Write (in any form you desire) about the sea or any other body of water.
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In the early fifties (so my detractors won’t get over on me, I’ll specify that the fifties refer to the 1950s) people didn’t have swimming pools in their back yards. Well, at least not the families in my neighborhood. The only place to swim was at “the Plunge,” the swimming pool at Chaffey High School in Ontario, CA, a few miles to the south of us.
During the school year, it was open to the public on weekends for two swimming sessions each day. I don’t remember the hours but it something like nine to twelve and one to four. During the summer, it was open every day but the hours were a bit different. During the week, the mornings were reserved for swimming classes and the afternoons were open swimming. I seem to remember that they also had an evening swimming period of six to eight or nine, but I never got to go there then -- too far away.
We’d go in, pay our 25¢ (which was our entire week’s allowance), go into the locker room, change our clothes, and stick them into an unlocked locker. It might be hard for younger readers to accept this but, in those days, we didn’t worry about people stealing things.
I didn’t swim in those days, I just played around in the water -- in the shallow end. There was a red line on the bottom of the pool at about the four-foot mark and, unless you could prove you could swim, you weren’t allowed to go past that. I was about seven or eight when my parents figured I should learn how to swim and signed me up for swimming lessons. For five dollars, I had a one-hour class each Monday-Friday for two weeks.
We took a swimming test the first day and, if we couldn’t swim at all, we were assigned to the Tadpole class. If we could swim at least half the length of the Olympic-size pool, we were a Guppy. I think there was a dolphin, shark, and whale classification, but I’m not sure of that because I never made it that far.
At the end of my first two-week class, I still couldn’t swim. My parents gave me two weeks off and then signed me up for another class and, still a Tadpole, I didn’t do much better. On the last day, I managed to swim half the length of the pool by holding my breath the whole time and I graduated as a Guppy!
I had two weeks off and then another class -- still a Guppy. The following summer my parents sent me to two more classes and I never got past Guppy and was even in danger of slipping back to Tadpole because of that breathing thing. I didn’t have gills and could never figure out how to get air while I was swimming.
Later that summer my relatives from Pennsylvania came to visit and we went to Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino Mountains. We were in a secluded cove and all of us were splashing around when my cousin Judy challenged me to a race out to a diving platform. I had to admit I couldn’t swim and she just stared at me and then said, “Of course you can swim, silly, come on out here.”
I don’t know why none of the other instructors ever thought to do this, but Judy had me stand in waist-deep water, bend over, hold my breath, and stick my head underwater. Hold my breath, come up for air, and stick it back in. Then she did something radical…
“Just turn your head sideways until you can take a breath and then turn it back down into the water.” I did that five or six times until I figured out I wasn’t going to drown, and she had me start stroking with my hands while I stood there and practiced breathing.
I had spent I don’t know how many hours holding onto the side of the pool and practicing my kicking and, with my feet hooked on the side, stroking with my hands. Whatever she did worked because, when I finally combined the kicking, stroking, and breathing -- I WAS SWIMMING!
I’ve never been that good, but I was on the swimming and water polo teams in college and I well remember the first time the coach told us we were going to swim a mile. Moans from everyone and then we were off. I was the last one to finish -- by at least two laps -- but I did it.