward –to a new song at least.  

It’s all wearing a bit thin and I wanted to let you know I’m right there with you. And maybe, it’s because of this, I’m seeking guidance from my 1970s (from whence that song comes) upbringing to see if I can summon something to grab hold of to help push or pull me through the next stretch of this seemingly endless event.

You know I wander in the woods.  Walk Winston. Admire the birds, my local flora and fauna.  Carry on about trees. Soak it up at the beach.  Marvel in the cuteness of the cats, but really the elephant in everyone’s room these days is COVID-19 (not the Chinese flu by the way – it’s the corona virus. It’s a worldwide issue, just sayin’).

Now don’t worry, self-isolation, 2 metres distancing, face masking, virtual hugging, 6 people bubbling, track n tracing and hand washing has not addled my brain completely. It’s not forcing me to find some kind of meaning in Sonny Bono’s lyrics to I Got You Babe it’s there for all to see if you just look.  I’m deep, but not that deep (nor are Sonny’s lyrics).  It’s just that the song has stopped haunting my Groundhog Day-ish existence and instead has become more of a, dare I say, anthem worthy of sharing.  I Got You Babe.  Happy for you to shorten it to I’ve Got You (if the babe is starting to bug you).  Doesn’t everyone one want to feel like that right now?  Like someone’s got you? Got your back? Got who you are? Got this one?

Okay, try and stay with me.  Because Sonny is not only giving me a catchy tune to hum and keep me company, but his song is reminding me of his famous ex-wife, Cher, whom I’m also finding inspiring.  Cher is leading me to what I think all of us are looking for, in fact, need.  Nope it’s not her belting out, Half Breed, Believe or If I Could Turn Back Time (although that could be kinda helpful). Nope, it’s not her songs but her name, Cher, as in, Share, which is how I thought it was spelled when I was a kid and was allowed to stay up to watch her show with Sonny. I always thought the show makers had made a spelling mistake only I had been clever enough to spot (it was shocking but I was willing to accept grown ups aren’t perfect).  Share, as in share and share alike or even better:

As in the Swedish proverb, “A joy shared is a double joy. A burden shared is half a burden.”

Being the third of five kids meant we were raised on sharing.  Sharing clothes, sharing TV time and the Power of God (aka the remote), sharing bedrooms, sharing bathrooms, you get the idea.  Then there was the other kind of sharing. I can’t tell you how many times my dad would say, “Many hands make light work” as we all stared at our plates and we knew it was time to take it to heart. Meaning everyone had to help share with doing the dinner dishes and clean up. Sharing the work across the seven of us did make it go a lot faster and easier and, in truth, more pleasurably.  My mom always said although she loved our dishwasher, she didn’t mind hand washing and drying stuff cause that’s when some of the best conversations came to be (you know where I’m going with this) shared.

And c’mon, as I’ve taken you back to my parents’ house, I can’t miss mentioning, double stick popsicles. Although at times we might’ve wanted the lion’s share of a popsicle, splitting those doubles into the singles to make the box last longer on hot summer nights definitely worked out for the best.  I could never manage the doubles – I can’t bite ice and if I attempted the double, more often than not, I’d end up with most its melted flourescent coloured-dye sticky stuff running down my wrist.  Sharing the popsicle (ice lolly in UK) also meant everyone got to enjoy “the good” colours and not just get stuck with banana.

While I’m thinking of 70’s summers, I can’t help but transport us as well to Tony and Scott’s snack bar at Middlesex Swim Club.  My dad happened to be the manager of the club one year and he told Tony and Scott (who were college kids at the time) that if they could make the budget he set them for the season, they could keep anything over the top…Meaning they could have a share of the profits.  Genius.  And I’m telling you those guys, who’d already been dazzling us with the best grilled cheeses (not to be confused with cheese burgers, Mary Kate), hot dogs, milk shakes, fries, and frozen Charleston Chews, took that idea and the snack bar to a whole new level with the prospect of that kinda sharing.  We only lived a block from the swim club so ended up eating at home mostly, but for special treats, my mom gave us snack bar ticket books to last us all summer. Most of my tickets went to the aforementioned Charleston Chews.  Tony and Scott would freeze those babies until serving. When you ordered one, they’d crack it on the counter so you could fish out perfect bite sized pieces to fit in your mouth and even better share with your friends.  It really was the only way to make it through the 8 inch bar of nougat, caramel and chocolate without it going to goo; a sorry waste smeared inedibly into the wrapper.  

So what can we share now?  You know. Responsibilities – wearing masks, supporting all those sharing in the education of our children, share in the care of each other, share in the sorrow of loss, share our stories, share our worries, share a smile, share a thought, heck, share a joke.

I was looking up that Swedish proverb and the google universe sent me this video from 2014.  I think it’s funny and definitely a good example of how sharing something, perhaps seemingly unsurmountable, even with strangers, seems to be made all the better for sharing. Watch it even if just to remind you of what the unmasked past looks like or what The Bumblebee Tuna Song, Gangam Style and What Does A Fox Say sound like…

Lastly could I suggest you share an experience? Definitely share in this seemingly endless marathon of an experience.  

Which draws me to my concluding point to share with you.  I don’t know if you heard but they held the official London Marathon this weekend.  It was rescheduled from April and was run COVID style.  Around 100 “elite” athletes ran the 26.2 miles on a special course around the city while another 43,000  from across 109 countries virtually ran the race on courses of their own choice/making.  I think there was some special app they could sign into and make it all official.  Anyway, I heard about this one lady who made it through her course in 4 hours and 46 minutes (the elite do it in closer to the 2+hour mark).  4 hours and 46 minutes.  That’s incredible in my book. When I heard she persevered for that long I had to ask –How? How in the torrential rain and far colder temperatures than the April she would have trained for did she do it?  How did she have the stamina and determination to carry on for that long? Well, I’ll tell you, she completed the whole marathon with her family and friends meeting her at different points across the race and running with her for awhile. She literally shared the experience across the people and the space and time to make it to the finish line.

I reckon COVID catches up with us all (right, Donald?) in more ways than testing positive.  Hope this post goes a little way in letting you know you’re not alone.  There’s a finish line out there even if it’s a bit theoretical at this time.  For now, just rest easy, I got you, Babe.