A Sunday Replay: Swim for Your Life, Float for Your Soul


Me, Phoebe Ann and Linda 001xx  With friends at the kiddie pool, before I felt I had outgrown it!

When I was five years old, one of my teenage sisters took me and a little friend to the big people’s swimming pool at the park for the first time, after much begging on my part.  I was tired of that “baby pool”, that by the way, was shallow all around the edge and only about 3 ft. deep at its deepest in the middle. 

Background:  This is how it worked when you went to a public pool in 1951.  You carried your bathing suit and bathing cap (required for girls, to keep hair out of the water and the filters) rolled up in a towel to the pool with you.  (You hardly ever saw anyone out in public in a bathing suit.)  When you got there, you went to a counter on the front of the bathhouse where you paid your money and they gave you a big, heavy wire basket with a big safety pin attached to it, that had matching numbers on them.  You then went into the girls side of the bathhouse where there were booths along the side for those who were modest and benches out in the middle for those who were not, and changed into your suit and attached the big safety pin to it, usually at the leg opening, and put your clothes in the basket and then turned it in at a window.  That way when you were done swimming, you could come back to that window, give them your safety pin and they would give you the basket with the matching number containing your clothes, which you would change into before you went home. 

So, the big day came and ML took my friend and me to the pool, and this is the way I picture it happening.  I could hardly stand still while ML paid for us and got a basket.  Finally, we got into the bathhouse.  I immediately ripped my clothes off, threw them in the basket and put on my bathing suit as quickly as I could — I was soooo excited!  Then I pestered ML, to hurry up and help me put on my tight yellow, rubber swim cap (that required adult-type strength to pull down over my Mama-induced home permed curls).  That done, she turned away to finish getting ready herself and to turn in the basket at the nearby window.  Thennnn, and only thennnnn, would we all together go out to the pool!   Now, while I don’t remember hearing those exact words, I’m sure that the ever-responsible ML said something like that, but I don’t think I heard her — or I just totally ignored her because I was soooo excited!  Because I didn’t wait for anything or anybody — I immediately walked out of the bathhouse and jumped into the edge of the big people’s pool! 

Now, several things were unfortunate at this point.

1.  I didn’t know that, unlike the kiddie pool, the big pool wasn’t shallow all around the edge — I had jumped into 5 ft. of water, and couldn’t swim.

2.  ML didn’t notice me leave the bathhouse because she was busy helping my friend get ready and turning in the basket, and there were lots of women and girls in the bathhouse, so it was very loud and chaotic.

3.  My friend was not the mouthy little kid I was (probably the reason we were friends), so she didn’t “tattle” to ML about me leaving without them.

But, by the grace of God, my friend did somewhat follow my lead.  While ML was turning in the basket, she walked out the door to the pool.  When ML turned around and saw the back of her going out the door, she assumed I was just a few steps ahead, so she wasn’t concerned, but she did quicken her step to catch up, before something could happen.

A few seconds later when ML walked out the door, she was surprised to see my friend standing on the side of the pool alone.  ML hurried over to her, and said, “Where’s Sandra?”  and my friend said, “Down there.”  and pointed at my yellow bathing cap bobbing up and down under the water.

The view from below:  As soon as I jumped in even my little five year old mind knew I was in trouble.  I went all the way down and touched the bottom and proceeded to bounce and try to get air when I was at the top of the bounce — that only worked about half the time, and I was only gulping in about half air — the other half was water.  I remember seeing the legs of a guy sitting on the side of the pool and thinking I wished I could bounce over close enough to him to grab his leg (which would probably have given him a heart attack!), but I just wasn’t coordinated enough to be able to do that.  So, I just continued to bounce, gulp, bounce, gulp …  not exactly a recipe for success!

I don’t remember the “rescue,” but this is what I’ve been told:  ML immediately jumped in and grabbed me and started to push me toward the side, at which time the lifeguard realized what was happening, and jumped in to help.  They put me on the deck and started pushing on my back and lots of water came gushing out.  Apparently, that was good enough! (Today, they would probably call EMS, and I would have been kept in the hospital overnight for observation!), because I do remember while walking home, ML specifically telling me that SHE would tell Mama what happened.  She probably figured (correctly) that this story blurted out in five-year old hysteria, would give Mama a heart attack!  I don’t remember ML or me getting in trouble, so I’m guessing Mama was just relieved that I was all right.  Its also my guess that ML and I were both soooo upset that Mama figured we didn’t need any further punishment!

But, what this experience gave me (no surprise) was a huge fear of water.  Ironically, Mama had had a similar near-drowning experience when she was a teen-ager, so she herself had a fear of water too.  The result of this incident and Mama’s own fear was that she had a strong desire for me to learn to swim because she didn’t want me to have the same life-long fear of water she did.  So, over the years Mama took me to swim lessons multiple times, and I usualy didn’t even last one lesson.  They seemed to always start out just bouncing around in water that wasn’t over my head — that was fine.  But, then they would invariably say, “Now let’s play a game — Ring Around the Rosie!”  Hey, I may have been a little kid, but I wasn’t a dumb little kid.  I knew how that game ended, “We all fall down!”  Uh-Uh — not me.  That would mean getting my face wet.  When they started to play that game, I would say I had to go to the bathroom.  Then I would get out of the pool and Mama would take me to the bathroom, where I would tell her, I wasn’t going back. 

