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Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Inventor of Personal Water Receptacles

An excerpt from my memoir: The Significance of Curly Hair

My best friend Laura lived directly across California Road on the opposite end of the cul-de-sac. We spent nearly every waking minute together. Whether it was playing Barbies, riding bikes, or rolling down the hill until we almost threw up, we were practically conjoined twins. One exceptionally sweltering day we were caught up complaining about the heat and why we could never have a pool. While most days our burning desires were pacified by skipping through the lawn sprinkler while singing at the top of our lungs, this day was different. Skipping and singing was not going to be good enough. We needed more water. As Gram came around the corner of the house carrying her garden whip-it, we confronted her with the question that every kid bugs their parents with summer after summer.

“Why can’t we have a pool?” I said pouting, looking like I had just taken a huge bite of crab apple salad. Without even batting an eye, Gram came up with a witty response, it was so quick that it seemed as if the words were just resting on her tongue waiting for us to ask.

“Why do you need a pool,” she said with that glimmer of magic that made her eyes dance when she knew she was coming up with something really good, “when you can each have your own personal swimming receptacles?” Laura and I stared at her in wonder, hopeful with possibility and grateful that we were finally being heard. Both of us eight year old, twig legged, tangled haired girls looked up at her with bottom lips sticking out, as we listened intently to the fabulous, yet fantastical description of these personal swimming receptacles. They were round, chest high, and held enough water to cover our shoulders. “It’s like having your own pool all to yourself,” Gram said with such enthusiasm that we needed to know exactly where to get them.

Laura and I both agreed that the receptacles were exactly what we were looking for, possibly the only things that would let us survive the excruciatingly hot day that still included many more blistering hours. Nodding to each other in unison, we asked Gram to explain one more time where exactly they were located, because she made it absolutely clear that we already had them and we could be swimming within minutes.

“Oh yes, they’re right there behind the house, in between the hose and the bulkhead,” she said pointing towards the water spigot. Her voice remained steady and serious as she turned away from us, heading back inside the house. My last two toes caught a few pieces of tall clover in between them as we quickly pivoted one hundred and eighty degrees and ran at a full sprint to the back of the house. In my head I imagined they looked like those see through plastic dunk tanks you hit with baseballs at the carnival. Scanning the back of the house from left to right I didn’t see anything big and clear and plastic. I looked between the hose and the bulkhead. There were no receptacles. Maybe she meant inside the bulkhead. Laura and I stood on the gray painted plywood doors, chipping from years of weather, and pulled on the metal handles with all of the strength we could muster. The doors didn’t budge.

“Do you see them?” I asked Laura as I started to get frustrated. She shook her head. Jumping off the bulkhead we decided to look behind the house one last time, uncovering the hose, two brown rubber trash barrels, a shovel, and three milk jugs with twigs in them. Where were the personal water receptacles? We stormed back to the screened door demanding an answer.

Gram met us at the door as she dabbed her forehead with a cool cloth, the neck of her blue tank top moist with sweat after whacking down weeds with her whip-it. “We can’t find them. They’re not there,” I said abruptly, looking directly into her eyes through the screened door. We both informed her that they were nowhere to be found, we had looked three times.

“I saw them there earlier, let me come with you and maybe we can find them together,” she said as her voice crackled slightly, trying to maintain her serious tone and not laugh. Laura and I turned around and sped down the five concrete steps with Gram in tow.

“See, there’s nothing there,” I said pointing to the back of the house, dragging Gram up close so she could see with her own eyes that we were not skipping over anything. We had thoroughly scoured the exterior of the house, the personal water receptacles were not there. Gram smiled as she walked up next to the bulkhead, grabbing the two brown Rubbermaid trash barrels by their handles and flipping them over.

“Here they are right where I said they were.” She pointed proudly at the barrels.

“But those are trash barrels,” I said, “You said these were personal water receptacles.” My disappointment was building as I crossed my arms and stuck one hip out, temporarily annoyed at the ridiculous idea of swimming in trash barrels.

“All we have to do is rinse any loose grass clippings out of these barrels and they are perfectly clean. We’ll carry them down to the bottom of the hill, sit them in the sun and fill them with water. You will each have your own personal water receptacle, much better than any pool you’d have to share.” Gram walked off carrying the barrels with us following like slugs. “Bring the hose down with you.”

Laura and I tugged at the hose, each carrying three or four connected ringlets down to the bottom of the hill. When we reached Gram we handed over the hose and I sprinted back to the spigot to turn the water on, still skeptical of the idea of a trashy pool. Gram quickly rinsed a few strands of loose grass from the barrels and all three of us agreed that they looked good as new. She lined them up side by side and filled them each half full with water, placing a cinder block in between the barrels to use as a step to get in and out.

I had Laura try it first; she was always a good Guinea Pig. Watching her skinny leg slide over the rim and into the water, I saw her eyebrows lift in pleasant surprise as her smile widened. “It’s great,” she said as she plunged her body up and down, “You should try it.” I reluctantly followed, still wanting to be upset but unable to keep the pout on my face. The cool water felt so refreshingly wonderful that before we even realized it, we were springing up and down in our personal water receptacles, singing, squealing, and having a big time. We jumped up and down and in and out, over and over and over again. We were having so much fun that we didn’t even notice that Gram went back to the house until she returned with a plastic flowered serving tray and two paper cups filled with Lipton Instant iced tea.

“You must be getting thirsty with all this exciting activity,” she said in that I-told-you- so tone, handing over the cups as we gulped ravenously. Laura and I were bubbling over with delight, having absolutely no recollection of our sour moods thirty minutes prior.

“These water receptacles are the best ever. I can’t believe we didn’t think of this earlier,” Laura said as she spun around in her tub. “Oh and thanks for the iced tea. We’re really workin’ hard out here.” Gram turned around then, letting us delight in our summertime glory, pleased at her accomplishment of the day. The joys and simplicities of life peaked that day, teaching me first hand a valuable life lesson: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. If no lemons are available then iced tea will always do.

Angela, Laura, and I in Gram's garden 1976

Gram and I, Christmas 2003

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