By Eilene Lyon
The “From the Vault” series features an artifact or family photo from my collection to illustrate a tale from my distant past.
In retrospect, I’m grateful my parents insisted we learn to swim as young children. That doesn’t mean I enjoyed the process, though. I don’t recall where I first began taking lessons, but these Red Cross certificates date from our time on a Naval supply depot in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.
We lived in Pennsylvania for my 3rd through early 6th grade years. The base was a wonderful place to grow up. A tight-knit neighborhood with lots of kids. A golf course. An indoor pool and a park. A hidden Revolutionary War-era cemetery—very spooky. I loved it.
My recollections of swimming lessons are that they always took place way too early on summer mornings. The pool was always freezing cold. I had to wear an awful, dorky rubber swim cap that smelled of latex. Lap after lap kicking across the pool while holding onto a foam board.
Eventually, as these cards attest, I mastered the freestyle, back stroke, and side stroke. I can sort of pass for doing breast stroke, but my legs just don’t quite get it right. We also learned to dive, float, and tread water.
I did enjoy playing in the pool on hot afternoons. We might get up a game of Marco Polo or toss a beach ball around. See how big a splash we could cannonball out of the pool. My dad was fun to have a swim with. He would crouch in the bottom of the shallow end and let us climb on his shoulders, then he would jump up and toss us as far as he could.
One particular lifeguard sticks in my mind. He was buff, with short dark hair and thick, black-rimmed glasses. He insisted that all the girls wear bathing caps, but the boys didn’t have to, no matter how long their hair. The injustice irked me. I asked how short hair had to be to avoid the cap: three inches.
I had my mom cut my hair so all of it was less than three inches long. Then I went splashing happily away sans bathing cap.
TWEET!! went the lifeguard’s whistle and he waved me out of the pool. Damn if he didn’t actually pull out a ruler and measure my hair! He did not seem to appreciate my smirky attitude. I don’t think I’ve changed much since then.