Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Summer Swimming

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?


  1. Reminds me of my early life growing up in the country, in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Parkway. My parents always wanted me to learn how to swim--neither of them knew how--but we were too far from lessons in town and the creek nearby was too shallow. When I was a teenager, my mother always wanted me to go horseback riding with my girlfriend, but I cared nothing for horses and much preferred a good book and the front porch swing. Now ..... where is my library book? ....... I'm reading Ann Patchett's latest book, "State of Wonder," which I highly recommend.

  2. My dearest Pam,
    I so appreciate your comments on my latest blogposts! I know it is a long time ago I visited you although I always have loved your thoughtful posts!! You have to believe me, but months ago blogging became so overwhelming to me that I decided to read and follow only a few blogs about interior design!! But I o appreciate your blogposts my friend and I hope to visit you on a more regular base from now on!!
    Thanks again Pam for your visits!!
    A big hug,

  3. After all, what is adulthood for if not NOT doing the things we didn't want to do as children!

  4. Hello Pamela,

    Thank you for the wonderful story! It was really delightful and I couldn't help but you remember those awful nose plugs...haha!

    Happy 4th of July & I hope you and Edward are having a fabulous day!


  5. Pamela,

    I have had the pleasure of encountering your beautiful writing two years ago, and then again last year through my dear friend, The Dutchess. Here I sit, reading your carefully chosen words for your introduction that reads like poetry, then as I am carried gently into your reality, I can SO UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE SAYING ABOUT THE WATER! I had however, a different parental experience. My father FEARED my learning to swim and therefore instilled in me his FEAR of the water. Living in California as a child and adolescent, it was hard to skirt around all those pool parties and simply go in my cut-off shorts and bathing suit top only to hate every second as well. Never did I like the feeling of being wet in a clingy suit, never did I like the feel of the water in my ears, so I CONCUR!

    My love however, of the SCENERY of the ocean blue is great, but I am simply a land lubber and I like it that way, thank you very much!

    Simply enjoying being off for the summer from teaching, eating watermelon, reading a good book and falling asleep on my chaise lounge are for me more pleasant than any pool...let's see, what page was I on?

    THANK YOU for your visit! SOO GOOD SEE YOU and Edward is still as darling as I remember!


  6. I was so like you as a child Pamela and you have described it so well. What could beat a walk with your dog and library book under your arm?
    And I too adore water, seas, rivers etc. my Moon is in Scorpio, a water sign and I live by a river. I can swim but not too far(!) and I have to keep my head way out of the water which I am told is very bad for the neck.

  7. Like Anita I never learnt to swim because of, in my case, my mother's fear of the water. I would actually love to be able to swim and have tried several times to learn and although I can swim from side to side in a pool I've never been able to overcome my fear of being out of my depth. The Dead Sea is the only place I've ever managed to float on my back when I discovered that you really CAN'T sink in there:)

  8. Swam in the icy cold waters of Lake Michigan and any old swimmin hole I could find. Now, I am like a vampire when it comes to the sun and heat, but I still like a swim every once in awhile. Now though, I am ashamed
    of my lumpy thighs and don’t want to expose them in public and long for those carefree days of childhood when I didn’t give a toss. Happy Summer beautiful Pamela and Edward.

  9. Mom is a fish in the water; Daddy is terrified probably due to losing his brother and sister in a drowning accident.
    I can dog paddle and float but am not a strong swimmer and I hate being in the ocean...can't see what's going to nibble on me and that's frightens the suit off me.

  10. Loved every word Pamela! I feel the same way about the sea. Love to be near it but not necessarily in it.
    I have great images in my head of you crossing the English Channel and in Cumbria...
    Hope you found your book :)

    Jeanne xxx

  11. learning to swim was the hardest thing i'd ever done... until a friend of my mother's said... "oh for heaven's sake, just dog paddle. do you know how to dog paddle?" i didn't. she showed me. in that instant i learned to swim. at least enuf to save my life if i ever fell in! later, as a young adult i learned all the real strokes. yet for fun... what do i do? i dog paddle. i'm a little sheepdog in my mind, like your edward and my zekey the pon.
    you do have a gift. and thank you for sharing it with us. (btw... i'll also buy the book!)
    tammy j

  12. Learning to swim is one of life's great describe it so well. We tried to be good parents and get our oldest daughter the best swimming teacher...a retired Olympic swimmer. He simply grabbed her up and threw her in! Needless to say she didn't go near the water for years. Your writing is evocative and wonderful to read.

