IN my youth, the ultimate summer job was to be a lifeguard. The bronze gods and goddesses in the tall chairs were admired and envied.
I never held one of those coveted positions, but anyone could enjoy balmy summer days lazing in or around glistening waters.
I think of the sounds of children playing and of portable radios - Super Duper Charlie Cooper, WKAZ. Certain pop songs still conjure up those happy memories. So does the smell of sunscreen.
Jeff Hutchinson, director of the Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission, had similar experiences.
"When I was a kid, we'd go to the pool and stay all day," he said. There was no air conditioning at home, no Xbox, no Internet.
Children aren't as eager to swim these days, and as they get older, few aspire to be lifeguards.
It has forced pool operators to tinker with schedules and admission prices as they try to balance costs and demand.
Both Hutchison and Charleston Parks Director John Charnock say the toughest problem is finding enough lifeguards - and then hanging onto them through season's end.
Pool seasons are now defined by the availability of that dwindling group of high school and college students willing to spend the time and money it takes to get certified.
High school seniors have been marching across stages to receive their diplomas this week. Next week, many will be off to Myrtle Beach on senior trips. Other teens are still in class.
Come early August, football and band practice start. The college-bound will pack bags and leave.
In June and July, lifeguards want time off for family vacations. In bygone days, teenagers were grateful for jobs that gave them an excuse to be left behind. Maybe families are taking nicer trips today, or perhaps parents aren't the bores they used to be.
What it boils down to is a shorter swimming season.
The city will open only one of five pools this weekend, the one at the Kanawha City Community Center. Of the three county pools, only Coonskin will open.
Both the Kanawha City and Coonskin pools will close Tuesday and reopen next Saturday along with the others.
The city operates pools at Cato Park on the West Side, North Charleston Community Center, King Community Center in downtown Charleston, and the Vandalia Neighborhood Center on the south side of the Kanawha River.
The county owns the pools at Pioneer Park in East Bank and Shawnee Park in Institute. They are operated by the Charleston Family YMCA and West Virginia State University, respectively.
Hutchinson has managed to secure the 15 to 20 guards needed for Coonskin, but Charnock is still hustling to fill his ranks of about 40.
Charnock hopes for more guards like Allison Smith.
Allison, 22, grew up in South Hills, graduated from Charleston Catholic, got a bachelor's from WVU, and will enroll in medical school in Morgantown in the fall.
This will be her fifth summer in a lifeguard chair for the city.