that day vividly. It was just one of the many interesting moments in time that will forever be ingrained in my memory during my first summer job as a lifeguard at our local pond. I always was a water nerd from the get-go. Diving was the extra thing I learned as a kid. It just happened somehow when you just got to the water and went headfirst into the unknown. Not a smart idea looking back. You need to always know what’s under the water. One thing I was sort of okay with and that is being in a fresh-water pond swimming with unknown creepy crawly things lurking under the surface. Stay still too long and something might nibble at your leg like a fish or a squiggly who knows what. Had that happen more than once. As a kid long before my lifeguard gig, I was becoming more comfortable swimming at the local pond just moving the water along and having fun practicing arm strokes like what I saw others doing and mimicked their style. It seemed like it was every day during the summer, that a bunch of us kids from ‘the sticks’, or way-out country, rode our bikes about two miles to get to Stevens Pond or better known forever to anyone and everyone, as Stevie's. But the adventure was always in the getting there. Of course, we peddled our way in a super frenzy mode to get the most time in before we knew we had to head back. How come those days seemed so short? Anyway, the worst thing, since most summer days were hot, was the ride back. It was awful since it was now more uphill. So many times, we wanted to stop, turn around and go back for another dip to cool off. Then do the same thing over and over? Not.
The early teen years saw my first summer job working at a farm picking strawberries. Every day I always felt the stress since each pint was carefully analyzed and critiqued for perfection by Mrs. Barker. On other days we would be driven in the farm station wagon out to the middle of east Oshkosh to fill up buckets with beans. So many varieties to keep organized! Soon those days ended. Weekends and winter days after school, I found myself at a local small restaurant. Those stories have a chapter all their own and I’ll save that for a rainy day. Moving ahead in the story to the one job I wanted to share the most, was on becoming a lifeguard at the town beach. I spent time at the Y during the winter months learning all the things about life saving and training and how to teach swimming lessons. What was I thinking that it was no big deal to do all that at age sixteen? Got through it all and passed the course as spring rolled around. I found out that there was only one position open for the upcoming summer season as a Stevie’s Pond lifeguard. The one girl whose credentials were above me, had the wrong date and waited too late to apply. She got bumped. I felt kind of bad, but I had the job!
I was nervous and excited as the months led into the end of the school year. The date that the beach would be open was soon and that was after the last day of school. My first day on the job happened the week prior so we could work out the daily plan. I met the others and it started off great. We had the old guy, Walter Roberts, who was the head lifeguard and Don Smith, cool guy, and assistant to Walter. Soon enough, we all clicked and had fun as the days went by. The daily time sheet had each of us with an assigned number. Along with lifeguard duties and swimming lessons that, number correlated with your job of the day. Raking the beach and picking up trash was one job and cleaning the rest rooms was another. Sweeping the guard shack and tidying up the office was nice and easy. Making sure all the wooden guard stations were upright and not wrecked by the notorious after-hours fence climbers was another assignment. Hopefully the ropes along the perimeter had not been cut again. There was the rowboat at a house on the opposite side of the pond that one of us had to get dropped off at to then paddle the boat back to be used as the middle duty spot between the raft and dock. So, in the event of a catastrophic need for whatever reason, we had the “Titanic“.
Who had first lunch and could leave as early birds at the end of the day was the highlighted number everyone wanted.
It was a day that began sunny bright and was the beginning of the week. I was inside the restrooms, and so happy doing the potty chores. Not. My number was last today so I would be the one checking out with Walter and Don at the end of the day after all shifts ended and then locking the gate. I was coming back from dropping trash in the barrel when one of my co-workers Steve, saw someone walking by. It was a girl we all knew as her claim to fame was a match. She walked by not engaging with any of us and he made sure we all saw her and ragged on about how obsessed she was with fire or better known as a pyro maniac. She had already made an impact not that long before at the high school when apparently, she excused herself from a class to the girls rest room. I happened to be in there when she came in and just looked sideways at her. She was different. We knew her. All of us knew it was her hidden clever method not to get caught but to light something on fire. I returned to my home economics class but didn’t know where she went. Suddenly, someone ran in and told us to get out, the smoke alarm had gone off. The entire stairwell was on fire. This area stored all the props for the upcoming play and now they were gone. It was awful!
Now here we were, seeing this same person walking by and having a bit of banter about the stunt she pulled off. She disappeared out of sight when Steve smelled smoke. He ran to the gate, opened it to find the entire side of the road was on fire! We all ran out with shovels and brooms and whatever else we could to help put it out, but the fire trucks came quick and did their thing.
Did she do this since no one saw her light anything and by then she was long gone. It was such a long time ago, but I still remember that moment.
Smokey the Bear was not happy.