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  • Now if you ever lived in Omaha, Nebraska or Council Bluffs, Iowa (right across the Missouri River)... then you would know all about Peony Park.

    It opened in 1919 as a beer garden and dance hall. In fact, I have a picture of my parents that was taken there when they were young lovers. In 1926 they opened the swimming pool area which is where my story begins and will be described later. The swimming pool was segregated until 1963 when it became a controversy in the local newspaper. They added an amusement park in the 1970s with monorail going around park, and a rollercoaster and tilt-a-whirl. It was closed in 1994 and torn down to be replaced by a strip mall.
  • Each summer our family went to Peony Park several times. My dad, mom, me, and my two brothers. We are all seven years apart and all Virgos, so I would tease my mom about the seven year itch.

    I loved all of Peony Park but especially the grand pool. My mom said I was like a little fish and she would make me get out of the water for breaks. There was a beautiful green park surrounding the pool where we would often go for a picnic.

    When you got to the park the dressing rooms were in a large stone building. I remember there was always slimy water puddles on the floor that I would try to avoid by standing on the dressing room bench. The smell of chlorine would sting my senses and I would crinkle up my nose. Once dressed in your suit you went through a spray of water at the exit door before entering the pool. After you ran that gauntlet - you were in!
  • In my young mind it was the most beautiful place in the world - a virtual Garden of Eden. It was a very large pool, almost lake size, with a sandy beach all around. The depth graduated out from the sand so babies and small children could play at the edges while serious swimmers went out to the middle. In between, they had these fountains with three rings that flowed constant water and you could sit on the bottom rung and let water flow over your back. That is, until the lifeguard blew the whistle, "Get off the fountain!"

    Recently I was watching an old noir movie, "I wake up Screaming," and there is a scene with Victor Mature and Ginger Rogers at a pool with those same fountains - so they must have been an item!
  • These were the days when people didn't know about skin cancer. My mom would slather baby oil all over me and I would get back in the water and float for a while like a baby whale. By the end of the day I would be so burnt that when I finally lay down in my bed at night my body would hurt from the touch of the sheets. Then a few days later I would peel sheets of skin from my arms and legs. Yah! I know - ooooh! But as painful as those burns were they were at the same time, satisfying - like the mark of a perfect day and I would be exhausted in a good way and sleep soundly.

    Sometimes, and this would be an absolute perfect day - when we got home dad would barbecue chicken and hamburgers and then hand crank peach homemade ice cream! Absolute heaven.

    But other times we would stop our swimming to eat hamburgers at the stand at the park. You would just get your hand stamped to go out. Swimming really builds up an appetite so even their greasy burgers tasted so good after a swim.

    Although my favorite parts of the pool were the fountains and slides, my dad and teen brother would go out to the diving board to show off. There was a platform with boards at different levels. Men would walk out to the end of the board, flex their muscles a few times, raise their muscular arms in an arc over their head and spring their feet lightly twice on the end of the board, ...one, ... two, ... then a good third bounce, three! Then a magnificent swan dive, the body a perfect missle, the water barely breaking any bubbles.

    Then, there was dad.

    Mom never swam. Dad had accidentally jumped on her once in our local pool at YMCA and she had gone under and it traumatized her. So she ...claimed...she could no longer swim. I think she just preferred to work on her baby oil tan at the edge of the water and watch my little brother.

    But these were the days of the popularity of the movie camera and home made movies. So mom's other job was to get the home movies made.

    So this one day dad told mom to get the camera ready while he made his way out to the diving platform. I don't remember if my teen brother went out or not. We both knew dad was accident prone (I wrote another story on that) so if he didn't want to get embarrassed in front of the teen girls, he might have avoided this one and hung out at the fountains.

    Anyway, dad swam out to the platform. He waited his turn and got on the board. Dad didn't have a bad physique. He was no Jack LaLanne but even in his older years his upper body was muscular. So he walked to the end of the board. His arms swooped up in an arc, he bounced, once, .... twice, .... then the third time stronger. But something happened the third time.

    His foot seemed to miss or catch the end of the board. The swan dive turned into a gaggling goose - gawk! Arms and legs went flying and his belly hit the water before he could pull out of the fall. Water rose up around his body like a small tsunami. The others on the platform were either in shock or laughing, depending on which part of the performance they caught.

    But, the best part? Mom caught it all on the movie camera. From then on that was a favorite request. "Show the one where dad fell off the diving board," I would say. And even better, you could play the movie in reverse. So mom would show dad falling into the water, then reverse it, so you would see the tsunami, then dad mid air with arms and legs haywire, then the slip on the board, then him standing in perfect position on the board.

    My little brother would clap and say, "Do it again daddy!" I would be in hysterics and rolling on the floor. My teen brother would scan the movie to see if any of his friends saw it. Mom would have a smirk on her face like it was her revenge for the YMCA pool incident. And Dad? He was a good sport. He thought it was funny too.
  • Granted, I'm in California now - land of the amusement parks and granddaddy of them all - Disneyland. But for me, Peony Park was the happiest place on earth.

    So, it makes me incredibly sad that they,"Paved paradise and put up a parking lot." (Joni Mitchell)
  • Pictures are historic pictures of Peony Park from archives in Omaha. The Garden Grove souvenir and picture of couple is my mom and dad.

    Music: Joni Mitchell, "Big Yellow Taxi" from Ladies of the Canyon, 1970. Watch on you-tube at: www.youtube.com or on Spotify

    Thanks for reading and sharing a memory.
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