In the scorching summer weather, which lasts roughly from Easter to Thanksgiving in East Texas, if you want to avoid morphing into an extra-greasy (and slightly hairy) strip of bacon, escaping the heat and humidity is a necessity.
Although the air-conditioning at Walmart can be quite exhilarating, you can only browse through the mouthwash and processed meats for so long before you raise the suspicions of store management — and they threaten to hire you. Therefore, several years ago, in a spasm of financial self-flagellation, my wife and I decided to transform our backyard into a chemically enhanced tropical paradise with the installation of an in-ground swimming pool, complete with real live palm tree thingies.
As we soon discovered, though, pool ownership can present several challenges. One example is the mysterious phenomenon in which the pool water creates its own gravitational field, attracting every leaf, insect, frog, squirrel (usually dead), snake (usually alive) and annoying neighborhood kid within a five-mile radius. As the pool owner, you are responsible for removing these contaminants (mainly the annoying neighborhood kids) and buying expensive chemicals to protect against them. Also, depending on the type of pool you own, you’ll also be tasked with cleaning the filter. Once you’ve done this for the first time and witnessed the unidentifiable sludge that comes out of it, you’ll likely decide to purchase additional cleaning equipment. I recommend an encapsulated hazmat suit and a flamethrower.
With whatever is left of your time and money, you may choose to host a pool party. At our home, pool parties always include a number of various and sundry children (in addition to our own three daughters). Depending on the age of the children (and some adults) present, there is the ever-present paranoia about the potential urine-to-chlorine ratio in the pool water. Despite these apprehensions, though, I seem to be the usual go-to parent whom the children request to get in the pool and play the straight man to their shenanigans. My wife assures me that this is because I’m so good with the kids, but I suspect that they consider me a larger version of themselves — just with more ear and nose hair.
One pool game that can provide minutes of fun is Sharks and Minnows. In our version, I play the shark (more like an elephant seal with low T) trying to tag the minnows before they can swim from one side of the pool to the other. For some reason, the children often up the stakes by assaulting the shark immediately upon being tagged. The game can get pretty intense, and it inevitably ends with someone’s feelings getting hurt (usually mine).
We then transition to a game that is less likely to involve having my eyes gouged out by someone in a Hello Kitty swimsuit — the repetitively annoying Marco Polo. After years of playing, I’m convinced that Marco Polo was invented specifically to irritate nearby adults to the brink of insanity and to allow children to hone their advanced cheating and arguing skills.
Once everyone is so upset that they won’t speak to one another, it’s time for snacks. Nothing awakens the savage beast of childhood “hangry” like swimming, so it’s important to be prepared with enough refreshments to satisfy a large sleuth of grizzly bears just after hibernation. At our last pool gathering, the kids cleaned out every last Cheese Nip and then resorted to eating an entire box of stale Saltines left over from the Great Tummy Virus Epidemic of 2016.
As the sun sets and we light the citronella Tiki torches (so the mosquitoes can see better), I often sit back to enjoy the tranquility of the evening, interrupted only by the occasional shrieks of five adolescent girls trying to cram themselves into a quickly deflating $25 pool ring. At these moments, I realize that even with all of the extra work and financial sacrifices, the pool has been a great investment. So if you ever decide to put in a pool, and you find yourself gagging while cleaning the filter, just reflect upon the sweet times spent with family and friends — and switch the flamethrower to turbo.
— Jason Graves
Jason (Jase) Graves is a married father of three daughters, a lifelong resident of Longview, Texas, and a Texas A&M Aggie. He writes about home and family issues from a humorous perspective for the Cagle Cartoons syndicate and his blog. Other than writing, his primary hobby is sleeping as late as possible. His piece, “Victoria’s Worst-Kept Secret,” is included in Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Crazy Family.