Saturday, July 5, 2008

Summers at the Nile

When I was about five, my mother spent lots of money on swimming lessons at the local YMCA. Let’s just say that instead of being money well spent, most of the money sadly went down the drain. It wasn’t until the summer months came and we started spending our days at the Nile did I truly learn to swim and thus began a summer ritual that lasted well into my teen years.

The Nile is the oldest Black-owned swim club in the country and my grandparents and some of their neighbors were founding members. The club was created in 1959 when a group of progressive African American residents of Yeadon, PA were denied membership to the all-White Yeadon Swim Club. This was no small accomplishment because this endeavor required they pool their resources, buy a plot of land and build a pool, clubhouse, snack bar and modest recreational facilities, and ironically, as the Nile continues to offer its members a family-friendly respite minutes away from Philadelphia’s city limits, the Yeadon Swim Club no longer exists. As a kid, I remember my White classmates hosting their summer birthday parties at the Yeadon Swim Club and it was simply understood I wouldn’t be invited because of the club’s no Blacks allowed policy.

It looks like history may be repeating itself, because two years ago Loverman and I invested in a series of lessons at a Y in the city hoping that our brown babies would morph into brown water babies and share our love for swimming. Didn’t work. Fortunately, neither displayed a fear of the water, but it seems for the money we spent, we should have gotten beyond a flailing semblance of a doggie paddle.

Since moving to a neighborhood not far from my childhood home, I often found myself fondly smiling as I drove past the Nile. I vividly recall riding my bike to the pool everyday from the last day of school in mid-June to Labor Day, becoming tanned way beyond my usual shade of café au lait. This year as summer approached both my mom and aunt suggested Loverman and I invest in a membership for our family. It sounded good to me, but with all of the other summer expenses, I didn’t know if it was possible, but two weeks ago I decided to stop by the club and pick up the membership info, and as I looked over the grounds I was flooded with the most wonderful memories and rushed home to crunch the numbers to see how we could make this work.

Later that evening as Loverman and I were reviewing the membership options, we went on the Nile’s website and on its homepage there’s a digital postcard featuring archival photographs of the Nile back in its heyday. There’s a photo of Harry Belafonte at the Nile, followed by The Supremes at the Nile and then I got the biggest surprise--- a photo of my grandmother, Veronica Athealea Nelson, looking her diva best with some friends at the Nile circa 1959. I couldn’t believe it, what an amazing, unexpected gift. For me it was incredibly clear my grandmother was beaconing me, telling me it was time to come home.

Well, we have joined and on our first visit I was welcomed by and reconnected with folks I haven’t seen in more than twenty-five years, people who have known me all my life and remember me when I was Olivia’s age. Although some things have changed, like there are fewer members, and there are even some White members, ultimately it’s just like I remember it. The sound system stays tuned to ‘DAS FM and the young lifeguards run a tight ship to ensure everyone’s safety and everyday adult swim is from 6:00 – 6:30pm and for that blissful half hour I can get my workout on and swim laps. Olivia and Yannick are now swimming like guppies and have browned almost to a crisp and the water really seems to wear Yannick out because after a day at the pool the little guy sleeps for a good 12 to 13 hours. Nirvnana!

It’s feels good to be back, like I’m contributing to my grandparents legacy and efforts to be apart of something bigger and benefits the entire community. A lofty concept sure, but it’s true and its without question the best investment we could have made this summer.


jillybean said...

Mango Mama,

What warm memories...It's great that you are carrying on the legacy. Your description was so vivid, I could imagine myself there with you.


-ihsanamin- said...

It's fantastic how the Yeadon Swim Club held up those standard to the very end, and still just chose to let the property rot for the better of 2 decades.

Ahh, racism.

Mango Mama said...

Hey Jilly, Have you ever been to the Nile?

-ihsanamin-, I'm with you. I drive by the property almost every day and simply shake my head.

Thanks for stopping by!

K said...

Is there a way I can contact you to discuss an interview?