  13. Good for you, do what you would like. There is no need to go into the water if you don't want to. I am actually not a good swimmer at all, and much prefer to sit poolside or seaside to actually going into the water. I love a waterscape and it draws me like a magnet, but just to look and be refreshed aesthetically. I don't need to go in! Happy 4th of July!

  14. I grew up with a father who didn't swim and a mom who loved to. I understand those who have a fear of swimming and those who just plain don't fancy it. I love swimming and remind myself everyday how fortunate we are to own a pool. But I don't enjoy baking in the sun and never did. When the other girls were greased up with baby oil in the 70's, I was in the shade. Give me the sea any day, nothing is as mysterious and beautiful. Happy 4th to you and your songwriter Pamela.

  15. I too love the water, to walk by it, site next too it, watch it, but getting into it is not really at the top of my list. That is not to say that I do not like to swim but I would rather sit on the sideline.

    I was so much like you as a young child, I would much rather sit with a book than have to go to camp, to swim or to do any outdoor activity.

    Happy 4th!


  16. I enjoyed learning more about you today through this wonderful story. As someone who grew up on the coast and never once wondered what it was that brushed against my leg in the dark water of the Atlantic, today I will not venture far into the water. I know what is in there, not that I didn't before, but now I c-a-r-e. Give me a pool and I am happy, give me a pool and a page turner and I am very happy. I often think of Edward with beach sand in his paws, it makes me happy to think of the wind in his hair.

  17. I have always been a swimmer. Not a great one but competent enough that I've never feared the water. We HAD to learn to swim in elementary school in the UK. Although our town was at the seaside, we were taken to the local indoor 'swimming bath' every week until we each became confident with swimming and diving!

    I don't swim, and rarely dive, as often now. Being viewed in a swimsuit in public is a bit uncomfortable when one is getting lumpy and bumpy, but if I had my own pool, or lived at the beach, I'd be in the water every day for exercise I'm sure. Besides, the feeling of buoyancy is so wonderful and relaxing!

    Lovely post Pamela - and I'd still be happy with just a walk along the sand, chatting with you and Edward, rather than a swim! See you at the beach!

  18. What a revelation, for I always thought I was the only person on earth who couldn't swim...and didn't care.

    Your first paragraph so wonderfully captures the American summer - it is one of the most picture perfect essays I've ever read/seen.

    Like you, though I abhor getting into the water, I love the sea. There is nothing quite so calming as an expanse of blue waves, as far as the eye can see, trickles on my toes, sand rearranging itself around my feet. And I think I would love sailing, for some inexplicable reason. Just give me a super dooper life jacket, please.

  19. The one thing about living in the mountains we miss - the sea .

    Wilf agrees with Edward 100 % . Water is unnatural .

  20. Adorable story, Pamela. You have such a way with words!

  21. Thanks for your kind words, Pamela!
    I love your dog... he's absolutely gorgeous. We've got a Collie and I thought he had a lot of fur, but then I saw Edward...! :-)

  22. There is nothing I love more Pamela than being by the water, or on the water, but never in. I have never understood the fascination.
    We have owned two houses now with swimming pools...I could probably count on the fingers of one hand how many times I was in them.
    No...not for me either!

  23. xoxoxo Susan, Missy D & Samuel

  24. i totally relate to this post! I was a very slow learner when it came to swimming - i can do it now but not very well and I can't remember the last time i did swim. I have many fond memories of water, birdwatching from ferries between Scottish islands, sitting in rock pools in Lake Malawi with the fish nibbling my feet, and of course my weekly walks along my local river but no swimming!

  25. Mothers who can't swim have a lot to answer for. Mine did the same to me. I did learn, but hated it, but by being able to swim I seem to have broken the chain and so my children love swimming. I really don't understand how it can be an activity of choice. The horror of the chlorine, the clammy swimsuit, the freezing sea, the overheated pool...

  26. I don't mind swimming, though I'm not very good at it. Love the water - but yes, given the choice, I would much prefer to sit on the beach with a book :-)

  27. I'm chuckling because you have practically described me. I come from a family of non-swimmers, my mom wouldn't even put her feet in the water and my dad, ah, my dad. Even the U.S. Navy couldn't get him to swim. Me? Well, I can float on my back and do the backstroke if I have to save me life, as long as it isn't too long!

