Philadelphia Metropolis


One Last Swim

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By Tom Mulderick

Devil's Pool 2.jpg

When I lived in Center City I loved summers.  Easy enough to love when you are a teacher and have summers off.  My best friend, Steve, was also a teacher and lived just two blocks down Pine Street from me.  One of our favorite summertime activities was to get up really early in time to catch the first train available to the nether regions of the city.  We'd ride to the stop that got us closest to Valley Green, then we'd walk the rest of the way.  We'd talk up a storm as we passed through quiet neighborhoods that hadn't awakened yet to the day.

Once we walked the mile or so to Valley Green, the real trek began.  We'd climb up the mountain path to a pristine swimming hole hidden from view until you were right upon it.  It was called Devil's Pool.  We had no idea when or how it got that name, but somehow it seemed fitting.  By the time we got there, the sun was just beginning to make an appearance and there was still a chill in the early morning air.  This was our time to be alone with the Pool. 

By 11 a.m. it would be jam-packed with area kids who also knew its secret location, but at 6 a.m. it belonged to us and only us.   Being there alone and having the ability to see anybody who was approaching before they could see us proved irresistible: We shucked off our shirts and shorts and went skinny dipping.  There's something about skinny dipping that brings out the rebel even in a middle-aged man.  It's that wonderful delight you feel when you think you're getting away with something.  And we were.  We'd dive in and swim and then lay on the sun-warmed rocks around the pool to dry off.  Those were the idyllic days of summer.  Once we dried off we'd jump back in for another ice cold swim, eventually taking a moment to eat and drink the snacks we brought with us.

By 11 a.m., a time when most days we'd just be waking up and calling each other to see where we'd go for lunch, the pond began to fill up with screaming and squealing kids.  In anticipation of their arrival, we'd begrudgingly put our shorts back on.   Teachers don't need a public nudity citation.  Our secret and private oasis was no longer ours.  We reluctantly gathered up our things and climbed down the mountain path to enjoy lunch at the Valley Green Inn.  This was our routine several times a summer.  For a few hours we were kids again, frolicking with our best friend. 

I remember one summer things changed a bit.   Steve seemed to get more winded than usual as he walked the mile or so to Valley Green.  We had to stop from time to time while he caught his breath.  Later that summer he developed a cough.  We made jokes about needing to quit smoking.  Little did we know we were about to embark upon something that was no laughing matter.  By the end of summer Steve could no longer put off the inevitable.  He needed to see a doctor.  He didn't go back to teaching that September.  His full-time job became his fight against lung cancer. 

I stood by his side as the disease progressed, bringing soup and other nourishment to his third-floor walk-up.  Running up and down the stairs was a thing of the past for Steve.  For some reason his feet were always cold and sore.  I remember many nights we sat together watching TV while I rubbed and massaged his feet.  By December there was no denying it, he was losing the battle.  A few weeks later he died. 

That winter seemed awfully long and cold without my best friend down the street to warm my spirits with conversation and other shenanigans.  By the next summer, I knew what I had to do.  Early one day, I got that first train all by myself.  I cried as I walked through the quiet neighborhoods, the silence unbroken this time.  I walked alone.  It was a bit harder walking up the mountain path to Devil's Pool with an urn under my arm but I did it.  And that's where I finally said goodbye to my best friend.  I took off my shirt and shorts, opened the urn, jumped in and had one last swim with Steve.

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