Timrod Park Swimming Pool, 1950’s… the scent of chloride, “thunk thunk” of the diving board and splashes of fun-loving swimmers. Summers were pretty safe for kids in search of fun in the late 1940’s and early 50’s Florence.
After school and on Saturday afternoons, pals could inhabit city streets without parents going nuts with worry. You could leave your unlocked house, ride your bike or roller skate along city streets, come home for a quick parent check, then go again.
Round up a few friends and you could play a game of hopscotch drawn on the sidewalks with bits of rock, play tag, pick-up-sticks, marbles or jacks.
If a neighbor had recently acquired a new wringer-washer, you could use the left-over packing crate for a handy jeep. A real find might be a sturdy refrigerator box — handy for two-man tanks. Gather up a few more kids and war games, cops and robbers or good old cowboys and Indians might occupy the territory from McQueen Street to Warley.
Some afternoons when usual buddies were occupied with other stuff, I liked to wander around town and eventually end up at the Library or Timrod Park. The interior of the block between McLeod Hospital and downtown made for interesting exploration. The hospital laundry with its open doorways, rising clouds of steam and swoosh, swoosh of the iron presses was an attraction.
Several straggly trees and bushes divided the interior of the block into parking sections, and narrow alleyways lead to Evans Street, Irby, Cheves or South Dargan. The back doors to Barringer Hardware or Waters Furniture Store accumulated piles of discarded pasteboard boxes and packing crates. Here was a great source of components for our make-shift jeeps, tanks and body armor. I made a mental note.
Nowadays the tarry smell of Pinesol triggers a mini-vision. One day as I was studiously avoiding the mud puddles between Dr. Stokes’ office building and McLeod on my shortcut to Kresses, an odd odor wafted by my nose. Looking toward the rear of stores along West Evans, I spotted workmen up on a flat-top roof, spreading out thick black tar. I slowed my pace to watch a bit, then took a wide detour around the roaring tar kettle surrounded by globs of cooling goo.
The Library was another destination of choice on summer afternoons. When it was too hot to continue outdoor games, the cool stacks encouraged “well-mannered” kids to browse and stay awhile. Over several years I graduated from the basement Children’s Department and the Bobbsey Twins mysteries up to the main floor and Sherlock Holmes, reading chapters at a time before I ever made it to the check-out counter.
I admire our new Library, of course, but there was an atmosphere of world-wide adventure in those old stacks that drew me back week after summer week. I’d leave with my limit, arms full of mystery and mayhem, one book propped open to read as I made my way home, one eye on the page and the other on my feet.
After my family’s move to Mohawk Drive, my path home lead through Timrod Park. Of course, reading about England, Timrod became London’s St. James Park, and Sherlock Holmes inspired a less than straight line of travel. I’d enter at the Coit Street edge, avoid the swing sets, sliding boards and Timrod School, then skirt the swimming pool with its scent of chloride, “thunk thunk” of the diving board and splashes of fun-loving swimmers.
As I meandered, I was peopling the park with 1890’s ladies and gentlemen, with perhaps a detective or two from Scotland Yard thrown in for good measure. The lifeguard’s whistle might be a London Bobby calling for reinforcements as he chased the bad guys through a cobbled street.
Continuing on, I would usually cut by the amphitheater and picnic tables and wind up my westward route at the rose garden. “London” bridge would take me across the “Thames” to weave my way in and out of shaggy oleander bushes, struggling to maintain my hold on all those books while climbing the steep path to Waters Avenue. I was only a block out from home.
Arrival home might mean present tense pots and pans to wash or potatoes to peel for supper, but by then I didn’t mind — another shortcut through the innards of a city block, another adventure at the Library or meander through Timrod Park was always coming up.