It wasn’t intentionalApril 13, 2012
After Tommy swapped his wheelchair for crutches and before the amputation of both of his legs below the knee, physical therapy and wound care continued to be important parts of our lives. We girls took turns with Grandma Beanie to provide physical therapy to him a couple of times a day, but after a while even that wasn’t enough. There were other problems of the breaking down of tissue on areas of his legs and feet where surgeries had been most extensive. Missing knee caps meant he couldn’t kneel. Missing heels with poor skin grafting broke down daily. The place where his toes had once lived became raw. One leg was now far shorter than the other. Special shoes helped, but it was clear that he would be living with the pain of the breakdown of those areas for a long time.
Grandma Beanie took him to a local pool to allow him to exercise without putting weight on those sensitive areas. She was pleased with Tommy’s willingness to work in the pool and very happy to see no pain contorting his face.
She had an idea.
With Spring came the arrival of great big plates of steel to the back yard. Grandma Beanie and Grandpa John told us that they were big patio paving blocks and we were soon to have a great family patio. But there was something funny about those steel plates—some of them were curved. If we had been smarter we might have been suspicious. But we weren’t, not yet.
Men begin lifting the pieces into an upright position and attaching them to each other with large bolts. The thing that began to form in the back yard was not a lovely patio, but a pool! A beautiful, 15’ x 27’ x 4′ deep above-ground pool. The men dumped sand and then raked it flat and smooth within the oval shape they had just created with the “patio blocks.” With the placement of a pretty blue liner within the steel frame of the pool it was a thing beyond our dreams. We could barely contain our excitement.
But Grandma Beanie and Grandpa John were not yet finished.
The next deliveries were stacks and stacks of cedar 2” x 4”s and lots of large nails. Grandpa John set up his table and circular saws and saw horses, and family friends appeared seemingly from nowhere. Women served food and drinks, children played excitedly, and the men built a deck around the top of the steel frame of the pool. The scent of sawed cedar filled the air. Some of us helped the men with the building by making a few hits on nail heads with heavy hammers. The men were kind enough to pretend that we had caused those nails to find new homes deep within the aromatic cedar.
Around the perimeter of the deck stood an eight foot fence of wide horizontal boards attached to eight foot vertical supports, spaced so Grandma Beanie could still see what was going on beyond the fence. They capped off the fence with cedar 2” x 4”s, built some stairs and added a gate. Our pool was the most amazing thing any of us kids had ever seen.
We filled that pool with kids swim-running in one direction around and around the edge, creating a whirlpool that dragged Tommy and the tiniest sibling, Dave, along in the water. After a while we began to bring into the pool our family dog, Missy, to paddle along in the whirlpool with the rest of us.
The pool was great physical therapy for Tommy, as Grandma Beanie knew it would be. It was great therapy of another kind for the rest of us. Under a huge hard maple tree overhanging about a quarter of the deck, we sat and watched the water night and day. Grandpa John had installed two spotlights that shone into either end of the pool. The movement of light and water and soft rustling of leaves on the tree were calming and healing. Grandma Beanie had known that they would be.
Still today I sit and stare, mesmerized by the movement of the water outside of Grandma Beanie’s lake home. She says I can’t get enough of it. She’s right, I can’t.
What Grandma Beanie couldn’t have known was that she and the fence were to provide us with a brand-new family story to tell. She wore a bikini far into middle age because she could. Even after bearing seven children she was a knockout. She loved the pool as much as the rest of us and spent a great deal of time cleaning it and relaxing on the deck. When someone came walking by on the sidewalk and hollered a hello, Grandma Beanie would go and lean against the fence around the deck for a nice chat.
Imagine her horror when it became known that, from the yard below and from the street, a bikini clad woman of Grandma Beanie’s height leaning against the deck fence appeared to be completely naked! The horizontal boards of the fence blocked just the right areas to hide Grandma Beanie’s bikini from view. Although I was roughly the same height as Grandma Beanie, I was saved the indignity of appearing to be naked due to my really cool one-piece, sleeved and striped-to-look-like-a-football-jersey swimsuit.
There were pictures; I don’t know who had been brave enough to take them. They were destroyed. Grandma Beanie began wearing a short terry cloth robe on the deck unless she was tanning.
It wasn’t intentional. No one would purposely build a deck fence to hide bikinis. And it was funny—just not to Grandma Beanie.