As A Kid, I Worried A Lot About My Toes


Summer has arrived! This may be difficult to ascertain here in sunny Florida, but it is official — the equinox has crested (or whatever happens).

When I was growing up in Wisconsin, we knew it was summer when they chipped through the ice on the pool at McGovern Park so we could go swimming.

No, just kidding. The ice had melted on its own two or three weeks before.

McGovern Park was about 3 miles from my house, but back then kids used a form of transportation called the “bi-cy-cle” to get around. This unmotorized vehicle was essential in the days before two-car families were common. And, even in families that had two cars, children who asked for a ride anywhere were simply told no. (The word “no” is not used as much anymore, either.)

But back to my story. When Wisconsin’s ice melted, my best friend, Bonnie, and I would roll up our bathing suits in towels, hop on our bikes and pedal on down to “McGovern” — but then came the hard part, at least for me.

For some reason, the City of Milwaukee had decided it was absolutely necessary that each person entering the pool first let a lifeguard check between their toes for, I don’t know, athlete’s foot? You could have a rash across your back, cold sores obliterating your mouth, rampaging scalp disease and one ear falling off, but, if you had anything between your toes, you were not getting into the pristine and icy waters of the McGovern Park pool.

And I had something between my toes — one freckle. This freckle, located between my big toe and the one next to it, caused me more anguish than is humanly possible. I would start worrying about it the moment Bonnie suggested we go swimming. I worried about it during the whole 3 miles I was pedaling toward the park. I worried about it in the changing room while I was getting into my suit, and I’m sure my preteen blood pressure skyrocketed as I approached the lifeguard at the entrance.

I didn’t want the line of kids behind me to see me cast out, a pariah. And I certainly didn’t want to pedal home alone.

The only thing working in my favor was the lifeguards themselves. These burly teenage Adonises had signed up to spend the summer wearing cool shades and sitting atop tall chairs in order to scope out the chicks — not to examine the feet of squirmy little kids. A pretty girl couldn’t have drowned at McGovern if she had tried. The rest of us? Eeh.

So it turned out I was let in, week after week, free to swim next to the kid with the ear hanging by a thread.

Until one day it happened. A particularly alert lifeguard asked, “What’s that?” and pointed to it.

“A f-ff-freckle,” I stammered.

The world stopped rotating. The breeze dropped off. A dark cloud covered the sun as I waited for the executioner’s ax to fall.

“OK,” he answered. “Next!”

From that day forward, I knew I would be fine. But some people think kids have nothing to worry about. They don’t know of the treachery summer can hold.