Iowa Oral History Project (Part 1)

Alice Kresensky (Recording Ethnographer, Iowa State Antiquarian Society): As we sit here after lunch in the day room at the Silk Tassel Retirement Community in Grimes, we have a great view of the residents’ aquatic therapy center. So let’s open today’s oral history session with stories about swimming. Do any of you like to swim? Do you have any stories or memories about swimming in Iowa?

George Purvis (retired carpenter from Bevington, age 78): Well, there’s a secret public swimming pool in Guthrie County that I know about. It’s hidden and weird. It’s only about ten feet square, and it’s filled with elderly Russians, but it’s basically all mine, except for the Russians. Has anybody else noticed how many old Russian people there are in Guthrie County these days? Anyway, it’s a great little secret public pool to swim in, and I’m sure happy I found it.

Ole Madson (retired tailor from Wiscotta, age 86): Is it off Route F51, out toward Monteith?

George Purvis: I’m not saying if it is, and I’m not saying if it’s not. Where it is isn’t the point. So, what I was saying was: I really like swimming in this secret public swimming pool I found. The first time I went, I got a little nervous about all of the Russians and I almost didn’t go in the water, but my grandson George the third was all in his swim trunks so I forced myself to get in, for his sake. And once I did, it was great!

Ole Madson: That sounds kind of yucky, George. All those old Russian people in there like big geriatric teabags brewing in the sun. Did the water look like tea? I would think that the water would look like tea.

James Laird (retired bank clerk from Viola Center, age 82): I don’t believe I’ve ever been in a public pool. Except maybe once. In Sioux City. They’re too gross for me. Except for once. In Sioux City.

George Purvis: I never can understand why public swimming pools seem all that gross to some folks. Why, even if people peed in them all day long, they chlorinate them so much that any living organism would be killed on contact with the water. Any pee dies as soon as it hits the chlorine, so what’s the difference? There’s dead fish rotting away in the ocean and people swim at the beach, so that’s got to be at least as bad, right?

James Laird: Public pools give you public diseases. Fish don’t. And I’m not so sure that chlorine can kill old Russian people’s germs. Even Chernobyl couldn’t do that. You can go visit that burnt up reactor today and still find bunches of old Russian grandmothers living on nothing except giant turnips ripped from beneath the reactor’s core. And they still get head colds and what have you, so their germs must still be okay. I don’t think chlorine stands a chance against that.

Ole Madson: It’s the smallness of that pool that would worry me, I think. In a big pool, you can pretend that if someone is peeing a long way away, then the pee molecules will be all dispersed and neutralized before they get to you. In a little pool like that one, though, well, you just know that’s not the case. Those pee molecules would surely be all over me in that pool. And my own pee molecules wouldn’t have room to drift away, so that would sort of be like wetting your pants. Only wetter.

George Purvis: Well, gosh darn it, I guess I know what today’s oral history lesson is. It’s to never tell anyone that you get any satisfaction or happiness from anything ever, because they will mess it up for you, on purpose, just to make sure that you are as unhappy as they are.

Ole Madson: That’s right.

[Sound of chairs falling over. Tape ends].

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