Monday, July 25, 2011

In the swim...

Despite having so many beaches, we have swimming pools in Florida. Lots and lots of them. Although I didn't grow up here, I knew that we would eventually move back to Florida -- my parents met here and wanted to settle here -- so they insisted that my sister Pam and I take swimming lessons. Because of moving around so much, we didn't get around to the lessons until I was either 12 or 13 and Pam would have been 10 or 11. We had just moved to Texas and Randolph, the base we lived on, had a really nice family pool just a few blocks from our house.

Pam and I started in a beginner's class with a bunch of kids much younger than we were. Our instructor was this pretty blonde named Karen who used to wear tiny bikinis to our lessons. She was probably around 20 or so. The worst part for me (well, actually, there were several 'worse' parts) was not being able to see well under water. I wore 'coke bottle' glasses before I switched to contact lenses when I was 14. Also, I couldn't stand water going up my nose. And, yes, it did go up my nose despite the fact that I was holding my breath.

Pam and I made it through the beginner's class without too much of a problem. Karen taught in the shallow end of the pool and we were cool with that. The only memorable thing I can recall from those lessons was when one of the little boys was swimming to Karen and reached out and grabbed one of her boobs. This wasn't too hard to do because they were pretty prominent and the poor kid had his eyes closed. (I think.) Karen turned beet red and the rest of the kids, including us -- the two big ones, were snickering.

After we received our little Red Cross pins for passing the beginner's class, we enrolled in the advanced beginner's class. Some of this class took place in the shallow end but we also used the center of the pool which was the deepest part. The pool was one of those Olympic style ones, rectangular with shallow ends leading to a deep center section which had these rope/buoy lines running from end to end. Our instructor for this class was an older lady who looked like she'd spent a LOT of time in the sun and water. Leathery skin and short bleach-y blond hair. I can't remember her name but Pam and I privately referred to her as "Army Sergeant" because of the way she'd yell, "LISTEN UP!" and "EVERYONE IN THE WATER!" After the young soft-spoken Karen, this was going to be different. Army Sergeant wasn't mean -- just kind of brusque.

Pretty soon she had us swimming the width of the pool between the buoy lines. Now, I hate deep water. Even after taking swimming lessons. So when it was my turn I always slowly curved over until I was pretty much swimming along beside the buoy line on the left. Apparently this wasn't lost on Army Sergeant. Pam said that one day while I was swimming across, Army Sergeant told her that 'your sister sure does curve around when she swims.' Sheez, you'd think she would have figured it out. The last day of class we had to do what I had really feared. Jump off the diving board. We didn't have to actually dive although we had been taught to do that. I practically had to be pushed as I held my nose and jumped. I honestly thought I was drowning. Pam was trying to get Army Sergeant's attention when I discovered (the hard way) how to dog paddle. That's how I got to the surface and over to the ladder. I was both scared to death by my near-death experience and exhilarated by learning to dog paddle. I still hate diving boards and never dive in. I always jump feet-first while holding my nose. Diving gives me a headache. I could actually swim pretty well under water with one arm while holding my nose.

After passing both sets of lessons, Pam and I were allowed to go to the pool on our own. It was great -- we went almost every day during the summers we lived there.  We'd put on our suits and flip flops, grab a beach towel and some change for snacks and then peddle to the pool on our bikes. Ah, it felt like pure freedom. Sometimes we either met or ran into friends from school there or we'd just entertain ourselves.  Although we both turned pretty tan, we preferred staying in the water as much as possible.  We'd play 'Marco Polo' or take turns diving for a penny on the bottom of the pool.  Shallow end, of course.

Hanky's wardrobe
There was this lifeguard who was always there.  Every once in awhile it would be someone else but usually it was this guy who was really tan.  Plus he had dark hair and eyes.  We never knew his name so (of course) Pam and I came up with one for him.  Because he always wore the same tiny scarlet red Speedo type swim suit, which we thought was about the size of one of our dad's handkerchiefs, we came up with  Hanky-Panky which we eventually shortened to just Hanky.  Hanky wasn't particularly friendly.  I guess being older than most of the kids at the pool (he was probably around college age), we weren't very interesting.  Once every hour, Hanky would blow his whistle and that was the signal for everyone to get out of the pool so that he could cool off with a swim.

Hanky always spent his entire 15 minutes swimming the length of the pool, back and forth.  He preferred the  breast stroke.  He was really muscular -- almost to the point of looking like a body builder.  Just those swims probably helped keep him in good shape.  After his 15 minutes were up,  he'd blow his whistle again to let us know we could all get back in the water.

We used to take our small transistor radios with us (AM in those days for music) because we didn't always like what was being played over the speakers.  For some reason, maybe it was the number 1 hit during that time, it seemed like "Spinning Wheel" by Blood, Sweat and Tears was constantly on.  I've never cared for that group but, to this day, hearing that song makes me think of our summers at the pool.  That time on our own was our first real bit of independence and Pam and I loved it.  We also loved the fact that Carol and Heidi, our two younger sisters, were way too young to go with us.  Carol was only around 4 or 5 and Heidi was a baby.  Ah, paradise!

I think Carol eventually took some swimming lessons while we still lived there but didn't complete learning to swim until after we'd moved to Florida.  She and Heidi both learned to swim at much younger ages than Pam and I did.  We moved to a tiny city, almost a suburb of Tampa, called Temple Terrace.  By the time Heidi was old enough for lessons, she took them during the summer with other kids around her age.  There was a small private college in Temple Terrace that offered lessons at their pool during the summer.  I remember Pam and Carol and I going with our mother to watch her swim.  At first I felt a little embarrassed for Heidi because every time there was any sort of race in the pool, she was last.  Dead last.  Not only that but it didn't seem to bother her.  She was going at her pace and didn't care what anyone else was doing.  She grew into a really strong swimmer, too, particularly after my parents had a pool installed in the back yard.  Come to think of it, Heidi is still that way.  Her way or the highway. 

Heidi goes for the gold!


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