    The best thing I think someone like I can do is read a good book poolside. tee hee

  28. Ahhh, another kindred spirit that wasn't born with fins and gills! Growing up in California, it was hard to avoid swimming and swimming lessons...but I endured them until I was old enough to stay as unsubmerged as I please. Chlorine and I never got along very well either, and as I do so love the sea, just going in far enough to cool off was always just perfect!
    I'm actualy quite relieved to know that others share my disdain for actual pool swimming...we all can't be fish.
    xo J~

  29. Pamela, the image is so lovely.

    I too intensely disliked swim lessons, early in the morning, not enjoying it one bit!

    Art by Karena

    Do come and enter my giveaway from the Shabby Apple!!

  30. Oh, I just know how you feel! I hated school swimming lessons - I had to take my glasses off so couldn't see to start with let alone float even with a cork board. I've tried but can't swim,like you I'd rather sit by a river in dappled sunlight or by the sea listening to the waves armed with a good book, than enter that water:)

  31. Hello Pamela

    I am not a big fan of swimming, but I love being near the water and hearing the ocean.

    Take Care and have a great day!

    Tracy :)

  32. Another thing we have in common, Pamela! I have very similar memories of miserable swimming lessons that have shaped my view of pools to this day.
    I hope you had beautiful but dry holiday!


  33. I remember sitting on the beach in Australia just where the waves dissolve - if I can use a word like that - I did not dare go into the water, it felt too powerful, but what enjoyment. Sometimes the waves touched me toes, sometimes they wet my hair, the sand being coarse on my skin.

  34. I too hated swimming lessons until I met a lovely teacher who persevered and taught me to swim a length. There is something to be said for a quiet, warm, indoor pool and the feeling of being in another element.

    I can picture you doing a Kate Winslet with The Songwriter looking on aghast!

  35. Add me to the list too! My mum would not/could not swim -- and insisted that we learn! Horrible -- in freezing water in an old swimming pool with terrible smells and rubber cap too! Nasty! But we (Mum and I) adore the beach and shore and the oceanside. Adore every moment of seaside vacations! And I was the one who lived in a corner in our local library during hot summer days -- reading every E. Nesbit and Enid Blyton book on the shelves!

  36. Just spotted your comment on French Essence so I popped over to visit. I like your background color. It isn't so dark that it makes it unreadable. On my computer the color appears to be a soft, charcoal gray. Love it and am now looking forward to scrolling through your posts.

  37. In my humble opinion, you, my dear, are a writer par excellent. No one could have better described the hatred of swimming lessons.

  38. Dearest..let me tel you I can't swim..and like you I absolutely hated swimming lessons.
    My husband did try to teach me such luck. I can float..I did a lot of floating in my life..I do have to be sure that I can stand in the water where I float..if not..I panic..
    Loved your writing...always do:))

  39. Pamela, I have always been ambivalent about swimming for many of the same reasons that you mention...even though I am Australian and we are a nation of great swimmers (other than me)...In the last couple of years I have made myself get back in the pool and I must now reluctantly admit that I am rather enjoying it. I will never list swimming as my favourite pastime and it would never rate against an afternoon siesta with a good book, but it's not so bad these days........xv

  40. I have not gone into the water for years... but as a child I spent every summer day I could at the local swimming pool. I even tried swim team but was not fast enough...

    I loved the summer smells of chlorine, the feel of the hot pool pavement on my shivering body as I dried out between jumps into the pool, listening to the 60's music playing... some of those songs take me right back there. Then the ice cream cone afterwards...

    When I then returned to my pile of library books, Nancy Drew mysteries especially : )

    Now, walking by the seashore or lake with my Afghan Hounds is the perfect summer day. And they have no desire to swim either.

    I enjoyed reading your beautifully written summer story.

    ~ Violet

  41. Ooh, you make me raise a fist to earlier summers! To all those activities that were not my forte!!

    After conquering my fear of water at 11 years old, I went on to conquer Synchronized Swimming a few years later, even becoming a "teacher's assistant." Funny to me now since I could not care less about swimming. My dawg, Isla, is of collie ancestry and has no desire to engage with water above her elbows. We have become fellow mountaineers over driftwood piles here in the Pacific Nothwest...


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