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Learning to Swim

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 8.42.55 AMLast week I took two of my Grands for a swim lesson. I watched them splash and kick and laugh and thought of my childhood days in a much different pool. It wasn’t a huge pool and didn’t have a big area of ankle-to-shoulder-deep water, like the one my Grands were in.

In Pickett County, during the 1950s, the only public swimming pool was at Star Point Dock, now Star Point Resort, on Dale Hollow Lake. And no one had a backyard pool. At that time, Ted and Gwen Mochow, good friends of my parents, owned Star Point.

I contacted the Mochows’ son, Mike, to confirm a few details. During the week, guests who stayed in Star Point cabins and the motel used the pool. On weekends, it was available to the public and admission was 50 cents. We swimmers walked through a footbath, about two by four feet in size, to sanitize our feet with a disinfectant before getting in the pool.

The concrete pool was divided into two sections: one for non-swimmers, one for swimmers. The non-swimmer side, where the water was about four feet deep, I knew well. I clung to the side and walked around the edge of that 10 x 40 foot pool (my best guess of the size) and I never wore a life jacket or water wings or any flotation device. I gripped the concrete, hand over hand, all the time watching my older brother and friends in the huge deep pool, on the other side of a concrete divider. My goal was to jump off the diving board (no aspiration to dive) and swim in the ten-foot deep water, to the steps. I could imagine myself climbing up those metal steps, onto the narrow concrete deck.

My family wasn’t a water recreation family. Occasionally, on a Saturday afternoon after we’d finished weekly chores – cleaning house, burning trash, mowing the yard – Dad took my brother and me to the pool, but he never got in the water. Mom didn’t swim, and she was happy to stay home and watch a baseball game on TV.

The only times both Mom and Dad were within the metal fence pool enclosure at Star Point pool were when the Mochows invited us for family cookouts and swim parties. Ted and Gwen were skilled swimmers, and they organized water games and contests. Even Dad swam and played. Gwen finally convinced Mom that for safety she should learn to swim, and so when I was about 10 years old, Mom and I took swimming lessons together.

Side by side we lay prone in the water, held to the pool’s edge, and kicked. We blew bubbles. We bobbed our heads in the water. And eventually, I swam. No fancy stokes. No side breathing. I kicked and used an arm stoke well enough to accomplish my goal. Swimming in the deep swimmer’s pool was just as big a deal as I thought it’d be. And Mom’s backstroke qualified her as a swimmer.

Now, my young Grands are overcoming the discomfort of water up their noses and learning to enjoy the water, with confidence. Elaine, age 5, told me, “You know what, Gran? I flapped my arms like this (she flapped like a bird) and moved all by myself. And I can touch bottom a long way.”

Pools and teaching techniques have changed. But my Grands will soon know the same success I felt the first time I climbed up the metal steps out of the swimmer’s pool. And I’ll celebrate with them.

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