Eventually Mama took me enough times that I finally overcame my fear and I actually stayed long enough to learn to swim!  Buttttt, in order to pass, you had to be able to float on your back.  Swimming, even with my face in the water, had become okay, even fun.  But float on my back!!! Lean back in the water, and totally “trust” the water to hold me up!?!?!  THAT was something I really didn’t think I could do.  Well, finally, with the help of a very patient teacher, one who was able to gain my trust, I did learn to float on my back.  And, now, I call that my survival mode.  If I were ever in water and had to stay afloat for a long period of time, I am not a strong enough swimmer to be able to depend on just swimming and/or treading water, but I do know that when I didn’t have the strength to swim to save myself any more, I would be able to flip over on my back and float to rest.  I believe that that ability would be the single thing that would allow me to survive.

I tell you this story for two reasons.  First, because it was a traumatic experience in my life that had a long, lingering impact on me.  I am thankful that Mama perservered in taking me to swimming lessons, so that I’m not an adult who can’t swim.  And I am, because of my experience, a strong advocate for children learning to swim as early as possible, and being taught every rule of water and pool safety possible.  During the ten years that we rented a condo for a week on the ocean near Gunny and his family, all three of his children learned to swim in the pools at our condo complex.  And, all three of  DD’s girls know how to swim too.  That makes me very happy.

And the other reason I wanted to tell this story is that floating on my back has always reminded me of what faith is like.  I think in life itself “floating on your back” is trusting in God.  You can’t see God and His support — you just have to trust that He’s there and will hold you up when you can’t support yourself. 

Floating on your back and Trusting in God — both acts of faith that require trust in the unseen, but result in rest and comfort — one for your body, the other for your soul.

8 Responses to A Sunday Replay: Swim for Your Life, Float for Your Soul

  1. cathy says:

    Your blogs often bring back memories. I’d forgotten about putting things in the basket and taking it back to the desk to “check it in”. I also remember those awful swim caps! They were so tight and uncomfortable. I disliked them tremendously!

    I never learned to swim that great. I took a few lessons but guess they were too few and too far apart to really make an impact. I also made sure our kids learned. Living in Arizona always meant many of their friends had back yard swimming pools & I wanted to make sure they were safe – especially when I wasn’t around to watch them closely.

    Thanks for the memories!

  2. Sandra says:

    Cathy — Posts I write often bring back memories for me too! I had long forgotten about the process involving the basket and pin until I wrote this story. Thanks for remembering with me! 🙂

  3. C says:

    Well, Sandra, that brought back the memories. How I hated swim caps! I do remember the baskets and giant numbered pins! I’m not sure I would have without your prompting.

    And, yes, I certainly seen your trust analogy. Just relying on faith has been such a difficult thing for me in the past couple of years because I want to make sense out of things that don’t make any sense. Hence, it is difficult to lean back and float, trusting Him to take care of everything. Scary. But then I thought of how relaxing floating on your back becomes when you cease to be tensed up and when you just let go…hmmmm, maybe another little lesson for me there.

    Thanks again for a wonderful post–and those memories it invoked! C

  4. Sandra says:

    C — I can certainly imagine how what you have gone through recently would test your trust — in people AND God! But, I feel like I’ve gotten to know you well enough to surmise that you will come through this with both in tact and eventually even stronger!

    Maybe you have to go through some of this because you are meant to be a source of inspiration to others? I think you’ve said that it gives you new empathy for the women you represent. I know you having “walked in their shoes” will surely give you even greater credibility with your clients.

    Hang in there, friend.

  5. Kim says:

    And the other reason I wanted to tell this story is that floating on my back has always reminded me of what faith is like. I think in life itself “floating on your back” is trusting in God. You can’t see God and His support – you just have to trust that He’s there and will hold you up when you can’t support yourself.

    Floating on your back and Trusting in God — both acts of faith that require trust in the unseen, but result in rest and comfort — one for your body, the other for your soul.

    Wow I needed to read this today. I jsut stumbled across your blog on the “recently pressed” feed and am so glad I did. Have been treading water and been getting exhausted…perhaps it is time I flip over and rest.

  6. Sandra says:

    Kim — I am so glad if these words spoke to you. Thank you for telling me. And may you learn to “float” sometimes and let Him hold you up.

  7. gigi says:

    We still had baskets when I took swimming in the 60s.
    Good on your mama in persisting with the swimming lessons. I almost drowned when I was three and to this day can’t tolerate my face in water. Thankfully, I can swim a bit and do a mean back stroke.

    I just found your blog this week and plan to gradually read through the archives.

  8. Sandra says:

    Hi, Gigi! I’m glad you found me. Welcome.

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