I had gone in for graduation clearance in the fall of my senior year when my advisor said to me, “You need to go by the P.E. building and make an appointment to take the swimming test.”
“What?” I asked. “What for? I’ve had my required P.E. classes.”
“You have to pass the swimming test to graduate from the University of Georgia,” my advisor said. “Is that a problem?”
“Well, yes, just a tiny bit of one since I can’t swim.”
“Oh, my goodness. I guess we’d better get you in a swimming class right quick then if you plan to graduate next June.”
In retrospect, swimming may be the most important thing the University ever taught me, but at the time, I was terrified. I even considered changing schools, but it was too late. Colleges and universities do not hurry for anyone, whether he can swim or not or graduate or not. When I was a child, my mother was so scared of the water that she wouldn’t let us close enough to it for us to learn to swim.
On that prophetic day back in 1970, I sat across from my advisor and swore that any child I might have would learn to swim. Of course, at that time I’d not planned to have children, but just in case I did, they would surely learn to swim.
That promise I kept. When my children were small, I took them to the lake often. We spent countless hours in inner tubes in the cool waters of Lake Mayers as the sun beat down on the world. We paddled about, built castles, and let the hours slip by. My older boys’ blond hair turned completely white as the summer progressed, and their skin browned. Josh’s red hair lightened and brightened, and freckles covered his face. The boys were the epitome of health and happiness. Some of my most pleasant memories involve playing with my children and grandchildren in the water. I am appalled to think what I would have missed had I not been forced to learn to swim. Depriving someone you love of that pleasure is unconscionable.
I did encounter a problem or two in keeping my promise to teach my children to swim. Two of the children took to swimming like the proverbial duck, but Jakey, the middle one, did not. He loved playing in the water but hated swimming lessons. When he reached the swimming lesson age, I was teaching summer school. My mother babysat him for me until I finished school. On swimming lesson days, I’d hurry to pick him up and drive him straight to the Baxley pool.
Four years old at the time, he’d scream for his grandmother to save him. He’d grab her legs and hold on, waiting for thunder I suppose. And she valiantly tried to save him.
“Mary Ann, you’re going to make that child drown,” she’d say, as she frowned at me. “I just don’t like the idea of his being in all that water.” Now remember, this was the same lady who wouldn’t let me get in all that water either.
“No, Mama, by teaching him to swim, I intend to hopefully avoid his drowning.”
I would then pick up my screaming child and forcefully take him off to swimming lessons, with my mother scowling and scolding behind us. I confess that after two summers of his tantrums, his behavior embarrassed me so much that I hired a private instructor for Jakey. I’m sure that intense relief washed over all the swimming instructors at the pool when they heard the news. Jakey did learn to swim though, thanks to Kelly Bird and my persistence. Ironically enough, he worked as a lifeguard while he was in high school and won assorted swimming badges in Boy Scouts.
As parents and grandparents, we do our children a great disservice if we don’t teach them to swim. Swimming lessons are readily available and inexpensive. They are offered at the local pool every summer.
All you Appling County folks, go use our beautiful new pool. Enjoy. You can’t find much cheaper entertainment for a mere two dollars for several hours.
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