Summer Swimming

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Summer Swimming

Every year here in the states, on fourth day of the seventh month, fireworks slice the humid air and splatter the night sky with the colours of summer.
Sunflower golds and watermelon reds.
Cut grass greens and ocean blues.
Each propellant rainbow a reminder of the pleasures of the season.
Family cars are now fully packed for the annual trip to the seaside.
Alongside every cobra twisting roller coaster, lines of tourists wait in the scorching sun, their lips stained cherry red from cold popsicle juice.
Flags fly on front porches and in shady back gardens long wooden tables are laden with fresh corn and tomatoes, peach cobbler and iced tea.
And over at the local swimming pool, the hot sun dances atop the blue water. The diving board waves up and down, up and down, as one by one, laughing children bounce, jump and plunge down through the searing heat of the afternoon air to the chilly depths of the water below. It is clear to anyone watching that this is well considered the ultimate in summertime fun.
Clear to most people, I suppose, but not, I confess, to me.

Because my mother couldn’t swim, she was bound and determined that I should learn. To that end, for at least four weeks out of every summer holiday, I was enrolled in swimming lessons. The unfathomable depths of the English language do not contain adequate words to describe how much I hated these lessons. To me, summer mornings were best spent on long solitary walks with my dog, library book under my arm. Having waited all school year for this sweet freedom, to sacrifice even a small portion of it to swimming lessons was a bitter pill for me to swallow. For in all of history, I doubt if there was ever a child less suited to this activity. I hated the way a wet swimsuit felt on my white little body, all squishy and clingy and cold. I hated the way the July sun smashed into the white concrete surrounding the pool, causing my light eyes to squint and sting. I simply couldn’t grasp the appeal of standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers in a pool of chlorinated water. Opening my eyes under that water was a nightmare and I positively loathed the feeling of it rushing into my ears. Goggles, nose-clips, ear plugs, bathing cap - all were tried at one time or another, and believe me, these are accoutrements guaranteed to make one stand out at the pool. But, I didn’t care. I would have done anything to make the experience more palatable, but really, nothing ever did. The only part I ever mastered was floating on my back with my head far enough out of the water to keep it from finding my ears. I can’t remember if I passed the final exam. Surely I didn’t, for I can’t swim a stroke even today.

To be truthful, my aquatic ignorance hasn’t caused me one ounce of trouble in my life. Well, there was the time The Songwriter refused to let go of the back of my coat during a midnight crossing of the English channel, thus severely restricting my ability to hang over the side and marvel at the dark, expansive view, and that was certainly irritating. (Of course, come to think of it, he did the exact same thing on a violently windy mountaintop in Cumbria, so my inability to swim may have had nothing whatsoever to do with it. He might just possess a fear of seeing me hurtle from a high place.)

Now please don’t misunderstand me and think that I hate the water. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am delightfully at home by the sea. Few places on earth help me place the oddly shaped puzzle piece of my life back into the big picture like the seaside does. An evening stroll on the shore with Edward is one of life's purest joys, although Edward, being of sheepdog ancestry, shares my total lack of enthusiasm for water. He is, like me, perfectly content to spend time by the sea, not  in it.

So don’t look for my face in the crowd at the pool this summer. But don’t for a minute think I feel left out or deprived. I know full well what I’m missing and am happy to be doing so. My summer holidays are now spent on dry land, doing precisely as I wish. Such are the joys of adulthood.
 Now where did I put that library book?