I was first introduced to the concept of “swimming” when I was just a wee little one. Here’s a bathing suit, there’s the water, stick your feet in. Something like that. As a young child I had various experiences with water. I had a small, child’s pool that during the summer Mom and Dad filled up with water. She’d put my hair up in pin curls so it wouldn’t get wet. My hair was so curly and unmanageable that she’d do anything to keep it from getting wet and frizzy. There was also hotel swimming pools as Mom and Dad traveled a lot before I started school and we were always staying at hotels with pools. Then there was the lake in Michigan. My uncle (Glen Johnson, Jr.) lived in the old Kellogg mansion off Lake Goguac. Every summer we would visit my aunt and uncle I would want to go “swimming”. My excitement always faded with those first steps into that lake. I wasn’t thrilled to feel the sand and muck on my bare feet. I especially didn’t like it when fish swam by.
I was about six when my parents decided to put in a backyard swimming pool. A genuine pool! Below ground, 17×36 with a shallow end of 3 feet and a deep end of 8 feet, including a diving board. Wow! I remember that it seemed to take forever for them to dig the pool, shape it out, put in the metal frame, line it with a vinyl liner, and get the walkway poured and tiled. Then an 8 foot chain link fence was erected around the whole thing to which my parents put out a call to family members. Whoever wanted to swim in the pool needed to come and help finish everything. We had quite a few family members show up to help! We put slats in the chain link fence which made it very hard for the neighbors to peer into our pool area. We had a gate with a lock so no one could help themselves to a swim. Finally it was finished. But it wasn’t warm enough yet to try. Then I came home from school one day in April and my parents asked me if I wanted to swim. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! The water was cold – barely warm enough to stay in for any length of time.
That first summer my parents tried to teach me to swim or at least learn how to hold my breath to go under water. No dice! No one was going to hold me on my stomach while I tried to perfect the technique of swimming. It wasn’t until a neighbor boy was over and showed me that he could swim. No boy was going to show me up! From that moment on, I swam! I jumped into the deep end from the diving board and used the side of the pool to learn to dive. I was in that pool every moment possible! A couple years later I became part of the “Flying Fish” swim team at the base. I spent a couple afternoons a week learning new techniques – the butterfly stroke, the breast stroke, swimming backwards, dog paddling, swimming underwater and for my first race I had to use the butterfly stroke. Swimming was my life and I was good at it!
The pool became “the” place for family and friend gatherings. Sometimes we found out just who our real friends were. Did they want to visit with us or did they just want to swim in the pool? My parents hosted family reunions that always involved swimming or being out by the pool. I stayed so tan that my bronze glow didn’t dim even during the long winter months in Ohio. As I grew older, I learned how to skim the water for leaves and other stuff, test the pH and chemical levels, and tried to learn how to actually clean and backwash the pool to keep the filter running smoothly. So it came as a great disappointment when we had to move when I was 15. The house, the half acre lot, the pool – all of it was becoming way too expensive for my divorced mother to keep up with. I’m sure she was also thinking of a time down the road when I’d leave home and then there wouldn’t be anyone to help her mow the grass, do the housework, or take care of the pool. Unfortunately my swimming suffered as well. Spoiled as I was by having a backyard pool that I didn’t have to share with anyone I didn’t want to share it with, I decline invitations to the community pools. People there just want to sit, splash and play. I want to swim and dive. I don’t want to see other people in their bathing suits (or lack of them). In a way child hood with its lack of worries and woes, ended when we moved from that house.
Picture 1: Backyard Pool; Picture 2: Dad and I in the pool; Picture 3: Family Reunion – my nephew (in life vest), Aunt Margaret, friend Nancy, and me (chasing beach ball).