We could see the glimmer of sunshine on water before we heard the splashing or smelled the sunscreen. My husband, Derek, and I pedaled our tandem bicycle up to the bleachers near the pool and climbed off.
On the other side of the chain link fence teenage boys were lined up at the diving boards. One jumped and twisted as he fell into the water.
“Eight!” Another boy called out through a megaphone. This one clad in uniform-red swim trunks, sitting on the lifeguard’s perch.
Splash. Another dive.
The next boy prepared to jump.
“Wait,” called the lifeguard. “You can’t go until he’s out of the water.”
A beat of silence passed while the previous diver climbed the ladder. The lifeguard whipped his Zac-Efron-in High-School-Musical-esque hair from his eyes. “Okay, now go.”
This time, an elaborate front flip, then…splash.
From the megaphone, “Ten! Okay, from now on a front flip is the minimum requirement.”
By this time Derek and I were rounding the corner toward the entrance. Laughter from the diving boards faded from earshot as we got in line to pay admission.
Derek’s parents were in town and offered to babysit so we could go on a date. And this is how we chose to spend our evening: kid-free at the community pool. To be fair, we love going to the pool with our children.
But there is something special about being able to swim in the deep water, sit in the sun, go down the big slide—all at our own pace, without being constantly vigilant of a wandering 20-month-old.
In line we ran into a friend we hadn’t seen in a couple of months. A few minutes later we spotted our neighbors, the whole family, playing across the pool. On my way to the new slide, I ran into a family from church.
While I waited for my turn on the slide, I looked down on the full scope of Wednesday evening at Roosevelt Park Pool. The noise of rushing water, voices, shrill squeals from children, and music were muffled from distance. It all looked so calm.
In that moment, looking down at the people at the pool, I had a moment of overcoming sentimentality. Sometimes this happens when I’m observing our town. Sometimes the goodness just strikes me, and I can only do my best to breathe it in, memorize it, proverbially encapsulate it—so I can take the memory out later and reflect on it again and again.
From the top of the slide, I saw another element, another piece of what makes life in Hot Dish Land so special. And it was right there at the public pool.
More than anywhere else I’ve lived, this place is a community. And the pool is a perfect illustration.
Where I come from, lots of people have pools. The summer is longer, usually hotter, and always more humid. If you don’t have a pool of your own, chances are you are friends with someone who does. Where I come from, the public pool isn’t widely used. People stay to themselves.
Here, it’s different. Having a pool is uncommon. If you want to go swimming, you go to the community pool. It’s what everyone does. Everyone is there—from littles in swim diapers, to sun-spotted grandparents. There are families, singles, and couples. We almost always bump into people we know. And if you go regularly, you’ll probably end up making a friend.
North Dakota is made up of small towns and communities. It’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever been, in that there is this constant “coming together” of residents. Whether that’s coming together for a fundraising dinner, a special event, or just coming together at the public pool—togetherness is prevalent.
It happens in the summer when outdoor public spaces are in their full splendor. It happens in the dead of winter when we gather for the Christmas Tree Lighting, mornings at the Fun Zone, and spaghetti dinners. I’ve never been in a place where things seem less divided; where people see others as just that -- people.
Here, it’s usually not about status, or income, politics, or demographics. It’s about community.
No place is perfect. But I like what I see here, from a bird’s eye view at the community pool.
For more on my affinity for North Dakota and positive living, connect with me on Instagram @amy_allender or on Facebook @amyallenderblog.