Saturday, June 30, 2007

Goodbye, Northeast Y

Yet another piece of my childhood bites the dust.

I'd noticed a lot of work taking place at the site of the Northeast YMCA, located right near the intersection of the Beltway and I-95 northeast (get it?) of Baltimore. It turns out the property was sold to a developer who will be putting townhomes on it, after the property is leveled. Meanwhile, major reconstruction is going on at the aforementioned interchange.

For a couple years, my mom and dad, my (then three) siblings, and I had traveled way out to Black Rock YMCA in northern Baltimore County. But it was indeed a long trip, although the facility was in a pastoral setting with a stream right beside. Black Rock would eventually be sold.

So we began going instead to the Northeast Y. While certainly not as bucolic as Black Rock, and quite a bit more noisy, the main advantage that Northeast had was its proximity to the neighborhood. This meant that more of our friends were there, as well as some of my cousins.

We spent many a summer day at the Y. Many of these days would include a cookout in one of the picnic areas, meaning that it wasn't quite the restful day for Mom and Dad. They did most of the work before and after said cookouts. Then we'd all sit around the pool waiting for 30 minutes to elapse before we could go back in.

It was rare that we'd make a whole meal out of what was served at the concession stand, but that didn't stop us from hitting it up frequently for candy, drinks, and snowballs. I remember the stand playing a lot of old Chicago and Carpenters music.

The pool was huge, with two shallow-end wings on either side, a five-foot section marked off with lap lanes in the middle, and a diving pit at the far end. In there we played many games of Marco Polo or Sharks and Minnows, diving for coins/shoe heels/whatever, walking races (before someone discovered it would make a nifty exercise), and a game we made up where one of us had to jump in and touch the line crossing the lane marker before the other tagged him, not unlike trying to steal second base. We also learned to use masks and snorkels there, playing Sea Hunt/Jacques Cousteau. Some of us went to swimming lessons also, but most of those we took at an inner-city school. There was also the obligatory kiddie pool.

Other Northeast Y amenities included a swing set with flexible rubber seats, which we could get going almost parallel to the ground (I once made the mistake of jumping off from about 10 feet up, and was fortunate only to hurt my jaw when it struck my knee); a horseshoe pit; volleyball courts; softball fields; a trampoline, on which I'm surprised none of us sustained serious injury; and a wooden obstacle course through the woods.

Being an outdoor facility, the main use of the Y was in the summer. But I did spend one fall playing six-a-side football in a Y league. I love the game of football . . . when others play it. I discovered I had no desire to knock the stuffing out of whoever was on the other side of the line.

You could not drag us out of the pool. Our fingers would be as wrinkled as prunes, and we loved being there after dark as well with the underwater lights. When Mom or Dad told us to get out, we dragged out our exit as long as possible, taking the longest way out or begging them for a few more minutes.

And now, one more thing that the Y meant to me:

Three years after our membership to the Y ran out, I was between my sophomore and junior years in high school. I had a summer job, but it was mostly on weekends. I was bored silly one weekday.

I found out that my aunt was going out to the Y with her daughters, my cousins. They were quite a bit younger than me at the time (come to think of it, they STILL are, but it made more of a difference then!), but I figured I could make the best of it and come as their guest. They told me there was this friend they wanted to introduce me to. I figured I'd humor the kids and meet their playmate.


Leanne was a neighbor of theirs. Being of Italian extraction, she had a nice deep tan. Her hair was shoulder-length, thick, and brunette. I think what I'll always remember was her legs, nice and shapely and not the bird-legs that many girls her age had. She was wearing this cute pink polka-dotted swimsuit (not a bikini).

She too was about to be a junior in high school, and was about six months younger than me. For the next year, we went swimming at the Y and dated fairly frequently. We went to each other's ring dances (we were so nervous!) and her junior prom. I eventually chose to obey my Christian community's disapproval of dating in high school and initiated the breakup late the next summer. Last time I saw Leanne, which was over 20 years ago, she was working at Macy's and had gotten engaged.

We were each other's first, and I'll never forget her. We'll always have Northeast Y.