Updated: Nov 11, 2020
The locker room is the liveliest part of swimming laps. That's where the stories come out, where people can be friendly or not, or just take a long time to warm up. While raising my children, I'd drop them at daycare and later school, then swim laps at the Y before work. By the time I'd get to the pool, it was time for senior water aerobics and I'd swim laps alongside class in one of the few remaining lap lanes. Sometimes with the bright morning sun shining in thru the glass walls around the pool, the class would occasionally break into song, happy to be there, happy to be with others, happy for the beautiful sound they could make together that would have been impossible alone. I don't remember the specific songs much, more their joy in singing and mine in listening. I felt like I was in a scene from Cocoon.
While my swimming at the time was solitary, getting dressed afterwards in the ladies basic locker room was a group activity. Showers were open, women were comfortable with themselves and each other, assistance was offered when needed, (do you need help with your shoes?), they were past standing on ceremony, worrying about appearances; judgment was absent. I met Harriet, Marie and Julia when they were all about 80. They had been raised in the segregated south, Harriet and Marie, white, and Julia, black, it didn't matter in the locker room, now they had time and age in common.
Harriet was a pistol who went to nursing school in Ohio. The first time she talked to me we were in the showers and she told me the story of her college roommate from "the north." She sat with her legs wide open like a man, and I told her that a lady doesn't sit like that, Harriet said. Then Harriet asked me, do you know what she replied? I said no, what? If you see anything there, you can shoot it! Another day Harriet told us that when her granddaughter saw her new haircut, the granddaughter said, but Grandma it makes you look old. And Harriet said, I told her, I am old.
There was another older woman who sometimes was in the locker room at the same time as we were but I don’t recall her name because she was always in a hurry. She wouldn’t take time to dry herself before getting dressed saying she didn’t have time. One day she stopped long enough to tell me that she had been in the first car accident of her life and it was on her 90th birthday. It was a serious accident where a carload of teenagers had run a stop sign and T-boned the car driven by her son. She was astonished and exclaimed, I could have died! I thought, you’re 90 and this is just now occurring to you??
Harriet outlived Marie, and Julia outlived them both, and when Harriet invited me to her 90th birthday party, she said that I better come because you don't know if you'll be alive for my 95th. She didn't make it to her 95th and when I visited Harriet shortly before she died, I played Jordan's Angels for her, sung by the Wilmington Girls Choir that my daughter, Megan, was in at the time, because Harriet loved music and Harriet loved the Lord.
Despite being the healthiest of the three when I met them, Marie died first at 89. When she came to visit me after Megan was born, Marie brought us a homemade apple crumb pie, the best we'd ever had and one of the few recipes I've requested over the years, a pie I make to this day. Marie was married to Sandy, and they had no children but were both very fond of ours. When we'd visit them, Sandy would hook a wagon to the back of his riding mower and give my kids rides around their large yard. Our Christmas snowglobe, with Santa inside and a small train that runs around the tracks on the outside of the globe when you wind it up, that I still put out every year, was a present to the children when they were little. Marie had knitted an entire baby layette for the baby she was never able to have. She was matter of fact about it and it didn't stop them from enjoying our kids, or maybe that's why she and Sandy appreciated them even more.
Harriet and Julia were the closest of friends but would fuss at each other all the time. Harriet like to say that Julia didn't say a word for the first 4 years she came to water aerobics at the Y but once she started, you couldn't shut her up! Julia was one of 11 children, literally raised dirt poor. She recalled times as a child she had no shoes and no toys, but had fun playing in the woods with her brothers and sisters, saying we'd use sticks for toys. You couldn't leave anything in the basic locker room so Julia's swim bag was actually a rolling suitcase, plus her oxygen tank, I almost forgot about that. It was when she would get out of breath that Harriet would especially get after Julia, but it was Julia who survived longest. I sat with Harriet and Julia at Marie's funeral and sat with Julia at Harriet's funeral. I sent Christmas cards for years but eventually gave up after Julia stopped coming the Y. I think she just couldn't bear it there without Harriet. I miss them all.