Isabel is … Hosting a Pool Party

Exploring the Bay

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Nothing signals the arrival of a long Californian summer like a pool party. At the first opportunity barbecues sizzle, sunscreen is slathered onto resisting children and beers are chilled for the grown-ups. No parties are more meticulously planned than those on the Fourth of July.

For my family, the day is celebrated with our best and only family friends, the Dolores family. It is a chance to revel in a long weekend, to catch up with what’s been changing in the lives of those we love yet rarely make time for.

We met the Dolores family where everyone in small-town America meets their friends: the local church. I, aged seven, asked to brush their only daughter’s long, blonde hair. I pulled a tiny hairbrush out of my mom’s purse and proceeded to tug. Everlasting friendship ensued.

After 15 years of knowing one another, nothing much has changed. We still live in the same neighborhood, and Mr. Dolores has since assumed the position of our family dentist.

Amid the mirage of hundred-degree central California summer heat, my mother’s sage advice, “Find a pool,” echoed in my ears. As trusted friends, the Dolores family asked us to house-sit. We did what any self-respecting family without a pool would do: we used theirs.

We were only busted once, when the Dolores family came home from vacation early to find a horde of children splashing in the pool. My mother, hungry, flipped burgers on the grill and danced with a watermelon balanced in her spare hand. As Ms. Dolores came through the gate, Mom’s watermelon dropped. My sister, mid-cannonball, turned in the air and rather lost the momentum behind her jump.

With amazing grace, Mrs. Dolores led her family through the backyard, past the burgers and grilled corn cobs, and disappeared into the house. “Don’t let me stop you,” she said as she went, unaffected, “Enjoy the pool!”

Time passed, and our friendship endured. This year the Fourth of July arrived with the standard anticipation and perspiration. Perhaps you, too, experience trepidation over the ritualistic upholding of family traditions. As the temperature in inland California ratchets up, so too do tensions surrounding the possibility of another Fourth of July marred by too many emotions and abundant drinks.

For you, it may be a great aunt or a grandfather who drinks one glass too many and lets their tongue run away with them. For us, it is the Dolores matriarch, Gillian. Sweet-tempered, wise and adventurous, Gillian welcomes us with open arms. Her pride in her family home is clear as she regales us with stories of her most recent scuba diving holiday. The room relaxes; we’ve done this before.

The Dolores family has a new addition: baby Ryan, whose smile turns a room full of adults into gurgling, drooling sycophants. Her bright eyes were like catnip for my girlfriend Charlie, who loves children. Ryan’s mother had no hesitation in handing over her precious baby to be adored.

A few glasses of wine into the party, Grandma Gillian’s piercing scream silenced the room. It felt like time stopped.

From Charlie’s lap, Ryan had tumbled toward the soft fleece mat where Charlie and Ryan’s mother sat. Gillian had watched the baby’s movements and screamed long and loud as impact approached. Ryan, startled by her grandmother’s screams, burst into tears. Her mom scooped her up like Superwoman, sweeping her indoors to ascertain the damage.

Now, there was nothing wrong with the cheerful baby who had a cushioned landing on the mat. But the peaceful, amicable atmosphere was broken, and Gillian’s mood was unrecognizable. Eyes flashing, she bore down on my girlfriend full of wrath.

Our celebrations have ended prematurely nearly every year. This year, the evening closed as Gillian and her daughter got into a shouting match over baby’s safety. On another Fourth of July, Gillian tumbled down a hill where we were watching fireworks, from top to thorny bottom. She has fallen into her own swimming pool and stumbled into the screen door, taking it off its hinges. It is a shame for such a famous holiday to end in controversy, but it always does.

Every year my family has the same conversation. “Is it time to skip the Dolores Independence Day barbecue?” We come to the same conclusion each time — some friendships have withstood too much to be ended. One thing is for sure, however: Charlie had better only drop the watermelon next year.

Check out https://recsports.berkeley.edu/pools/ to see the opening times of any one of the campus’s three pools, open everyday throughout the summer.

Isabel writes the Thursday column on discovering Berkeley and the greater Bay Area. Contact her at [email protected].

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