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I wrote this in 2009. II just returned from a reunion. This wasn’t a high school or college reunion. This was a reunion of the girls and guys that hung out at the Parrish Street Municipal Swimming Pool in the summers of the 1960’s and 1970’s. As I was leaving I realized that it had been exactly forty years since I walked away from the wall at the side of the pool. I got married in 1969 and that ended my career in the pool gang.
It got me thinking of those days. It was like a rock and roll fantasy sitting on the wall listening to the great music of the time, playing cards, smoking cigarettes, and generally goofing around. We were a classic group ranging in ages from twelve or thirteen up to eighteen or nineteen. Our neighborhood wasn’t very high on the income demographic but it didn’t bother us; we were all in the same boat. We found plenty of things to do that didn’t cost much money; some of them didn’t even get us in trouble.
These were the days portrayed in the AMC TV show “Mad Men” and the old NBC show “American Dreams.” I am reminded of old times when I see movies like “Stand by Me,” “Rumble Fish,” “The Outsiders,” and “The Lords of Flatbush” — without the major violence and excess drama of course.
Let me give you a little setting. This was in the small city of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania before the great flood of 1972 and the following reconstruction that changed the city forever. That flood was the worst disaster recorded in Pennsylvania with the Susquehanna River cresting 41 feet above flood stage.
The city pool was on the corner of Parrish Street and Lloyds Lane. Lloyds Lane and the small part of Dodson Lane that led to my house belonged to the gang on those summer days. These lanes were just one car width wide and it was a challenge for cars to make the turn from one lane to another. There were three spots, other than the pool itself, in this small area that we called ours. Four kids were from one family and they lived in a house on Lloyds Lane. They had a big front yard with shade trees. It made an excellent place to play cards on a lazy summer afternoon. My two brothers and I lived up on Dodson Lane. Our house was right next to the pool. Sometimes we would be up there just watching the kids swim; which was a good excuse to scan for girls and see if you could look down their bathing suits. Also, to the shock of my mother, the roof of our house became the challenge point for the more daring in the gang. Several guys dove off my house into the pool below. It was about a thirty-five foot dive into only ten feet of water. We were really lucky no one got hurt. There is a whole story behind how the first dive came to be.
This is a picture of opening day of the Parrish Pool in 1957. You can see my house in the upper left. Now you know how crazy those boys were for diving off that thing into ten feet of water.
The pool wall was the main gathering place. The wall was a decorative three foot high wall that went along the front and the side of the pool building. There was about four feet of room between the edge of the wall and the building. The wall on the Lloyds Lane side was about twenty-five feet long and it made an excellent place for us to gather and hang out. It was the meeting place and a place that holds a thousand memories.
There were plenty of nicknames to go around. Some of them were classic like Lefty, Wop, and Smokey. Others were a little more creative like Oakey, Wiggy, Clown, and Head, The Mad Guinea. I was Bush or The Bush Man because my long hair was thick and curly and it grew out and not down. It was jet black, part of my Italian heritage. I wish for the days of jet black hair now that it is salt and pepper and leaning more toward salt.
At the reunion my old buddy Wiggy reminded me of a Friday night in the summer. We were all sitting on the wall, playing our own version of rock and roll jeopardy, or playing cinch; the official card game of the pool gang. My man Wiggy decided to count the number of kids hanging out that night. There were sixty of us lined up on that wall or standing around.
On Friday and Saturday evenings the wall was the staging area. It was a jump off point to the night’s activities. Some would head to the big dance at the San Souci Amusement Park, others would be setting up a beer party in the woods close by, the couples would be heading off for their own festivities, and for guys like me it would be time to look for girls.
I see this is going to have to be a two part article. I’ve just set things up. I haven’t gotten into the stories of sneaking into the movie theater, playing tag with the local police, or the guys with the muscle cars.
I would just like to thank all of the tough guys, cool dudes, and cute girls that made up the Parrish Street Pool Gang. It was a great way to grow up.