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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.


Oh, Yes We Did!

IMG_0311“Gran, can we play in the creek tomorrow?” four-year-old Elaine asked as I tucked her into bed. Yes, after the water is warm. By 8:00 a.m., the water was as warm as my Grand’s patience allowed. When your day begins at 6:00, two hours later is the middle of the day.

Elaine carried a bucket and plastic shovels. I hauled towels, my cell phone, a mug of lukewarm coffee, a bottle of water, and a folding chair down our backyard hill to the creek. A small creek – only a few inches deep, three feet wide with clear, and gentle flowing water.

Elaine stomped and stomped. “Look, Gran, the water’s brown! Where’s my feet?” She stood perfectly still and I challenged her to stay still until the water cleared and she could see her feet. As she stared down, water striders glided on the water’s surface around her ankles. Elaine squatted. Her nose almost touching the water. The striders dispersed. “Where’d they go? I wanna catch one,” my Grand said.

Elaine raised her open hand and when a strider came close, she slapped the water and closed her fingers, but she didn’t catch anything. She tried again and again and again until finally, she showed me a crushed insect.

“Way to go, Elaine!” I said and then convinced her that the strider would be happier with its friends in the creek than alone in a plastic bucket. When she opened her fist underwater to release the strider, green algae floated onto her hand and she grabbed it. “Look, Gran! This is slimy!” She plunged her hand to the creek bottom and brought up a handful of algae.

“Is this supposed to be here?” Elaine asked. I explained that algae grows in water like weeds in dirt and it should be in the water. “Wow! That’s comazing!” (comazing – not amazing) my Grand said as she squeezed algae in both hands and then gathered enough to cover the bottom of a bucket. She held the bucket under my nose, “ Look. It’s like wet moss.”

Elaine and I took giant steps in the creek. We swirled water with a stick. We threw rocks and splashed and threw a leaf and watched it float. “Gran, will you help me build……what’s it called? One of those things that Samuel and Elsie (her older siblings) make?” She described it as rocks stacked on each other. “Do you mean a dam, Elaine?” I asked. “Dam!” she shouted. “Dam! Dam! Dam. Is dam a bad word?” Elaine’s interest in building a dam was shorter than the time it took to shout the word three times.

“I need to make some mud balls,” Elaine announced. She dug black clay from the creek’s bank and squashed it between her hands so that it stuck together. Carefully, she arranged the balls, the size of hickory nuts, on a big rock to dry. Every ball had to be the same size and placed in two straight lines.

A few more splashes and swirls and stomps and creek play time ended. As Elaine and I walked toward our house, I ad-libbed a silly one-line song. “Oh, we had fun in the creek,” and Elaine immediately sang, “Oh, yes, we did!” Our song continued.

We splashed and walked

            Elaine: And picked up rocks

            We saw a dragonfly

            Elaine: And wet mo – mo- moss

            We threw some rocks

            Elaine: And picked up water striders.

            Oh, we had fun in the creek.

            Elaine: OH, YES! WE DID, DID, DID, DID, DID!

I Know the Feeling


Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 6.58.02 AMLast summer Robbie invited me to bring my Grands, ages 8 and 6, to swim at her house while her 9 ½ year old grandson Noah was visiting. The children splashed and played along beside each other, just as children do when they meet someone new. At lunchtime, we all dried off and spread our towels to sit around the pool. Noah started inside the house, turned, and asked my Grands, “Do you’ll want a Luncheable?”


David and Lou frowned. I answered for them. “No, but thank you, Noah. We brought our lunches.” I handed my Grands the small cooler in which Daughter had packed their food. Rollup sandwiches, made with flour tortillas filled with thin sliced turkey and shredded mozzarella cheese. Hunks of watermelon. Clusters of grapes. Homemade cookies.


Noah settled himself beside David.   He ripped the thin cellophane covering off a square plastic package. Lou tilted her head and looked at the package. David eyed it and said, “What’s that?”


“What’s what?” Noah said.


“Your lunch?” David asked. Inside the six-inch square plastic package were three small round tortillas, 5 slices of pepperoni, some white shredded cheese, and a take-out ketchup sized packet of pizza sauce.  Lou furrowed her eyebrows as if memorizing the package’s contents.


“It’s like little pizzas,” Noah said. Using his teeth, he ripped open the packet and he squirted red sauce on a tortilla.


