I wanted to go swimming. I was six and there we were at Grammy’s cottage on Watchic Lake with my aunts and uncles and practically everyone who mattered to me. Mama said I had to wait two hours before I could go in the water.

Something to do with lunch and cramps and death. Two whole hours. May as well have been two whole days. About an hour into the waiting game, my aunt yelled to everyone, “Who wants to go for a swim?”

She didn’t have to ask me twice. I proceeded to gather my swimming attire: suit, bathing cap, water wings, bathing shoes and towel. We all ran down the hill to the dock and began to dip our toes in the lake. Everyone complained about how cold the water was. Then they all jumped up and down trying to get warm. Finally they settled down long enough to throw the beach ball around.

My uncle Albert splashed his sister Barbara. Much hilarity ensued and the heady frolicking continued for nearly 30 minutes. In the meantime, Lucky, my aunt’s German shepherd and I had been doing the dog paddle while being closely watched by my grandmother and mother. God forbid that I should go out above my knees or not be able to “touch bottom.” Note: in my family if you could not “touch bottom” you would surely drown. And, by the way, the dog paddle is not swimming it is staying alive in the water when you have zero swimming skills and cannot “touch bottom.”

After going to Grammy’s camp summer after summer, it finally dawned on me that my family did not actually swim. Not one of them. However, their spouses did and my father was the number one swimmer among them.

When I was in junior high the school bus took the girls to the Boys Club on Cumberland Avenue. in Portland once a week for swimming lessons. This was done during the coldest part of winter. In order to get back home we had to wait, and wait for the city bus to take us back to Cape Elizabeth. It was always dark and we were always starving. My wet hair often froze to my hat and head.

“Does anyone know how far a lap is?” Asked Mr. Paulson. Turned out, one lap was from one end of the pool clear to the other end! I knew I’d never do laps. But I did. Then there was the diving thing. I was too scared to do that. But I did it. However, swimming under water, eyes wide open for many minutes, was not possible. No, can’t make me do that! Never! I not only swam under water eyes wide open, I got to be pretty good at it.

I never became what you’d call a good swimmer. What’s more, I don’t remember the last time I could “touch bottom” in any area of my life. Sometimes having both feet in mid air is what you get. And maybe sometimes that’s good enough.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: