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Swimming Lessons and Other Life Lessons

July 11, 2015

 

Swimming Lessons and Other Life Lessons

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

NOTE: Since today, July 11, is the 102nd anniversary of my dad’s birth, I dedicate this blog post in loving memory of my dad–James F. Massa.

 

 

In the summers of my youth, the Aragon Swimming Pool was a prime attraction. Located on the north end of Clinton, Indiana, and approximately seven miles from my home in Blanford–the Aragon included an especially large pool, two three-foot diving boards, one ten-foot diving board, a children’s swimming (or wading) pool, two areas for sun bathing (before the days of sunscreen as we know of its importance today), two concession areas, a trampoline area (which I especially liked), dressing areas, and a ballroom (where my junior class held the Clinton High School Junior-Senior Prom–“Whispers of the Orient” in May of 1967). Between the parking area and the entrance to the Aragon was a pleasant park with picnic tables, some playground equipment, a shelter with more picnic tables, and a miniature golf course. Throughout the years that I went to the Aragon, it was owned by the Tony Fenoglio family, of Clinton.

 

While I first started enjoying the Aragon in the mid 1950s, my dad’s association with this huge swimming pool began around 1927 or 1928 when he was employed as a life guard there at age fourteen to fifteen. A few times, he told me the story of his job duty of swimming around the massive pool with a bucket in hand to disperse the chemicals into the water. Of course, my dad was always a strong swimmer.

 

Somewhat surprisingly, when my father was stationed in California before deploying to Europe during World War II, he met the famous Olympic swimmer (who won five Olympic gold medals from 1924-28) Johnny Weissmuller at the Brown Derby. When Dad met Mr. Weissmuller in 1941, the MGM and RKO star was at the height of his fame in the Tarzan movies. As was typical in those days, Mr. Weissmuller bought my dad, who was dressed in his Army uniform, a drink.

 

Within five years after my dad returned to civilian life and his wife in Indiana, my sister and I completed our family. When my sister and I arrived at the appropriate age for taking swimming lessons, we went to the Aragon for the very early morning Red Cross swimming lessons. In such a large swimming pool in west-central Indiana, in June, the water had an initial chill. Not only was I not happy about the cool water, I did not care for my instructor and her method of teaching. The experience was not a successful one: I was not progressing toward the goal of being a swimmer. The trust which I did not have with the swimming instructor was easily and naturally bestowed upon my dad. I can distinctly remember my “riding piggyback” on my dad while he swam through not the shallow end nor the very deep end of the pool, but in the area of medium depth, nearer the south side of the pool. Besides swimming with me on his back, my dad periodically dived under water, but managed to keep my head above the water level. Oh, how I did trust him–like no other person! How I did quickly learn to love the water! Then, my father taught me how to swim. Although these lessons from my father were almost six decades ago, I recall these special times so clearly and am grateful for the many lessons my dad directly and indirectly taught me.

 

For many years, after an afternoon of swimming, my sister and I, at the concession near the entrance/exit of the Aragon, enjoyed a chocolate-dipped ice cream cone or freshly-popped popcorn sold in tempting cones made of wax paper in a myriad of bright colors. During our pre-teen and teenage years, the Aragon was a wonderful place to go with friends.

 

Fortunately, both my father and mother enjoyed traveling; so, each summer, our family enjoyed at least one road trip. During the hours of being in the car, I happily anticipated being able to swim at the motel where we would land at the end of the day of driving. While we toured 38 states of the USA, historical sites, museums, famous houses, and parks–swimming was always a special treat of our vacations. Nevertheless, I have never swum in another swimming pool that was even near the size of the Aragon. How fortunate Southern Vermillion County was to have such a swimming pool! My parents and others of their generation sometimes referred to the Aragon as “Happyland”–undoubtedly, the name of the place before the attraction was dubbed the Aragon.

 

With the trust and love I had for my dad, my childhood was a “Happy Land.” Much of what I am today is thanks to the life lessons which my dad so gently and lovingly gave to me. I only wish I had more of his positive outlook, his ability to see only the good in other people, his easy smile, and his twinkling eyes.

 

Happy swimming and summer vacations!

Alice and Zoe

 

POST-SCRIPT: For some time, I have tried to find out the year the Aragon Swimming Pool opened and the year the Aragon ceased operation. Even more importantly, I have tried to find the dimensions of the Aragon swimming pool, in Clinton, Indiana. If you can answer either or both of these questions, please leave a comment on my Wordwalk blog. Thanks!

 

July 11, 2015

 

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5 Comments
  1. Fran Rayce permalink

    Hi Alice,
    You certainly captured the specialness of the Aragon for folks in the Clinton area. I too remember how chilly the water felt during those early morning lessons when an already frightened child was strongly encouraged to participate in water activities by well meaning, but not very well trained instructors. Dads were certainly a much better alternative.

    As someone who also lived “out in the country” the trips to the pool were more infrequent and special and I recall being envious, and a bit intimidated, by the seemingly more sophisticated town kids who were there every day and had their own established routines. But, how lucky we all were to have such a well tended facilty for recreation.

  2. Alice, once again you have rekindled memories of wonderful summer afternoons spent swimming with family and friends at the Aragon Pool. Dad was definitely the strong swimmer in the family. I remember mother wearing her tight-fitting swim cap and almost always swimming on her side. One of my proudest moments was when I swam across the width of the pool near the deep end! Oh, I can almost smell the hot dogs that tasted so good to starving young swimmers!
    With love and thanks,
    Mary

  3. Carole permalink

    Among the four summertime favorites in Clinton, the summer reading program at the public library, the Aragon, picking up Italian bread at Comba’s, and the DQ, swimming at the Aragon was very special and exciting. Your father and mine were usually the chauffeurs to those destinations, but I definitely remember the graceful swimming ability of your father. Memories take me also to the Aragon with the large wire baskets for our street clothes, the concessions with hot dogs, popcorn, and chocolate ice cream, and later days with the patio dance parties.

    Wishing you a HAPPY BIRTHDAY tomorrow, cousin Alice! A little surprise is waiting for you today at Classy Girl Cupcakes!
    Love,
    Carole

  4. Carole permalink

    Oh, I forgot to tell you that I did a little research on Sunday morning and found an article in The Blade, a Toledo, Ohio, newspaper which reported tri-state news. On August 1, 1994, the article was entitled “Only memories left of an old Aragon Park.” I tried to enlarge it on my phone and laptop, but lost the resolution. It said that it was Indiana’s largest swimming pool, a major central Indiana attraction from (it looked like) 1913 until it closed in 1978. I also saw where there are photos archived through ISU.
    I remember taking Jason in 1975 and then a few more times when he was two or three.

  5. Mike Vietti permalink

    Alice
    My great grandfather was Joseph Mario Vietti who built Happyland. It was a great pleasure to read about your father life guarding at the pool. My grandfather had many stories about traveling around the country selling their pool chemicals. I never saw the pool but I do have pictures including the grand opening.
    Best regards, Mike

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