After a near-drowning at age 5, I was always a little fearful of water as a child. Canadian summers are hot, though, and my mother – likely glad to have us out of her hair for awhile – always encouraged my sister and I to head over to the local outdoor swimming pool with our friends. I was not a very good swimmer, but I spent many happy summer days paddling around that little pool with my friends. Just thinking about those days brings back to mind the sharp reek of chlorine, the delicious feel of sun on our skin and the muted din of dozens of kids shrieking, laughing and simultaneously calling out to their friends.
To the delight of every kid in my home town, our high school built a 25-metre indoor swimming pool when I was around thirteen years of age. Despite being a very poor swimmer, when several of my best friends decided to join the swim team, I happily tagged along.
The try outs took place one afternoon after school and the task was a simple one. Once we were all huddled at one end of the pool, shivering in our bathing suits, Coach instructed us to dive in (or in my case, jump in – I had no idea how to dive at the time) and swim two lengths of the 25-metre pool while he timed us and generally got a feel for what we were all capable of.
I am not – and never have been – much of an athlete.
“Two lengths?!” I exclaimed, appalled. “I can’t do two whole lengths!”
“Well just do what you can then,” he replied good-naturedly. And then he blew the whistle, signalling us to get started.
It was a very long trek for me, slowly dog paddling two lengths of that pool, and I don’t recall if I was the last one in but chances are very good that I was. Nonetheless, Coach was either not too picky or highly optimistic. By the end of that training session, I was a proud and full-fledged member of the team.
I am in Day (Seven or so, I think?) of my Pandemic Clean-Up: sorting through my mementos and resolutely getting rid of as much as I possibly can, all for the sake of my children, who will not want to deal with any of this when I leave this world and leave them stuck with all the junk I have accumulated.
But not for all the money in the world can I part with the 4th, 5th and 6th place ribbons I eventually won in the New Brunswick Tier 2 Swimming Championships (*). Nor can I part with the one and only trophy I have ever received – not because I was the best swimmer on the team, but because at some point, I stopped complaining and impressed my Coaches with my team spirit.
Over the next few years, I learned all the swimming strokes and even mastered a few. I competed in swim meets. I took a beginner synchronised swimming class. I also managed to swim two full lengths of that pool, underwater. I became a qualified lifeguard at age 16. I never did get much work as a lifeguard; there were just too many of us with certification and not enough hours to go around. But the girl who could barely dog-paddle two lengths of a pool two years before was – and still is – immensely proud of herself.
I am, at best, a decent swimmer. But I used to be a mediocre swimmer. And the difference still means everything to me. A friend of mine told me a few days ago (via text, of course – we are both social distancing at the moment) that perhaps having and organising our stuff is the whole point of having it. It allows us to periodically revisit the milestones of our lives; to be blasted by memory floods we would not have had if we had thrown it out, or kept it tucked away.
I didn’t accomplish much today, but it has been a good day.
My swimming badges and my 6th place ribbons are all nicely mounted in my scrapbook now. And looking at them, I am glowing with the same sense of accomplishment I felt more than forty years ago when I first received them.
Sometimes, yesterday holds some true treasures, if we only take the time to look back.
Source of Photo: Carol Shearer Memorial Award, 1978, Photo taken by Stephen Kenny, my brother-in-law
* swim meets for the kids who would never be the cream of the crop, but who were awfully proud of how far they had come)
Patti Moore Wilson/© wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com