I grew up in South Roebuck. I’m intensely proud of it. I don’t know if I can articulate why- it’s merely a neighborhood on the east side of Birmingham. It’s not magical in any way, really. Unless you grew up there. Unless you rode every single square inch of it (and a few outside of it) on your bike. It is my childhood home, and my parents still live there. Every single time I go see them, I see some little something that reminds me of my childhood. A tree in a random yard that I climbed. That time we took a sled down Lance Way (which remains one of the stupidest things I ever did). The mysterious winding roads of Roebuck Springs, the more affluent neighbor to South Roebuck. And the pool.
During summertime, I had a schedule. I would get up, go to the pool on my bike. Around 11:30, I would head home to eat a delicious mom-made sandwich, and watch I Love Lucy and Andy Griffith. Maybe some Bonanza (which came on at 1pm). Then, back to the pool. That was the regular course of things. I don’t know how many years that persisted, but I do know that when I think of summer as a kid, that’s what I think of. I remember the lifeguards. I remember the 4 different routes I could take to the pool. I remember freedom. I remember my parents never worrying about me despite no one having a cell phone, and basically not hearing from me until the end of the day. It was that different world you hear people pine about. I am getting old enough to remember it. And I understand why people lament its passing.
Eastside Pool and the accompanying South Roebuck Ball Park hold a very special place in my heart. Always will. So I go back there. Maybe every two years. I go back there and watch it decay.
This is not the part where I lament what it has become. I did that a few years ago. Then it was shocking. Now it’s more clinical to me. Now it’s watching the past fade away. The Eastside I remember had no colorful painting on the outside. All pale blue, low ceiling’ed concrete. A bike rack still sits to the right of the entrance, but a bush has swallowed it.
The last time I was here, the place was locked up tight. Which was good, because the pool was full of green slime and completely and utterly disgusting. At some point in the past two years, the pool has been drained. Recent and not-so-recent graffiti now covers it. The trees you see to the left and rear of the pool- those are new. The left side was a deck full of beach chairs next to the deep end.
Ah, the deep end. 15 feet deep, I believe? And utterly terrifying to a 10 year old. There was a low dive and a 10 foot high dive. The high dive, in particular, was a source of great concern in my life. I used to watch older kids do flips off of it. I only summoned up the courage to jump off of it towards the end of my time at Eastside. At some point after I stopped going, they had to remove it. Insurance concerns, I believe. I saw kids get hurt off of it. I saw a kid try a back flip and fall unconscious to the water. When I stood there and took this picture a memory rushed back of a panic attack I had as a child in this very spot. I saw in my mind’s eye a horrible monster rise up out of the deep end. I shuddered because I still remember, 30 years later, what that thing looked like.
Looking back towards the entrance, I remember the dragon lady. Every pool probably had one, but this old lady was a crispy brown. Wrinkled beyond belief. But she set up shop on the left side of this picture. I never talked to her but all the kids would whisper about her. On the right side, I remember listening to the Beatles 1967-1970 on my walkman, unwrapping it and throwing the plastic that surrounded the tape away in a trash can by the snack shop. I remember hearing A Day in The Life for the first time right there. Music was a big part of Eastside Pool. We would lobby lifeguards behind the front desk for what would be played. Or we’d bring our own. I had a tiny little boom box that played tapes that I’d take with me there. I’d listen to U2 or Led Zeppelin or whatever I could find.
I worked in the snack bar one summer. I kind of hated it, but you could drink all the Coke you wanted. We’d make suicides and I found a lifelong love there- crushed ice. I’m kind of surprised I have any teeth left, to be honest. I remember going to many birthday parties in this little space. Now, as you can see, that would be difficult.
Next to the pool was the South Roebuck Ball Park. It has also been left to its own devices. I used to walk (or ride) along a path to the right of this building to get home. A forest prevented me from doing so this time.
A company bought the land, I’ve been told. They were going to put a school on it, but changed their mind. In some way, I’m kind of glad. I like coming back here, even though it is what it is now. There will come a time in the future when money or progress or nature will destroy or swallow this part of my childhood. Maybe I’ll be sad, or maybe I’ll be happy that someone is using the land for something better. Probably a little bit of both. I can’t control what happens to Eastside or nearly anything else. That’s the comforting part of hitting your mid thirties- you become OK with that realization.