Always in acknowledgment of Father’s Day, I pull out a particular photo album that chronicles my father’s 1968 backyard project. This was no ordinary project, but like every other project he took on, it was accomplished during the daylight hours after he got home from his full time desk job. It consumed most of his weekend waking hours. He had been dreaming it up for a number of years, and then one day, grabbed a shovel and simply got started and didn’t quit until it was finished a year later.
My father departed this soil nearly 24 years ago, having completed umpteen “projects” in his spare time. A swimming pool built by hand for his family was undoubtedly the most remarkable. No matter what it was, Hank Polis dove right in to whatever he decided to accomplish.
He was determined to build a full size swimming pool, by himself, with his own two hands. He did use our little Farmall Cub tractor to blade away the first layer of topsoil, but the rest of the digging was by the shovel-full. He wanted a kidney shaped pool rather than a rectangular one, so he soaked the wooden forms in water to form the graceful curves. The cement was poured by a cement truck, but the sidewalks were all self-mixed in our own little cement mixer that ran off a small engine. The tile that lined the top of the pool was all hand grouted and placed, square by square. The pumphouse/changing room was built alongside.
I turned 14 that summer, not truly understanding how extraordinary an effort this was, but simply accepting it as another “dad” project like any other he finished through sheer will, stubbornness and a desire to go on to the next challenge. Now, over 50 years later, as an adult who is plum tired at the end of an office/clinic work day, I marvel at his energy putting in another four or five hours of physical labor when he came home at night. No wonder he never suffered from insomnia.
Once the pool was declared finished, a hose ran water for several days, and it took 2 more days to heat it up to a temperature that was survivable. Then my dad took the first dive in.
Once he had taken that first dive, he was happy. He swam every once in awhile, but was soon onto another project (reconstructing a steel walled gas station that arrived on our farm in piles of panels on the back of a flat bed truck, so that he could have a full size “shop” to work on indoor projects during the winter). It was sufficient for him to just to be able to say he had done it himself.
As I study the look on my father’s face in these photos, I am startled to see my self looking back at me, like a reflection in the water. I now realize determination and utter stubbornness can manifest in DNA in different ways. I have no mechanical skills whatsoever, but like my father, I always have a dream I’m pursuing, and I keep at it until it is accomplished.
Thanks Dad for showing me how to dive right into life.
The water’s been fine.
And I did not lift up my wound and cry,
Death visited here!
I did what a child does
when he’s given something to keep.
I kissed my father.
~Li-Young Lee from “The Gift”