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Swimming Lessons and Other Life Lessons

August 19, 2020


Pondering in Place before Looking Back


By Alice Jane-Marie Massa



What an unusual summer sandwich we find on our plate this August! Sandwiched between the two political conventions is the Indy 500. Although no spectators will be in the stands of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I am glad and grateful that the race will be run on Sunday. Who would have ever dreamed of the Indy 500 in any month other than May? No matter the date, I–with notes of “Back Home Again in Indiana” singing in my Hoosier heart–will most certainly be listening to the race on Indy Car Radio via my “Alexa” while multitudes will watch the race on NBC.


As my memories drift back to Indiana summers, I thought of swimming and this memoir piece which I first posted on WORDWALK on July 11, 2015. I hope you will enjoy this splash from the past.


* * *


Swimming Lessons and Other Life Lessons


by Alice Jane-Marie 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 one of his job duties 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, on the other hand, 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 over 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.


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Enjoy these remaining days of summer, and enjoy the Indy 500 on Sunday!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


August 19, 2020, Wednesday



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  1. You brought back memories for me Alice. Our swimming pool was about 3 miles from my home in a place called Ewing Park. I live across the creek from that place in a home we bought 53 years ago.
    When you mentioned the swimming lessons I can still feel the cold water and shiver – early morning in June – and the water was so cold. But, I learned to swim in the creek, and on hot summer afternoons I always was anxious for my Dad to get home from the 7-3 shift, and always hoped it would be a day when he would drive us several miles away to “Breakneck Bridge, my favorite swimming place in the Slippery Rock Creek. . On other days, our MOM would take us to her favorite place, “Fowler’s Rock,” because our grandmother lived just across the road from that place – today, it is about 1/8 mile from my home. Summertime was for swimming and winter time was for roller skating in our world here in western PA.

    • Hi, Lynda–Thanks for reading this post and adding your own swimming memories!  I enjoyed reading your comment and learning a little more about you.

      Take care–Alice and Willow

  2. Gina Amerman permalink

    Hi Alice! The Aragon swimming pool brings back many memories to me too! We lived in Clinton and spent many afternoons swimming at the pool. I often marvel at the size of that thing! We rode our bikes there with our cousins (about 2 miles?). We had season passes, and could go on most days unchaperoned! I also took lessons when i was younger, and didn’t like them either! You and Mary were probably there at the same times, but unfortunately I didn’t meet Mary until High School. My sister Nancy K., cousins Marla and Marilyn, Mac and Jerry were all part of the fun! I always got popcorn or ice cream for after-swim snacks! Thanks for re-charging those memories Alice!
    Love, Gina

    • Hi, Gina–How wonderful to have a comment from you on this particular swimming post!  I am wondering what route you took to ride your bicycle to the Aragon.  Did you avoid the busy 9th Street?

          In later years, we certainly enjoyed having treats at the nearby Jim’s Sugar Island after a fun afternoon at the Aragon. The bar-b-q sandwich was our favorite.

      Enjoy the remainder of the summer–Alice and Willow

  3. Carole permalink

    Oh, yes, many happy memories were made there in the 50’s and 60’s; and you, Mary, and Uncle Jimmy were a major part of that during our youth!

    The Aragon was definitely the best and most unique summer entertainment venue in the area. In addition to the above-mentioned amenities, I also remember those large wire baskets that held our clothes while we swam. Jason’s first introduction to a large swimming pool was there in 1975 when he was just a year old.

    Thanks for the memories!

    • Hi, Carole–Since you mentioned the wire baskets for storing our summer clothing while swimming, I will add that each swimmer who used the dressing room baskets received a large, heavy-duty safety pin on which was engraved in the metal a number which corresponded to the number on the basket where the clothes were deposited. Also, I was glad you mentioned 1975 to give us an idea of the last year when the Aragon may have been open for a final year.

      Many thanks for adding your comments on this swimming blog post on WORDWALK!

      Alice and Willow

  4. Oh, those “lazy, hazy, crazy days of Indiana summers” filled with family, friends, and fun—what special times and what treasured memories! Thank you, Alice, for reviving all those adventures with our dear dad at the unique Aragon Pool!
    Love to you and Willow,

  5. Gina Amerman permalink

    Alice, We actually rode north on 7th street, crossing “busy” Vine Street. That could sometimes be a challenge! I remember the wire baskets too-although we seldom used them. We rode our bikes in swimsuits. No hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, or phones!
    We were instructed to come straight home after swimming, so no Jim’s Sugar Island for us! 🙂

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