The Kiddie Pool

Throughout my youth I was a Boy Scout. An important part of Scouting was, of course, Summer Camp.

Camp Buck Toms (named after its founder, William “Buck” Toms) was the premier (and by that I mean only) Summer camp location for the Great Smoky Mountain National Council of Boy Scouts. Every troop with even a shred of self-respect would reserve a campsite for at least one week.

The camp is situated on Watts Bar Lake, also home of the Watts Bar Nuclear Reactor and the Kingston Fossil Plant. Not coincidentally, the camp’s mascot is a three-eyed fish. Campers are advised to not eat anything they catch in the lake.

For the vast majority of campers, this is not a problem: the lake isn’t for fishing, it’s for swimming! Summers in East Tennessee were both hot and humid, and the lake was one of the few places a Scout could go to cool off. There was a generous area of the lake roped off where swimming was permissible.

Most of this swimming area was fairly deep, but there was also a separate, shallower area which most campers called the kiddie pool. In order to swim in the deep area, a camper had to pass a swimming test that involved swimming three laps using three different strokes, treading water for a minute, and floating for a minute. Getting in the kiddie pool required passing a much simpler test (I think all you had to do was be able to touch the bottom and duck your head under water and blow bubbles out your nose for ten seconds or something like that).

One summer, our troop arrived at the same time as approximately half the Scouts in the state. I honestly don’t know why there were so many incoming campers for that particular week, but in any case the line to take the swimming test was extraordinarily long. And of course the sun was beating down and most campers had not unpacked their sunscreen yet. Everyone was absolutely frying.

But I noticed something: the line for the kiddie pool test was basically nonexistent. It was the rare Scout who couldn’t pass such a simple swimming test, and nobody wanted the humiliation of being relegated to the kiddie pool.

Well, I didn’t care. I was a reasonably competent swimmer, and had passed the swimming test for several Summers in a row prior to this. But I didn’t care about swimming, I just wanted a cool place to relax and beat the heat, and the kiddie pool was as good for that as the swimming area was. So I got in line for the kiddie pool test.

I endured the jeers from my fellow Scouts for the few minutes it took to get certified, then I got to give them a smug look as I passed them, still at the tail of the long line, walking to our campsite. The smug looks continued after they (finally) arrived at the campsite as well, especially as I had already chosen the best tent site and most of them were already starting to turn a painful shade of red from sunburn.

I could end this story here, as it’s already resulted in decisive victory for Yr. Humble Narrator. But there was another unexpected result of my savvy decision that afternoon. Each week (or perhaps every two weeks, I’m not quite sure on this) there was a competition between the campsites. It was always a friendly competition and always tremendous fun, and there was always something swimming related. There was the typical swim race, which I couldn’t participate in (but probably wouldn’t have been asked to anyway, as I was far from the strongest swimmer in the troop). But there was also a race for the nonswimmers: each contestant was given a ping pong ball and had to blow it across the kiddie pool.

You bet I signed up for that in a heartbeat.

It was enough to put the tinge of shame even on my brazen cheeks. I was probably twice as tall as the rest of the contestants, and it was a ridiculous sight. I think they had to check two or three times that I had really registered as a nonswimmer. Of course I won handily; I’m pretty sure my bow wave alone pushed my ping pong ball to victory. It wasn’t even remotely fair or sporting. But it was points for our campsite!

I honestly don’t even remember whether we won or not — we did often win, as we were a large troop with several older boys who had many diverse talents — but I do remember feeling both amused that my hack to avoid standing in line resulted in a competition win and somewhat embarrassed that I absolutely dominated some genuinely little kids in a silly game.

I’m not entirely sure what the moral is here, but I’m pretty sure it’s that laziness and craftiness sometimes do pay off.

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