Have you ever spent so much time in a place to where its features become so familiar...almost home-like, but it's actually more special because it isn't home, and you don't have chores, and you don't really get in trouble, and the familial hierarchy doesn't really exist, and you can basically do whatever you want with your time? Growing up Lackman was my own personal summer camp except there weren't any counselors around to ruin my fun. I spent every single summer, from the year I turned three until I was in my teens at the small community pool, playground, and rec center. My mom was a lifeguard and swim instructor and by default I was her sidekick, her lifeguard and WSI (water safety instructor) in training. It is impossible for me to remember my childhood and not think of Lackman. It's also possible that the reasons I had such a difficult time adjusting to school is because of my sadness at having to say goodbye to this wonderful place each fall.  [See Decatur Daredevils]

"Camp" began as soon as school let out for summer and ended just as it was time to head back. I had complete run of the place as long as I didn't stray outside the parameters of the parking lot and the one-way street that separated the park and the rest of the community. I imagine at some point my mom established this rule, but it wasn't like I was some hostage, fingers wound around the chain links, staring through the fence wishing for my freedom.

Instead, each day was a new adventure. I split my time between the pool and the rest of the park. Some days I made friends with kids when their families visited the park for day trips. Other days I brought friends from my neighborhood with me to the pool. And some days, a lot of days, I spent the entire time alone, content with my own imagination to keep me company. Swim lessons and swim team and water ballet (a less intensive version of synchronized swimming) and craft making on rainy days and all kinds of made up games using the playground equipment and exploration of every portion of the park kept me a busy little girl.

I visited Lackman as an adult a couple years back. It's hard for me to grasp that it still exists...without me. That doesn't seem possible since it is so much a part of me. When I went back, it was the same but not the same. The entire park had shrunk. There were murals on the rec center wall that didn't belong there. The playground toys were different...safer...stupid. They removed the suicide slide which really wasn't so much of a slide as it was a sheer metal climbing wall. I'd spent hours climbing up and hanging from the top rail as if my life was on the line... that if I let go, if I let myself slide down to the ground, I'd be immersed in the grips of the monsters or fall in to the hot lava or face some other sort of demise my mind had created that day.

However, staying alive was difficult. I regularly singed the skin off the bottoms of my feet on the unnecessarily hot metal surface as I climbed my way to the top. I routinely bashed my shins against the bottom edge in attempts to jump up quickly, away from the lava monsters, to have created a permanent dent in my legs, in my actual bones. The swings were also new and fitted with plastic casings surrounding the chain links. I suppose this is a means to protect the spoiled little brats kids' skin from being pinched, but since that was how I learned to have quick reflexes, it seems like a mistake. The huge metal jungle gym where I spent hours upon hours mastering the monkey bars were gone too. All those competitions for who could cross the fastest or hang the longest are no more.

The saddest part was the pool. What I'd wanted to do was spend a few hours at the park, bring a lunch, swim a bit...just relax and take it all in, share stories with my husband and my niece about the good old days. The huge five foot by five foot sign my mom had painted informing patrons as to the hours of operation was no longer there. She had used stencils and time and love and it had lived there, hanging on the fence for years, and they took it down like it was nothing, like it was meaningless.

Luckily for my husband, we didn't have anywhere near the kind of time I wanted to spend reminiscing like I originally planned. A quick picture in front of the pool had to suffice. The day I visited, it was still early in the afternoon and the lifeguards were all standing in one little corner of the pool area. They stared at us uncomfortably, judgingly, while my husband took the picture. Sure maybe it seemed like an awkward and totally random thing to do, but fuck them. They don't know me. They don't know I used to run this shit. Plus, I'm fairly certain I could out-swim any of them. My experiences have taught me that lifeguards are not always the best swimmers. Shocking, I know. And this bunch looked completely pitiful...joking and laughing and not in any way recognizing what they had in front of them...not acknowledging that this could be some of the best times of their lives. Assholes.

But I guess even if all of the playground equipment was still the same, and even if my mom's sign was still up, and even if I had had all day to spend...there is no way I could have re-lived all those experiences from 12+ summers in just one day. There is no way I could have returned without feeling that sad tugging on my heart at the inability to replicate and duplicate my time spent at what I considered, and still consider, to be the most wonderful place a girl could ever grow up. And I guess that's just part of me still growing up...learning what it means to be an adult and feeling what it is like to have parts of my life only be in the past.


  1. I stumbled on this lovely story while searching Lackman. Nice story! Love your wordings! My son,Julian,who is 8, attends Lackman's summer camp and loves it! This will be his second summer there. Hopefully, his/our memories and feelings are as wonderful as yours. Thanks for the wonderful reflection. Seyna


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