“Where’d you get it?” David asked.


“Nana gets them at the grocery or somewhere,” Noah said. David held his roll up sandwich close to his mouth but he didn’t bite it, instead he watched as Noah covered the tortilla with a pepperoni slice and cheese.


“That looks really good,” David said and he laid his sandwich back in the cooler. “Does every grocery store have them?” Noah shrugged his shoulders. “I wonder if Mama could find them.”


“I think they’re by the milk and stuff,” Noah said and bit into his miniature pizza. David and Lou watched as red sauce dribbled down Noah’s chin. I knew exactly how my Grands felt. I remember being envious when I was young and spent the night at a friend’s house and for breakfast her mother spread Blue Bonnet margarine on toast. At my house, we spread home-churned butter on Mom’s homemade biscuits.


Now, watching Noah and David and Lou, I restrained myself from raiding Robbie’s refrigerator for two more packaged lunches. “Noah, would you like some watermelon?” I said. He bit into the watermelon and somehow that reminded David and Lou that they, too, had food to eat.


But that’s not quite the end of the story. Last week Robbie again invited us to her house. “We’ll eat lunch and swim, just like last year,” I told my Grands. “Noah is there. And on the way, we’ll stop at the grocery store to buy your lunch, maybe Lunchables.” They chose exactly what they’d watched Noah eat a year ago.


My Grands and Noah pulled the cellophane covering off their lunches and each ate every morsel packed in those small plastic boxes. I knew exactly how my Grands felt. The way I felt decades ago when I carefully unwrapped a stick of yellow margarine, put it on a serving plate, and told my friend, “Mom is making toast for breakfast.”





????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I don’t jump into water.  Not into a swimming pool, nor a lake.  I don’t like water splashing on my face and I don’t like being a six-foot torpedo in depths known or unknown.  I ease down a ladder into water.  As a mother and a Gran, I’ve treaded deep water for as long as my children and grandchildren wanted to jump.  But jumping in water is one thing I’ve told how to do, but never shown. “Just jump.  You’ll come right back up,” I’ve said.  So imagine my apprehension when I was suited up to snorkel in the middle of the Caribbean Sea near Belize, and the guide says, “We’ll jump off the side of the boat.”

I’d been snorkeling before.  In this same location, but on a big boat – big enough that it had a ladder with wide steps so I carefully made my way down while wearing giant-size flippers.  This was a 25-foot dive boat that carried only nine people – a guide and eight paying snorkel guests.

I was excited about seeing water wildlife again and I was comfortable wearing a life jacket, a snorkel mask, and giant flippers.  Chris, the eighteen-year-old guide, stopped the boat at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve in the middle of the sea, but surrounded by many boats.   I could see at least a hundred snorkel tubes sticking out of the aqua clear water.  Chris adjusted my mask and I said, without my fellow snorkelers hearing me,  “I’m nervous about jumping in the water.  I don’t jump in water.”

Chris pulled strands of my hair out from under my mask. “No hair under mask so no water in nose.  The ladder is too narrow to go down.  You could fall and get hurt.  You can jump,” he said. I wasn’t so sure.  He guided me to the side of the boat.  “Sit here.” On the six-inch wide side.  “Now turn and get your legs over the water.  Push off with your hands.”  I could see foot-long silver fish and the ocean bottom, about twelve feet below.  “If you go under, count to 3.  You’ll be back up before you get to 3.”  That’s what he tells the little kids, I thought as I pushed myself off the boat.

I did go under and counted 1, 2 and surfaced.  Before I could focus my eyes I heard, “A turtle in front of you!”  A green turtle, as big as a galvanized steel washtub, swam just inches from my nose.  I felt his back flippers swish on my stomach.  I lay my hand on his shell and pushed to give myself some water space.  The turtle swam away.  I looked around to locate my friends and our guide in the water.

The snorkeling adventure was all I’d hoped for.  Thousands and thousands of brightly colored fish, turtles, anemone, coral, manta rays, even nurse sharks.  I’d do it again.

And now I have another reason to be eager for warm weather.  My Grands will be shocked when I put on my life jacket and jump off a pontoon boat into the lake.  Last summer they said, “Gran, don’t go down the ladder.  Jump in with us!”  I’ll be a nervous and I’ll hold my nose and I’ll count to three.