Let’s go!” 

Dan’s voice resonates around the salt water pool dotted with elders as we tread, awaiting the young, fit mom who leads us in water aerobics.  After her announcement, “Welcome to water aerobics!  I’m Julie,” she cranks up the music and starts our group, a selection of students ageing 60-to-80 something clad in brightly colored bathing suits and swim trunks.

“The boys,” a trio of white haired gentlemen in the back row, echo Dan’s cheerleading efforts with a couple more “Let’s go’s!” as the affable and athletic Julie leads us into warm up moves.  Warm up, literally, I hope, glancing at the statistics board the lifeguards update regularly.  The temperature reading is 84 degrees—supposedly.  It feels a lot more like 74 degrees. 

Jean, wearing a bright red suit, puckers up her face as she slides into the water.  With that particular expression on her screwed up little face, I can clearly visualize her as a little girl reacting to cold water, or biting into something sour.  I wave at her from my spot in the deep end, where I like to swim because I don’t like the sensation of my feet touching the bottom.  Strange, huh?  

When I was a very young swimmer I wanted the security of being able to stand up in the pool.  Now, I prefer deep water for several reasons.  First, I always wear a life belt because I am afraid I might get a Charlie horse, and the buoyancy makes it easy for me to drift into another swimmer’s space, so I head to the more sparsely populated depths.  Second, because one of my legs is shorter than the other, and this causes knee pain if I continuously touch the bottom during aerobics.  My grandmother and mother sewed most of my clothes when I was a girl, and they first discovered my leg length discrepancy when measuring the hems of my pants legs.  Back then we joked about it, but over the decades the difference has caused a difference in my gait.  So trying to lessen the impact, I’ll take the deep end any day.

Dan, Scott, and Larry playfully ooh and ah or “flirtatiously” mock good-sport Julie through the routine, especially if the music shifts to something that resembles an operatic lilt or high soprano.  The playlists are lively, but I can’t help but laugh at the way The Bee Gees or Madonna or Celine Dion croon with synthesizers that try to make them sound more like Alvin and the Chipmunks than who they really are.  Stepping it up for the oldies, maybe?

Shame on me for gross ageism.  The truth is, there are many mornings I laugh out loud at the antics of the boys in the back, which only encourages them, of course.  Ladies throughout the class like the boyish antics, by the indulgent smiles, giggles, and splashing around me.  Sometimes when Julie is counting aloud, one of the guys will deliberately count over her, using out-of-sequence numbers, of course.

The first time I witnessed the teasing of the boys on the back row, I felt a thrill of deja vu, and could instantly place myself in the back of my ninth grade biology class in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with Miss Standridge at the blackboard, writing our class notes in brightly colored, perfectly formed letters.  

It was the boys sitting at the table next to me that I really had in my sights—R. And D. Those clean cut, fresh faced boys definitely tweaked my radar.  But I had to be efficient to manage all I had to do—copy the notes in my own, careful cursive script, listen to Miss Standridge explain chromosomes, and keep an ear out for the scintillating, hilarious comments coming from R.’s and D.’s table.  They were witty, cute (especially R.) and the best of the bunch—I didn’t want to miss a thing.

They proved to be so entertaining, I desperately wanted to return the favor.  But I was not practiced in talking with boys, having no brothers and not being a tomboy who could hold her own.  So this was my ultra suave boy magnet strategy:  I memorized jokes from my father’s copy of Reader’s Digest that had a place of honor in the bathroom.  Always a diligent student, I memorized every word.  Here’s one I can remember most clearly, and know that I told the joke (during class?) to the boys.  I probably prefaced my joke with something intriguing, such as, “Hey, R., want to hear a joke?”

     There’s a big sign at the entrance of a town in Montana:  

      Welcome to Belt, Montana.

      Mayor:  Joe Hodges

      Police Chief:  Joe Hodges

      Fire Chief:  Joe Hodges

      Funeral director:  Joe Hodges

      Please drive carefully.  The life you save may be Joe’s.

R. and D.  both laughed at my joke! I was a success!  That encouraged me to dip into Reader’s Digest to be prepared for future opportunities.  Another habit I picked up around this time in my life was carrying a small tube of toothpaste in my purse so I could keep minty fresh breath at all times.  (Don’t look now!  Cute boy approaching at two o’clock!). That gave me time to furtively open the top of the tube and squeeze a dab of toothpaste on my finger, then touch it to the tip of my tongue —voila, minty fresh!  I was not the only teen with this insecurity, for some of my girlfriends would come up to me after lunch and ask, “Got your toothpaste?”

The jokes led to other banter and eventually to real conversations.  Then the first date, which was a double date between two tall boys and two girls with minty-fresh breath.  R.’s brother drove, as none of us had driver’s licenses yet.  We had so much fun, even when someone’s orange soda slid and spilled on the tray.  It broke the ice.  That was almost 50 years ago.  Though I haven’t seen either of those sweet teenage boys since the 1970s whose attention I so enjoyed, I learned they both grew up to realize their boyhood dreams—one as a much respected veterinarian and the other as a dedicated pastor.  Through the years, I know from alumni news that far too many of my classmates have passed away.

So these days in my late 60s, I am grateful for and relish being able to go to a gym.  I especially love the aforementioned experience of deja vu, entertained by the antics of the white haired “boys” at the back of the pool. I am transported to the feel of those high school days with the joy of uninhibited laughter.  It is that old familiar spark from being entertained or and amused by someone seeking innocent attention and appreciation.  

A few days ago I even teased a “girl” who was goofing around in the pool by chiding “Jeri!    Use your Harvard education!”  (She loved this.)  As usual, Julie the instructor is a good sport and knows that happy students mean returning ones.  I’ll continue to show up for water class as long as it makes me feel good about my life—then, and now.

I am so thankful that God is watching over me now as an elder, just as He shepherded me through the insecurity of youth and the desire to be accepted.  I pray for the young people growing up in our society today.  I pray for the healing of our country as we seem to turn further and further away from Him, relying on replacement rhetoric rather than His Word for truth.  May He have mercy upon us and give us the strength to detect and reject false teachers and to turn back to Him in this season of repentance.

“Let’s go!”