Thursday, December 19, 2013

How Esther Williams Saved My Life

How Esther Williams Saved My Life

When I was a little girl, I was very good at running, jumping, batting, and all kinds of other Tom-boyish things. In fact, one day on the playground when I was about 10, a boy from my class who had been bullying me regretted his attitude.

He jumped on my back and tried to punch me.  Little did he know that I had watched plenty of wrestling on TV and did what I had seen "The Crusher" do plenty of times.  I grabbed his arm, bent my knees and threw him over my back onto the ground. He lay there gasping for breath and the other kids standing around hoping to see a good fight between a boy and a weakling girl, were in shock.

Nobody bullied me again.

So, it should have come as no surprise that my television watching would also play a big part in my next truly life-threatening event.

Momma and her friend Mrs. Porter took her sons and me to the Holler Park wading pool one hot, summer day. I even have a picture of the three of us sitting in the pool looking like we were having fun.

There were two pools. One was the wading pool, the other was a regular 3' to 6' deep swimming pool.
The boys knew how to swim. Well, they were not going to win any contests, but they had lessons and knew how to flap their arms and kick their feet.  They would sit in the wading pool with me, then run to the big pool and jump in with the rest of the kids.

I would run to the pool with them, but never jumped in.  I could not swim.

Of all the rough-and-ready things I knew how to do, I had never learned how to swim.

EARLY FOOTNOTE: in later years when my sons were 8 and 9 years old, I insisted that they take swimming lessons.  My oldest learned how to swim just enough to have fun in a pool, lake or even the Pacific Ocean during our trip to California.  My youngest, learned so well that he became part of his high school swim team, helped win the City Championship and spent three summers as a lifeguard.

Anyway, the summer that I visited Holler Park Pool I did NOT know how to swim.  It looked like fun, but I could not open my eye in water, was afraid of getting water in my nose and ears and did not know how to breathe. Other than that, I usually had fun at a pool.  I sat on the edge and dangled my feet.

This day, we were running between the wading pool and the big pool and I slipped.  I fell into the big pool at the deep end and immediately sank to the bottom.

I panicked and opened my eyes to see the watery shapes of all the other kids standing around the edge of the pool laughing. Even my friends stood there looking into the water. They thought I could swim.

I was drowning. I swallowed a gulp of water as I tried to call for help. Water squirted up my nose and made my ears hurt. No one was coming in to pull me out.

It was a sunny day, and around the watery shapes of kids watching me drown, I could see blue sky and white clouds.

That's when Esther Williams saved me. I had seen one of her movies on television, recently and she made swimming look easy.  She always went down into the water, splashed around for a while, and emerged with her eyes open and a big smile on her face. She would swim around effortlessly with graceful arm strokes and little paddling feet. She would spin in the water and splash her way to the edge of the pool and bounce up with water dripping from her perfectly- controlled hair, and smile.

So, I figured... do what she did. I started wiggling my feet and grabbing towards the surface of the water... one hand after the other. Within seconds (it seemed like eternity) my face was out of the  water and my head pushed up into the air.

As I sputtered and continued to kick and flap my arms like Esther, the kids realized that I was NOT really swimming and they tried to grab me.  One ran to get my mother.

I paddled my way to the edge of the pool and the kids pulled me out of the water. My mother came yelling something like "she can't swim!"  "how could you let her go in the pool!?" at my friends.

It's all a blur after that,  I never have learned to swim.

But, I will never forget Esther Williams.

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