Pool of Memories

A granddaughter reflects on the pain of getting old and missing the grandmother who didn't.

Published January 29, 1998 6:22PM (EST)

The best time to go to the pool is midmorning. Then, there is a space
at the end of the lanes where sunlight pours into the water from the
side of the natatorium. You can swim back and forth through that space as
do laps, flip-turning your way back into the brilliant square of light,
passing through it methodically, with your swimmer's poise turned up

If you get to Saturday morning water aerobics class early enough, you can
stake out a spot directly in the square of light. That way, you can pass
class watching your still-tanned summer legs and arms create sparkled
of liquid light, millions of times more powerful than any engagement ring
you've ever laid eyes on.

The pool is not fancy, just five lanes in need of resurfacing. Being
members of a
hospital's health club, the clientele aren't very fancy either. A lot of
efficient swimming doctors and their small children on the weekends.

The water aerobics class is more comfort than work. Some days it feels
gathering of Italian widows, two lanes filled with plump women in
slenderizing black swim suits, all earnestly churning away with the
parts of their arms resting near the surface of the water. The blind lady
her companion walk their way back and forth simultaneously, rhythmically,
the next lane.

The best time to visit the club, if you can make it, is midmorning
week. There are no kids screaming in the showers then, with mothers way
busy to speak to you. The chlorine-smelling locker room is filled
instead with
the arthritis class ladies.

The arthritis class ladies are not quiet. Sometimes there are many of
all slowly, slowly dressing together after their exercise class, calling
to each other in their distinct Southern accents. Their high, sweet
echo against the tiled walls, not really matching the aged skin you
glance, then glance away from. Their skin can be as wrinkled as a load of
laundry you've left in the dryer for over a day.

The arthritis ladies have an innate deference to the young women who pass
strongly by them as they slowly, slowly make their way from the showers
dressing space. They don't give me that same look. I guess I'm not fit
nor young enough anymore.

Instead, they all smile at me, every single one of them. Never fail. I
if they know they break my heart every time they do that. Every time they
smile at me with their perfectly applied lipstick, their stooped backs
their waved and colored hair, I see my grandmother standing there with me
that locker room, giving me that same kind of telling smile.

Not that my grandmother ever once went into a health club in her life.
have said it wasn't her sort of thing. But had she lived into her
80s, the age I suspect most of the arthritis ladies are, I could
argued and pleaded and
eventually convinced her that an arthritis class was just the thing for
I'd have told her how much the ladies in the class were just her kind of
ladies -- she'd like them. I'd have made her admit, finally, that her
doctor had
told her she needed to get more exercise.

My grandmother loved the water anyway, I'd remind her. "You know how you
float way out in the ocean every summer when we were little, and you'd
climb up on you like you were a raft?" She'd throw back her very red head
laugh at the memory, I'm sure, remarking about what great floaters big,
Irishwomen were.

My grandmother could take her arthritis class while I swam my laps or did
aerobics -- well into my 30s now and determined to keep those round
genetic tendencies at bay. I would wait patiently for her to shower and
dress with the other ladies.
Then I would drive her powder blue Mercedes for her to wherever
we had picked to go to lunch that day -- likely a tearoom. She liked
best for lunch. I'd go along willingly, because I enjoyed the delicate
of food they served, even though I always felt ungainly sitting at one of
fancy tearoom tables. Mother, as she was called by her grandchildren,
tease me through lunch that maybe, just maybe she would want to stop by
on the way home. She knew I loved to shop almost as much as she loved to
tease, and she wasn't
too slack when it came to purchasing things herself -- when she was able
find anything "feminine enough" for her tastes. She would chatter away at
salespeople, letting them know that she wasn't at all pleased with their
current dress selection, meaning not enough floral arrangements on every
of available fabric.

After the mall, I'd drop her and the Mercedes off at the front door of her
huge, dark house. Her house by night could still make me a little scared -- even when I was 24, the year Mother died in a car wreck, driving the same
little blue Mercedes.
The house loomed at the end of a long driveway, embellished by what seemed
like hundreds of very live oak trees. I'd load the new pair
of silly shoes or jeans she had bought for me -- over much protest -- quickly into
my car, and then follow her inside as she turned on several ornate lamps.

We'd put down whatever packages she had by the door, go get bottled Cokes
from the
refrigerator and then trudge up her dramatic, curving staircase and down
long hallway to her library to watch the evening news, which she still
"Walter Cronkite," even though he'd been gone from the air for several

And my grandmother has been too long gone from my life, over a decade
I doubt there's a day that's gone by that I haven't thought about her.

Everyone thinks it must be hard to be old, like the arthritis ladies, who
dutifully take their classes despite the pain of their old bones. I hope
water and the exercise does them some good.

I'd like to say seeing them does me some good. But sometimes, just seeing
arthritis ladies is painful for me, like it must be for them when they
reminded so vividly, at a fitness club of all places, of what youth is
about. Do they, too, have to turn their heads away, sometimes, for all

By Grayson Hurst Daughters

Grayson Hurst Daughters is a corporate video producer. She contributes to the Atlanta Constitution and to New South Radio Drive-In, a Georgia Network public radio show.

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