Over the past couple of years, I’ve been collecting passages from novels I’ve read that capture the bliss of being in water on a stinking hot day, the joy of swimming or serendipitously stumbling upon a beautiful pool.
My most recent find was in the pages of Kent Haruf’s Benediction recommended to me by my friend Jenny P. It’s the story of one long last summer for Dad Lewis, in his beloved town of Holt, Colorado. Sitting on his front porch or lying in bed in the quiet hours of the night, Dad Lewis tries to comes to terms with decisions and choices he’s made in his life, especially his treatment of his estranged son now in his 50s.
Daughter Lorraine, also in her 50s, has come to stay with her parents to be near her father as he gets weaker and closer to death. One day, “a little while before noon”, Lorraine takes eight-year-old neighbour Alice to visit Willa and Alene Johnson, a mother and daughter in their 80s and 60s, who live on a farm out of town. Lorraine brings wine and Alene has made chicken salad with mandarin oranges and olives and slivered almonds served on open lettuce leaves. After lunch, they lie on two old chenille bedspreads laid out on the lawn and fall asleep. When they wake up it’s very hot.
“We ought to go swimming,” Lorraine said. “I wish there was a creek out here.”
When Alene says she used to dunk her head in the stock tank on a hot day, they decide to cool off in there – despite the dirt and manure below the tank and that no one has a bathing suit.
They get towels and take the lawn chairs and the leftover wine and when they arrive, the cattle tank is brimming full.
“Behind it, the windmill ran water whenever the wind gusted up, the pump banged and clanked, the rod jerked up and down, then the cold fresh clean water spouted out through a long pipe.”
Lorraine is the first in. “She lifted one foot onto the rim of the tank and brushed her foot off and stepped over into the water, her body halved, all of her full-fleshed body in the bright sun, and then lowered herself in the water and cried, Goddamn! Oh Jesus! And lay out in the water and disappeared and came up all white and shining. Jesus! Jesus! Then she stood up and turned to them.
“Come on, all of you, she called. Get in.”
As the others approach the tank, Lorraine says they have to yell out once they’re in. One by one they do in delight, even little Alice, who doesn’t know how to swim.
Lorraine swims a few strokes across the tank. When she reaches halfway she stands up and spins around making a wave with her cupped hands.
They teach Alice to float, two of the women holding her as she lay on her back.
“When she began to sink they lifted her up, and after a while she was able to stay up and they stepped back and she lay out on the water, half-submerged, her blue eyes open to the blue sky.”
Next time: A pool in Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety.