Posted by: jevcat | July 7, 2010

Swimming in Memories

The third day in a row of triple-digit temperatures (we won’t even talk about “comfort index” – which this week should more properly be called “dis-comfort index”) has seen me spending a good deal of time in the water.  I’ve spent part of each of these days at the free community pool, and, even though by today the water is not exactly cool, it’s still cooler than the air, and for that I’m grateful.

Water is a wonderful thing.  Having managed the blistering heat in the blocks between my apartment to the pool, slinking from shade to shade and gritting my teeth crossing sunny patches as the heat radiates up to me, I arrive at the pool, throw my things in a locker, dash through the shower and emerge, blinking, into the glint of light off blue water.  I clamber down the ladder and feel the coolness of the water close around me like a blessing.  Starting to swim, I’m buoyed by the water, and the sensation of it sliding over my body is that of entering another world, where the ordinary rules don’t apply and time passes at a different rate.

Swimming always carries me back to my childhood, and the memories are among my earliest and all good, though not all unmixed:  being carried home on my father’s shoulders when my shoes disappeared at the neighborhood pool; splashing in Lake Algonquin with my parents and with the town of Wells, New York, visible on the other side; Atlantic City before the casinos, when people still swam, and morning meant biking and swimming in the ocean while afternoon was swimming in the hotel pool – and the incomparable feel of slicing the water cleanly the first time I hit a dive; at the Morris Yacht and Beach Club on City Island, to which my family belonged (we didn’t have a boat, much less a yacht, but we liked the beach), giving my friend Audrey the confidence to learn how to swim by telling her the seaweed whose bladders we’d been happily popping was magic, and if she stuffed some in her bathing suit, she’d be able to do it – and she did; and all the beaches and pools since, including those I’ve learned to love here on Staten Island in the last 25 years.

My mother was an ocean person – she derived strength and peace from it (something I absorbed from her) and could watch it for hours – but it was my father who taught me to swim.  My mother is with me when I long for the sea and linger by its waves, but it is Dad who accompanies me whenever I swim.

There is pain mixed with joy remembering Dad’s “goodbye” swim at the Morris when we could no longer afford the membership.  His health was failing then, tiny strokes taking a cumulative toll, and he was not up to swimming out to the old float at high tide, but a damaged body is freer in the water and he did, hanging on when necessary to the buoyed rope that connected float and shore, me worriedly paddling along beside him.  When we finally flopped onto the float and lay, gasping, like the morning’s catch, I didn’t know how we’d get back but, after a long rest on the gently rocking boards, we did.  There were a few swims after that, when I would drive my parents down to the Jersey shore, and he and I would wade gingerly into the water, holding hands, just as in my childhood, and the odd feeling of a world turned upside down as now I supported his unsteadiness as he had supported mine.

So swimming will never just be a form of exercise to me, but always a chance to remember and rejoice, not just in the coolness and freedom of the water, but in the people and memories that bind me to it.


  1. Thanks for sharing this lovely memory. (My Dad was also my swimming teacher.) I’m glad you have a place to swim, these days!

  2. Enjoyed as usual. Sorry to say I have not been to the pool in our development since the hot weather. Can’t get myself to leave the house but you just gave me a taste for it. Will try it tomorrow. Did you go to ac


  3. I have a huge attachment to the ocean having come from New England and loving the coast from the western tip of CT to the top of Maine. My favorite place of all is at the Isles of Shoals in New Hampshire. You are so like me in that our experiences always bring back memories of special people. For instance: I just placed an order for Homespun and guess who I thought of!!

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