Whenever I need to relax, or I can’t sleep or anxiety overwhelms me, I like to imagine it’s midsummer, and I’m floating in the deep end of the limestone quarry lake that sits just beyond my backyard. In my mind, I’m on my back— no raft, just alone with my thoughts and the water that fills my ears. Eyes toward the sky, the sun on my freckled skin, I can easily convince myself I’m in Hawaii, and things suddenly feel a little more calm. I’m lucky that my happy place is in my yard, and I try to remember that “all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
A hundred years ago, the quarry behind my house was part of Kaelin’s Farm, rolling hills of green just beyond the Douglass Loop. Today, it is Lakeside Swim Club, officially incorporated in 1924 after the farmland was sold off, and the Olmsted Firm designed a subdivision around the lake. Each spring, I watch the quarry fill up with 3.2 million gallons of chlorinated water. By Memorial Day weekend, happy members line my street, ready to snag their favorite lounge chair or be first off the diving boards.
Lakeside Swim Club is an oasis, a place most people can find only on Google Earth, and its iron gates on Trevilian Way open up to a wonderful community where members share toys, watch each other’s children, and leave their worries in the Lost & Found.
I’m attached, probably too attached, to Lakeside. I swam for the Seahawks by age 5. On opening days, I got up absurdly early so I could be the first person in the lake. I worked the concession stand at age 15, spending the first half of that summer perfecting my soft serve swirls and flipping burgers on the grill. The day I turned 16, I passed the Jefferson County lifeguard test and climbed a chair, whistle in hand, rescue tube at the ready. Throughout my 25-year-stint as an employee (part-time, and I am no longer on staff), I’ve taught hundreds of children and adults to swim.
Last week, Lakeside made the difficult, yet obviously correct, decision not to open as usual on Memorial Day weekend. While the water itself could be safe, social distancing is just not possible in a recreational pool. Lakeside’s No. 1 priority has always been safety, and I can’t imagine coordinating the logistics of keeping thousands of members safe in the summer of COVID-19.
Most members understand why forgoing our happy place is necessary, but the announcement was heart-wrenching nonetheless. All spring, we saw empty playgrounds in the Metro Parks, but we held out hope that maybe things would be different by summer. Swimming signifies the end of the school year, but this year, we get neither proms nor pools.
In a year of such loss, here is yet another.
No hiding from it: This is very much a first-world loss. Louisville has long-neglected its public pools, last year closing all the city’s public outdoor pools after budget cuts. That was a massive loss to people without access to private clubs and who must find other ways to beat the Kentucky heat. For parents, it’s a loss of the best way to tire out children in the raging Southern sun: There is no tired like swim-tired.
Those closings didn’t affect my little bubble. This time last year, I was eating popcorn by the kiddie pool, laughing with my neighbors.
Now, we are grieving our pool, our community, our connections.
My favorite gig of the year is my band’s annual Sunday Night Sounds concert at Lakeside. I’d play the accordion in my swimsuit. I’d wear a huge, floppy sunhat and sing to my Lakeside family. I’d spend my set break on the diving boards, doing back flips with my own kids and everyone else’s.
This year’s Lakeside show was supposed to be next Sunday. But the pool will not be open, and my band will not be singing together.
This is also my first full summer without my parents, who both died in the last year and a half, and it is my first summer without Lakeside. It is my first summer without a solid community.
I’m so sad. I’m so lucky. I’m so torn.
As I sit here in my yard, looking at all the green light bulbs on houses or porches, bulbs that represent compassion, I am both glad we are able to reflect on our privilege and also am deeply sad at our loss.
It’s OK, I think, to feel this grief. It’s OK to grieve any loss, whether it be your school or your pool. It’s OK to feel the guilt that proves you have empathy.
I’ve been able to float in the deep water for the past 40 years, but this year I’m going to have to cling to memory, both mental and muscle, and work a little harder to imagine those trees atop the cliffs.
This year, as I look out from my bedroom window, I see an empty three-acre quarry. But as the sun sets through the trees atop the cliffs, I see green lights that burn all night. I feel compassion and I feel community and I feel so incredibly lucky. •
Brigid Kaelin is a musician and storyteller. She is married to Lakeside’s reigning Biggest Splash Champion, David Caldwell. www.brigidkaelin.com and @BrigidKaelin