This bit of newspaper was printed circa 1930. It describes the “Big Swimming Meet” at Yawgoog Scout Reservation, the same place where I would spend my summers half a century later.
As a boy, I also participated in swimming meets as the paper describes. Every Saturday afternoon, troops would gather at the waterfront to compete against each other in events not unlike the ones described in this clipping.
Like the boys who finished last in the competition so long ago, I also camped at Tuocs for a time.
Amongst the many events in which I competed was The Marathon Swim. One Scout from each troop competed in a sprint through water and over floating docks. It was the final event of every swim meet, and the honor of competing was given to the troop’s strongest swimmer. I won the event three years in a row and was awarded a “Mr. Marathon Swim” certificate from my grizzled Scoutmaster that I still have this day. It’s a small, handwritten, fairly generic certificate, but at the time, it meant a great deal to me.
Good times. Sadly, good times now lost forever.
I look at a newspaper clipping like this, and photos like these, taken at Yawgoog in the 1960s, and think about all of these boys, now old men if they’re lucky and dead if they’re not, and feel a deep sadness for all that has been lost.
For all that they have lost. For all that I have lost.
Old photographs like these remind me of the inexorable grinding away of our lives by the specter of time. I see the smiling faces of boys in this singular moment of their lives, with the unadulterated joy of boyhood mixing with the promise of so many summers ahead, and I think about how fleeting boyhood truly is.
It’s one of the most special times in a boy’s life, and it’s over in the wink of an eye.
For the boys of Tuocs, Frontier and Musketeer campsites, that Big Swimming Meet was everything to them on that day. It was a moment that many thought would never be forgotten. It was simplicity, comradery, competition, and laughter. It was a time before the demands of life, the pressures of romantic love, the weight of regret, and the sadness of loss began chipping away at their innocent spirits.
Yawgoog was a blessing for me and so many boys because it removed us from the real world for a short time and brought us back to simpler days. No homework. No part time job. No parents. No girls.
Just wind and water, dirt and stone, and boyhood friends, living amongst the trees and clouds in a quiet, enduring peace.
Those boyhood days are so fleeting.
I find myself wanting to reach into the photograph, reach back through time to the boys at the Big Swimming Meet, and warn them of how quickly adulthood will seize them by the throats and thrust new pressures and responsibilities upon them. I want to tell them to breathe in the air, squint into the sunshine, dip their toes into the pond water, and mark their moment in the sun in some way that will make it last forever. For them and for us who will follow.
I want to tell them to remember. Remember hard. I want to tell them that there will be days, long after the Big Swimming Meet is finished and their time at Yawgoog has come to an end, when they will long for that happiness and simplicity again, if only for a day.