Summers of my Childhood in Athens, Georgia

Summers of my Childhood in Athens, Georgia

 

Summer 2016 has arrived and life is good as we await the birth of our second grandson. He’ll be a July baby, born in the hot, humid heat of a Georgia summer. Thinking of the tiny boy to come and his older brother George, who will be 20 months old when his brother arrives, I find myself drifting back to my own childhood summers growing up in Athens, Georgia.

The best days of my Athens summers were spent floating and splashing in the cool, chlorinated waters of Legion Pool. This huge, popular oasis located near the University of Georgia campus was filled with the shouts and laughter of countless Athens kids back in the day.

It also was the site of my first swimming lessons. I really tried hard to learn how to swim at Legion Pool. I say tried to learn because I never really became a confident, or even a proficient swimmer, despite numerous swimming lessons during my childhood.

Later, on a visit to nearby Lake Wellbrook (before it became a subdivision), I found myself drifting deeper and deeper, bouncing up from the muddy lake bottom numerous times, listening to Peter and Gordon sing “World Without Love” on the concession stand jukebox, hearing laughter and happy voices on the beach as I bounced my feet into the mud one more time and failed to break though the water’s surface. I was in too deep, holding my breath, attempting to move toward the more shallow water with my feet pushing against squishy mud.

As I finally broke the water’s surface and floundered around with my tired arms, spouting dirty lake water, I realized no one on the beach had noticed. For the first time in my young life, it dawned on me that I could sink into the water, my feet could mire in the mud, I could go down and never come back up and life would go on. Just not for me. The music would keep playing, the people on the beach would continue to drink Nehis and Cokes and Pepsi and the world would continue to revolve without me. The world didn’t need a small girl who didn’t work hard enough during her Legion Pool swimming lessons to go on.

This was a heavy swimming lesson for a young girl on a hot summer day in Athens, Georgia and it helped to make me who I am today.

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Legion Pool in Athens, Georgia has been open for 79 years! Visit this website to learn more about swimming in Legion Pool.

Read about the history of Legion Pool here.

Remembering Muhammad Ali

Remembering Muhammad Ali

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.-Muhammad Ali

In 1968, staff members of the Athens (Georgia) High School Thumb Tack Tribune flew to Chicago over the Thanksgiving holiday for the National Scholastic Press Association convention in the Palmer House hotel. When we weren’t attending journalism classes, checking out Chicago’s Hippie headquarters in Old Towne, or shopping downtown, we explored floor after floor of the grand, old hotel, riding up and down in the elevators, running through hall after hall, and causing way more noise than was allowed.

Finally, there was just one more place to conquer: the top floor which housed the Penthouse Suite. Up, up, up we rode. TPalmer House Hotelhe elevator stopped. The door opened and there, in the hallway stood Muhammad Ali, surrounded by bodyguards. He would have been 26 years old at the time and was stuck in that time of no fights due to refusing to be inducted into the armed forces in 1966.

We were all in awe of Ali that day. In 1964, after beating Sonny Liston in a major upset and winning the heavyweight title, Cassius Clay (his original name) declared, “I am the greatest! I shook up the world. I’m the prettiest thing that ever lived.”

At that moment in time, on the top floor of the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago, I thought Muhammed Ali was the prettiest thing that had ever lived. Young, massive, strong, gorgeous, he looked perfect that day and totally unapproachable.

Of course that didn’t stop me from walking up to him and asking for his autograph, even though, as I stared up at Ali, he looked eight feet tall. I thought he’d refuse my request, but he didn’t. He took the scrap of paper from my outstretched hand and scribbled his name.

I still have the scrap of paper and the memory of being in Ali’s presence during my visit to Chicago’s Palmer House hotel. Was he the greatest? Maybe. No doubt, he had gifts that most humans can only dream about. Athletic ability. Good Looks. And he knew the power of words.

I wrestled with an alligator, I tussled with a whale, I handcuffed lightning . . . last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I’m so mean I make medicine sick.

But this strong, heavyweight champion of the world, couldn’t beat death. Like many around the world, I mourn his passing and now I cherish even more those few moments in time when I stood in his presence and he signed his name.

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