I grew up in the quaint town of Jacobus, a borough of York, Pennsylvania. My summers were filled with riding bikes and climbing trees. I played tag in my friend Ben’s butcher shop, pretended to be a ghostbuster with my friend Matt and wondered how much it would hurt to pee on an electric fence with my friend Jay (when we weren’t building time machines).
It’s easy to idealize the good old days. These memories seem simple, innocent, and bright compared to the complex world of gray hues I sometimes live in as an adult. However, the past may not have been as perfect as you remember. Case in point- my 7th grade school swim class.
Intro to Middle School Swimming
My middle school had a huge indoor pool. It was great for the community during the summer, but not so great during middle school. I had totally forgotten about the indoor pool until someone mentioned it on Facebook the other day. Some things are better left forgotten.
I believe my school felt obligated to use their indoor pool in order to justify its expense. So, when I was in 7thand 8th grade everyone had to take swimming during gym class for a portion of the year. This may not sound too bad except for the combination of two very important variables: awkward bodies and school-supplied swimming suits.
The indoor pool was located near the high school and connected through underground tunnels. So, when it was time for gym we had approximately 4 minutes to traverse the 2 mile underground labyrinth in order to arrive before the class bell rang.
Arriving at the Pool
Upon arriving at the gym pool we were informed that we were required to use school-supplied swimsuits. That may not sound so bad except for a few factors. 1. They were speedos. 2. They were possibly decades old. 3. They were speedos!
Now, I would not consider myself especially bashful, but as an insecure 7th grader, I was not excited to wear swimming underwear in front of all my peers.
One by one we had to go up to the counter and tell the lady what size swimming underwear we wanted to borrow. The speedos were not stretchy at all and went by waist size so you had to be specific. I made a guess regarding my waist size and were handed a faded gray-blue pair of underwear and a small towel. It struck me that these speedos seemed very old. I wondered if they were around when our parents went to school. There’s a certain sweet sentiment surrounding a parent and child sharing the same teacher, but this sentiment does not extend to swimwear.
I proceeded into the locker room to try on the speedo. All the boys tried to change as quickly and privately as possible. We soon realized significant issues. Almost all of the swimming underwear fit poorly- probably due to age. Most boys had one of two problems; either the waist was too large and the legs were really tight, or the waist was too tight and the leg holes were very stretched out. So, we had to keep going back to the lady handing out the swimsuits until, like goldilocks and the three bears, we found the swimsuit that fit just right.
The Back Test
One by one we sheepishly left the locker room and sat by the pool on metal benches. Our teachers decided this awkward time was perfect to check all of our backs for scoliosis. So, one-by-one, we had to walk up to the teacher and bend over so they could check to see if our backs were straight. I believe we also needed to let them know our comfort in the pool so we could be separated by swimming ability.
I had no idea what scoliosis was, but I remember praying, “Please God, let me have a straight back!” No one wanted to stand out while wearing our ill-fitting swimsuit any more than we already did. I didn’t really know what would happen if they found that someone’s back wasn’t straight- but I certainly did not want to find out. Luckily, I passed the test and was free to swim in the more advanced swimming group. The actual swimming part wasn’t so bad as long as we could hide in the water.
Out of the Pool
But then we had to get out. The gym teachers demanded that we take a shower after class before getting our clothes back on. So, we showered as quickly as possible. There was a large basket right outside the shower where we were immediately supposed to wring out and place our swimming underwear. This was not a good thing for a 7th grader. We washed off as quickly as possible, threw our speedo in the large hamper, and scampered to our locker to dry off/hide our bodies using the towel we were giving at the beginning of class. Unfortunately, the towel was the size of a credit card so it didn’t help much.
We gathered our things and when the bell ran began our long trek back to the middle school through the underground labyrinth.
Putting it All Together
As you think through your childhood, I bet many things felt simple compared to paying bills and arguing politics. But King Solomon, one of the wisest men who ever lived, once wrote, “Do not say, ‘Why were old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.”
I think there are two main reasons Solomon cautioned people from idealizing the good old days. First, focusing too much on the past keeps us from appreciating our present or investing in our future. Preoccupation with what was may move you toward dissatisfaction with what is or what could be.
I would suggest the second major reason Solomon did not encourage people to devote too much time on the past is this: the past may not have been as perfect as you remember. Running around and riding bikes growing up was fun, but 7th grade swim class was not. I’m sure you have your own stories. Instead of trying to get back to what was, let’s put more energy this week dreaming about what could be.