A mother and son entered the pool area. The young adult son seemed non-verbal and avoided eye contact. As I was just thinking – no rest for the weary – Mother went straight to a cabana lounge chair, stretched out flat, and immediately closed her eyes. The boy went straight to the water, carrying a bag. Soon, the boy had his collection in hand and a system. He spent a good deal of time carefully moving a small pile of prized possessions from one side of the pool to another. He walked while doing this and never submerged himself in the water. This occupied him for some time. In one of his crossings, one item fell to the bottom of the pool. He was disturbed as evidenced by an increased frequency in soft moans, which became a cry for help. I looked over and Mother’s eyes remained closed. As I was wondering what to do, a girl was swimming by and noticed the dilemma. I guessed her to be about seven years old. Although she didn’t know this boy and he was different, she took quick personal action, donned her swimming goggles, and dove underwater to fetch the item in question. The boy was immediately calmed and she went about her business as though nothing happened. Another day saved.
John has an old world charm. He and his “wife” are regulars at the pool but I hadn’t seen them all summer. Recently, they joined me in the hot tub. John’s wife began a conversation with an elderly woman she remembered from years ago. I felt very comfortable striking up a conversation with John, since his wife was right there. John said they had been busy swimming in the ocean all summer. When asked what beach they use, he answered that they go to a different one every day.
John talked about the place he was born, in the Pyrenees. I talked about my grandparents’ village in the Alps. John talked about his significant weight loss over recent months. I talked about my need to lose weight. John talked about how his lifelong career as a chef had prepared him to “know better.” I talked about how my education as a dietitian had prepared me to “know better.” John talked about losing his wife of 35 years, the love of his life. I listened. It turns out that the woman accompanying John to the pool each time is his very close friend, not his wife nor his girlfriend.
I suddenly felt awkward in the hot tub. How does one break off and exit after the sharing of such personal life stories. “So long” felt wrong, as did “goodbye.” Instead, I chose to say, “I’m sure I’ll see you again John.”
There was a select small crowd at the pool on this fine Sunday morning. I was making laps, at the same time, observing strangers around me. One thin, haggard-looking woman caught my attention. I first noticed two large patches completely covering her shins, like a second set of skin used for healing ulcers. She sat on a lounge chair across from me with her knees bent. Her body was almost as narrow as her bent limbs. She had shoulder length tousled hair. I quickly looked away.
Just a few minutes later, I lifted my gauze in her direction. I was amazed to see a woman of very similar stature, pencil-thin with scarecrow limbs. I saw that she had a state of the art hair cut. She was about 60 and her short boyish cut was imp-like in the front with bangs, long and layered. A waiter was serving her lunch and they were deep in conversation. There was no sign of the first woman I had observed in the very same pool-side lounge chair. The “new” woman had two small, square bandages, one on each shin.
Most often, I feel shy or hesitant about attending a large event. I considered whether to attend Big Nick’s Ride for Cape Cod’s Fallen, which takes place in my hometown of Yarmouth, MA. I have seen the one-thousand plus motorcycles go through. This year, I had a personal interest in knowing more about the group. My son is presently in training to become a Marine. I gravitated towards the chance of meeting others who have served or the families of those who served. Although designed to recognize Gold Star Families of Cape Cod, the event description states the occasion is also for past, present and future service persons and their families.
My first tendency is to avoid feeling trapped at a large public gathering. I considered going to watch from a somewhat secluded part of the route, avoiding the fanfare. My husband pointed out that it would be a unique opportunity and perhaps I should “actually attend.” He certainly was right and I did attend.
Pulling up to the high school, I noticed that their were plenty of parking spots right up front. Well, I may as well park here I thought to myself. It did seem odd to me that there were so many available spots. I set up my folding chair along the route, after consulting with a group of Marines. Now the only thing to do was wait. I struck up conversations with the scattering of people who were there at a decent hour. I wondered out loud to several people asking where all the spectators were. “They’ll be here” I was told.
The Dennis fire truck came and unfurled its massive flag over the empty, but soon to be full of motorcycles, parking lot. Then we waited some more. I was told by a fellow spectator that the procession often gets a late start out of Bourne. The Gold Star father of “Big Nick” greeted people as they trickled in. I had a good conversation with a gentleman I later learned, was Nick’s uncle. While on the sidelines with my sign (see photo), a woman came by whose son is a Marine on his second deployment. We cried together like two old friends. A mother understands like no other.
I decided to engage through Facebook Live. There are military families I am connected with and wanted to share this event with them. I felt like a reporter on the scene. I spoke with a Marine, who happened to be female, and thoroughly enjoyed hearing about her experience. This event came to life through the many moments that others were generous and willing to share with me. The spectator parking never did quite fill, but there were many quality persons in attendance.
Nick’s father, in Marine dress blues, saluted the riders from beginning to end. It takes time for over 1,200 bikes to roll through and he stood at attention the entire time. After the bikes finished, he found a moment to speak to me about my son, who is presently a recruit at Parris Island. Nick was a graduate of Dennis-Yarmouth High School, as is my son. Nick’s uncle told him about me and he made a point to come by and speak to me. Just the thing you would expect from one with grace and dignity; having already given his precious son, here he was, on many levels, giving more.
Today, an old friend shared a photo of me at age 14.
“You have to look the part.” This was said from the twenty-something year-old pool manager to a forty-something year-old woman at the pool. She twitched. I overheard but did not process.
I noticed the woman again; again she was with her two teenagers, a son and a daughter. On the surface I thought, isn’t that nice. Unusual that these teenagers spend so much time with their mother at the pool!
I notice the family of three. They are sinking lower into their cabana lounge chairs. They have been there a long time today without moving much. The mother looks tired, as though she could sleep but she doesn’t. The back of her chair is in the fully upright position. She is covered by a blue fuzzy blanket. She asks the staff person to close the door as a breeze has come up and she feels cold. Later, she and her daughter leave and bring back Styrofoam takeout containers with hot food and cold smoothies on the side.
The mother and daughter are in their cabana again. Daughter has a dreamy, far away look in her eyes today. As though gazing into a mirror, she holds up her cell phone. It has brought her away from this place. They have a collection of haphazard totes. An hour later, the son arrives and is greeted. He walks over and comforts his mother, patting her back. She is also far away and appears furlong, barely responding. The son carries most of the bags and the three leave together. It is 8pm.