Mr. Collazzi wrote this essay in 2004 as part of his college application to Vanderbilt University, of which he is now an alumnus. firstname.lastname@example.org
Growing at Graydon
by Timothy Collazzi
Having a special place beyond the comfortable confines of home was essential for my growing up. This place was a proving ground, a microcosm of the world where I could test myself and my skills. My interactions in that environment shaped and molded me into a responsible adult. Inevitably, I look back at that place with a sense of nostalgia and appreciation. In this spirit, I write about my safe haven as a child, Graydon Pool.
Ever since I was two years old, I have spent my summers at Graydon Pool. More like a lake, Graydon has a sandy beach, leafy trees, and wooded area that even has a brook. On every clear day, my mother would pack the car with chairs, blankets, books, and lunches, which my brother and I had to tote across the sun-baked parking lot. As we trudged across the bridge, we dragged slipping towels behind us until we settled in our well-worn spot on sandy grass under a large sycamore tree. My earliest memories are of my older brother jumping joyously off the raft with his friend. But why should he have all the fun? Despite my inability to swim and my vertical challenge of being less than four feet tall, I was determined to slosh my way through water that was both icy and murky until I grasped the ladder and hoisted myself on the raft. I then won the chance to make that blissful plunge to the cold bottom of the pool with a foamy splash. The thrill was addictive, and the jump became a morning ritual.
Each morning I made that same dangerous pilgrimage so that I could throw myself off the raft, dog paddle to the ladder, and then climb aboard again to repeat this process, literally hundreds of times. Being in a throng of neighbors and friends enhanced
the fun of this activity. Splashing and laughter often drowned out a mother’s impassioned plea for her child to come to shore and eat a peanut butter sandwich.
Once I was a kindergartener, I was old enough to take swim lessons from Sam, a capable but loud and blustering swim instructor. Sam’s formidable, no-nonsense attitude scared his students into propelling themselves forward through cold and unwelcoming waters. We had lessons even on drizzly mornings, while my mother looked on, holding a thick towel that I would later wrap around my shivering self. Summer after summer, I repeated this process, and my swimming skills, honed by Sam, gradually improved. All the while, Graydon was growing bigger as I expanded my boundaries from my mother’s beach chair to the far reaches of the property. I played shuffle board, volleyball, rocks-paper-scissors-shoot and wall ball. Games and friendships flourished during those summer days.
The years passed, and summer after summer I returned to Graydon, always swimming further, jumping into deep water until I could dive, growing and changing until the season ended. The summer after my freshman year of high school, lifeguard training was intensive. I dragged myself out of bed to be at Graydon at 7:00 A.M. every weekday for six weeks to face a grueling physical challenge. We had to swim, practice saves, and do “Iron Men,” a full pool relay involving running, swimming and hyperventilating up to four times in a day. I was consumed by exhaustion at the end of each training session. I practiced and practiced. The day of the lifeguard exam, on the way to the pool, my mother had an automobile accident. I had to leave my frenzied mom at the scene of the crash and run all the way to Graydon, fearful I’d be late for the test. I was late, but the class had actually waited for me. Old Sam, who was more jovial and less threatening now, gave me a chance, even though I was puffing and nervous. I passed, and I was officially a lifeguard.
Working as a lifeguard, however, presented me with different challenges. I developed my swimming, my saves, and first aid skills. On the dreary winter days of the endless school year, while confined to seats that cramped me in my classrooms, I was cheered by the thought that summer days and my job at Graydon were coming. June arrived, and I gave deep water tests to nervous boys and giggling girls. I had to fail some crying third graders. I patiently explained to snickering ten-year-olds why they couldn’t push and shove on the rafts. I was now the one who approached mothers to let them know what their precious darlings had done wrong. I admonished snack-eating babysitters to watch their charges more carefully. One day my own parents came to swim, and I had to watch them! It was a real shock to realize that I was guarding them as they had once watched me.
Graydon changed me. I grew up there, and there I progressed through each phase of life, literally and figuratively moving into deeper and more unknown waters as I took on more challenges and responsibilities. I went from being a baby in a place that seemed too vast to ever conquer, to being a man in a place where every guard stand, every rock, every raft is familiar territory. Graydon will always be special because it has been a place of safety where I grew with humor, fun, and encouragement. I knew that I could always advance to the next step. My persistence, determination, and maturity developed at Graydon as I grew physically. Graydon, my safe proving ground, was the where and the why of how I came of age. Maybe one day my own children will join me there to complete life’s circle.
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The Preserve Graydon Coalition, Inc., Ridgewood, New Jersey