Friday, February 14, 2014

In The Water

I love to swim. It is the closest thing to being able to fly. That feeling of floating along and feeling free... like I said I love it.

Not everyone in my family feels the same way. My mother, for instance. She never did learn to swim. She said she felt claustrophobic when her face was covered with water.

I was working and could not be with my family when they went camping for a weekend. Not that I missed it. Camping is not a favorite activity of mine. There are no indoor toilets.

They were near a lake and decided to go swimming. Mom was content to sit on the edge with the baby and read a book. Daddy was there in case of an emergency.

The kids were happily romping in the water and making a lot of noise. Someone called Daddy to come help them with something. He told Mom he would be right back and disappeared over the hill. Mom nodded and went on reading.

The kids started calling for help and Mom told them not to ask for help unless they meant it. They kept yelling. She finally realized there was something wrong. She sent my oldest brother to get Daddy but she knew he could not make it in time.

My sister and brother had been wading and hit a drop-off in the water. My sister could not swim at all, my brother just a little. My brother was trying to help my sister get back to where she could stand but they were both in trouble.

Mom told the baby to stay where he was. She started to the water. On the way she saw a medium sized stick and grabbed it up. She got brave and waded into the water.

She went out to where my brother and sister were struggling. She told them to grab the stick. My sister reached for it but went under the water instead. My brother managed to get out by himself and went back to the blanket and fell exhausted, trying to catch his breath.

My sister surfaced again and Mom tried again. She told my sister to grab the stick. My sister tried but just went under again.

Mom was right at the edge of where the drop-off was. She knew she could not help anyone if she was drowning herself. She tried to dig her toes in but of course she could not. My sister surfaced again. Mom saw that her eyes were starting to glaze over and knew this was probably the last chance.

She yelled for my sister to grab the stick. Somehow she got through and my sister reached for the stick. As soon as she had her hands around it my mother jerked towards herself. The stick was rotten and broke. But there was enough force that my sister floated forward a little and Mom was able to grab her and get her out of the water.

Daddy came running over the hill just in time to see them connecting and coming out of the water.

The town we were living in was building a swimming pool. I was so excited. Then they announced that they would be selling season tickets for admission to the pool.

I was disappointed. I knew if there was a fee we would not be going swimming often. We had very little money and there were so many of us.

Then they announced a contest. If I could sell a certain number of season passes, I would receive a season pass for myself. Double the sales and I could get a family pass and we would all get to swim.

I sold my little heart out. I was in the fifth grade at school. I think a lot of the people who purchased from me thought it was cute that I was trying to sell them. And I had people that I did yard work and other odd jobs for who I got to before anyone else did. We had our family pass.

We lived at the pool that summer. We were there when it opened and went home when they were closing.

The Red Cross gave free swimming lessons to all the children. My oldest brother took them along with the rest of us. He just did not like taking the chance. He always said that sticking your face in the water was a good way to drown.

The instructors tried hard with him but he just did not like it. Then came the day that they came to my second brother and me and told us to take him out to the deep end and leave him. They said he would learn to swim that way. Even we knew that was a stupid idea. We refused. He did learn to swim a bit in the Army but he did not enjoy it.

My high school had a swimming pool. Everyone was required to take at least one semester of swimming. It was part of the physical education program.

We learned to dive and do fancy turns. We learned all the different strokes, like the butterfly and breast stroke. I received my junior lifesaving badge in high school.

My husband learned to swim when he was young. His brother and his brother's friend tossed him into the water and told him to swim. He did not swim that time. He did finally learn to slap his arms in the water and move around a little. I do not know if he could have been able to do any real swimming if the occasion called for it.

But he enjoyed taking us swimming. He would gamely get in the water. Then he would start to shiver and turn blue. He would spend most of the time sitting on a blanket and wrapped in a towel while we had a good time.

When my oldest son was a baby I was amused by the fact that he hated to have his face washed. When I would take the cloth and start to wash him he would gasp for breath. I soon discovered that all I had to do was cover his eyes with my hand for the same effect. Naturally he did not like the water for recreation either.

Then when he about 5 years old he asked if he could take swimming lessons. I immediately signed him up. He worked so hard to try to be able to put his face in the water. I sat in an observation room for the parents of the would-be swimmers and watched.

When the series of lessons were over he still could not swim. He wanted to try again. This time his little brother wanted to learn too.

I sat in that observation room and watched my sons taking swimming lessons. My first son was trying so hard. My second son was right at home.

When they were learning to dog paddle my oldest son was trying. The instructor was working with him and the other children watched. All except for my second son. There he was down at the deep end of the pool paddling along with a big grin on his face. I was up banging on the window for someone to notice that my baby was trying to kill himself.

The last day of that series one of the fathers offered to help by dropping the children from the diving board so they could dog paddle back to the shallow end. One by one each child walked to him and he gently dropped them into the water. My oldest son was last.

The man took him by the arms and lowered him toward the water. My son was terrified. The man let go. Have you ever seen someone climb air? My son did. He made it back to the man and held on for dear life. The man finally gave up and carried my son back to the side of the pool.

My son tried so hard to learn how to swim. He still cannot and he says he has no regrets.

But his cousin was not convinced. My son did like going to the pool and splashing around at the edge of the shallow end. His cousin somehow got him out in the middle of the deep end. Her intention was to let go of him and make him swim to the edge. (Her father is the older brother of my husband who tossed him in the water. It runs in their family I guess.)

So she got him out there and tried to let go. He clawed and scratched and held on. She was covered with wounds when they came home. She said she would not have tried that if she had known he was going to maul her.

My children were growing up. I knew it would not be long and it would be difficult for us to do things together. I planned a trip. It was just a weekend at a nearby amusement park.

My two older sons were friends so I knew they would hang out together. I told my youngest son and my daughter that they could each invite a cousin to do things with.

We got two rooms at the motel. The boys stayed in one and we girls were in the other. I made sure to get a place that had a pool so the children could swim in the evening after we left the park.

I wanted a shower but the kids wanted to swim. My second son could swim so I asked him to keep an eye on them until I came out. He did not want to swim but he said he would watch them.

I took a shower and was drying my hair. I looked out the door to check on the children. They were fine.

Then my nephew got into the deep end and was having trouble. My son gave a soft curse and jumped in. He was fully dressed so he was not happy.

My son fished my nephew out of the water. Everyone was fine. I told them that was enough excitement for the night and it was time to come in.

I think everyone should know how to swim. It is like knowing how to do first aid. You should know. But watching my son try to learn to swim I have realized that not everyone can.


  1. Sorry to confess that I am much like your son and never learned to swim despite being taken for lessons by my mother. Sadly, she has reminded me in past years how I never succeeded, which has never done much for my confidence to try again. So, as you so wisely stated...not everyone can.

    1. It was a success for you to have tried. I have seen too many people who just cannot do it. Many have tried as hard as they could. So lift your head high and be proud that you tried. If you jumped off the roof and could not fly you would have given it your best (I guarantee that). Maybe that is not such a good analogy but you get the idea. Sometimes you can't.