It’s been a hot couple of days in Adelaide, and it got me thinking about how I used to spend hot days when my daughter was young. I wrote this piece from her perspective. I hope she remembers it this way!
My mother had definite ideas about what to do on a hot summer afternoon. All of those ideas involved sitting under a shady gum tree, watching me splash around in the council pool. Her philosophy was that spending an afternoon near the water was a much better proposition than being cooped up in a small unit, trying to stay cool under a struggling air conditioner.
She managed our pool excursion with military precision. She’d pack sandwiches (curried egg and lettuce was a perennial favourite), a large flask of iced cordial (usually raspberry) and a container full of sliced fruit (watermelon and rock melon) into a foil-lined cooler bag. She’d bundle me into the car, along with our food supply, towels, sunscreen (for her – I didn’t need it) beach chairs and her book. Always a book.
When we got to the pool, she’d scope out a specific area to sit. It had to be under a large, shady gum tree, away from smokers and children – she was not a fan of other people’s children or smokers – but near enough to the pool so she could keep an eye on me and jump in to resuscitate me if necessary. She preferred the right side of the pool grounds to the left, and she never did explain why.
Once she had located a suitable position, she’d spread out a towel, unfold the beach chair, and fish out her book. I scampered off at this point, looking for new friends to play with. Or, equally, old friends. I was never fussy about these sorts of things. I’d rejoin her when I was hungry. Or thirsty. I’d devour those sandwiches like I hadn’t eaten for a week, and guzzle down that cordial like I was dying of thirst. The hunger and thirst of a child swimming all afternoon was insatiable. My mother, luckily, packed enough food to feed a small African nation, so while I was starving, I never starved.
As much as she liked to position herself so she could keep tabs on me, I liked to watch her, too. She’d sit in her beach chair, book in her lap, her eyes hidden by sunglasses and her face shaded by a large, floppy hat. Even though she had her bathers on under her t-shirt and shorts, she’d rarely swim. She confessed to me once that even though she liked swimming, it had to be at least 40° in the shade before she’d consider it… but then who’d watch our stuff? I discovered later, when I understood these things a little better, that her eyesight impeded her ability to enjoy the water. She literally could not see where she was going, and refused to indulge in contact lenses just for swimming. Ever the practical one, my mother.
On those hot summer afternoons, we would often stay at the pool until early evening. A thinning crowd, and the sun melting pink and yellow and orange into the horizon was our cue to head home. My mother would dry me off with a rough towel and laugh at my wrinkled fingers and toes. With my hair dripping, she would take me by the hand, lean down and whisper in my ear: ‘Didn’t you have a good day?’
Invariably, I did.