We spent Memorial Day at Splash Country with the kids. And, that caused me to think back thirty years to the day I almost died. Of embarrassment.
My mother never learned to swim as a child. So, once Mom became a mom, she had to learn to swim, which was entirely different than learning to actually like swimming. Swimming for my mother was an exercise in getting minimally wet while supervising us in what she saw as a death defying activity. I’m pretty sure I’ve only ever seen my mother’s hair wet from “swimming” maybe five times in my lifetime. Maybe.
The need to learn to swim led to me and my younger sister standing with noses pressed up against the second floor YMCA observatory window while the adult swim class clung frightfully to the pool edge below. Mom was decked out in the finest 1970’s rubber swim-cap with rubber flower clusters dotting the scalp, much like a powder blue hydrangea hugging the wall. I imagine the swimming instructor saying to Mom “Yes, Mrs. Sweet, in the water. Your face must go in the water.”
Fast forward to when I was about thirteen and my sister was about eleven. Ogle’s Water Park in Pigeon Forge was our favorite place and a real treat. They had a giant wave pool and inflatable inner tubes. The horn blew at regular intervals to signal the waves were starting and the inevitable screams of swimmers followed shortly after. The other swimmers’ screams were of eager anticipation. But, on this day it was Mom’s death rattling screams that prevailed.
We’ll never know what possessed Mom to decide that this was the day to go all out and bob around in the wave pool. Now, the waves –as posted on the sign on the wall—were large and strong. This was no sissy wave pool. Experienced swimmers only. We were strangely delighted and horrified that our mother, the tadpole worrywart, was all in for the wave pool.
So, we tried our best to warn her. Now, Mom, whatever you do, do NOT go to the wall to exit the wave pool!! Only exit it by swimming or bobbing back on an inner tube back to the shallow area!! The wall in the deep end did not have a ladder to climb, rather the steps were inset crevices with metal bars parallel at the top of each crevice so that you essentially climbed the straight face of Mt. Everest with no safety harness all while timing your climb in between the pounding waves which were much more forceful at the wall.
Mom did not heed our advice. She ditched her inner tube, headed for the wall, and quickly began drowning. Not figuratively, literally. The waves overpowered her. And, with regular rhythm, she would gain a toehold, gasp a breath, then scream and swallow more water before being submerged again. Mom, who trained in opera earlier in her life could sing and scream a High C. Aaagh! Strange gurgling silence. Aaaaghh! Strange silence. And so on.
My sister and I watched horrified. But not because Mom might die. No, because we were dying of embarrassment. Mom? Um, no we don’t know that woman. Wow, she can really scream. Wonder who that is?
The lifeguard stood up in his chair with safety belt at the ready. Then, he did a swan dive into the pool and surfaced right under Mom’s behind. He pushed Mom up the wall from behind, or rather, with his hands on her behind. And, mercifully, the place went quiet. The waves subsided and so did the screaming. My sister and I slinked, as best as one can slink on an inner tube, to the shallow end and then to the lounge chairs where Mom sat—totally wet from swimming.