Have a Marlis Day!

As a Third Grader….

Posted on: May 30, 2018

I boarded a bus with several classmates after school twice a week for swimming lessons at the YMCA. I carried my swimsuit, towel, and rubber swimming cap in a little square overnight bag. Several mothers decided to take advantage of the once-a-year swim classes for beginners. I looked forward to the sessions and recall clutching a quarter in my fist on the bus – to pay for my lesson.  I think the bus ride was a dime. At the end of the hour class, our parents picked us up in the YMCA lobby. It was winter and too cold for little girls to stand outside with wet hair. (Good thing they didn’t ask my dad, or I’d been standing on the corner watching for him!)

Our instructor, Ray Beless, (who incidentally has a building named for him on the Vincennes University campus) never got into the pool. A plump, balding man in a white t-shirt, white pants, and white sneakers, he sat astraddle a chair and shouted directives at us, while a pretty teenage girl in the pool gave demonstrations. Chlorine hung heavy in the air as we watched and learned.

Girls from other schools joined us as we sat alongside the edges of the pool in silence hearing our names read from a clipboard. They never got mine right, so when I heard the reader struggling I shouted out, “Black, MARLIS, Black!” Usually this was met with a polite stare and thank you. The first day we got into the water, probably fifty of us, and learned how to duck our faces into the water, then to blow bubbles while doing it, then to open our eyes under water. Easy for me, since I’d always loved to play in the water, but painful for a few. Mr. Beless believed in no nonsense and blew his whistle often if we began to chat or have too much fun. Classes didn’t last long since we always started and ended with roll call, showering and dressing, rituals which consumed most of the hour allotted to the class. Our second lesson involved repeating the first day’s lesson and adding squatting and moving about slightly under water while holding our breaths. Some of us could swim underwater by then, but that wasn’t allowed yet. Day three was all about kicking. We held onto the edge of the pool and kicked as directed, while the assistant walked along us and adjusted our kicks. We lined up and took turns holding onto paddle boards and kicking our way across the pool. Things began to look up by the next session when we were taught to float. I loved it. After we mastered the front float, we learned the back float, and lastly, the dead man’s float. We kicked while doing the front float and propelled ourselves across the pool. Now, he told us, you are ready to learn how to swim. My heart soared.

It was all about stroking. Our teacher turned his chair sideways and demonstrated correct arm movements. Hands had to be cupped, elbows high. We watched the assistant do it from the sides of the pool. Finally, we got to try it. Easy-peasy, I thought, while some of my friends wanted to dog paddle, heads in air. This flustered our coach and caused him to blow mightily on his whistle. Heads must stay in the water, eyes open, feet kicking, arms flailing like windmills. Only when we mastered those skills could we learn how to breathe while we swam. This presented a bit more of a challenge to me, who thought popping my head up and catching a breath worked just fine. Nevertheless, I mastered the correct stroke-breathe-stroke pattern forcing me to take a breath when I really didn’t even need one. On the last day we had to pass the deep-water test by swimming the length of the pool using correct style and breathing technique. Only then could we use the deep end of the pool. Most of us passed the six-week course and went on to become life-long swimmers. However, when I swim in our lake, I pop my head up for air when I need some. Makes more sense to me. Sorry, Mr. Beless.

Saving it until last, I will share the absolute BEST part of the whole experience. The SHOWERS! Oh, those blessed showers! Most of us had tubs at home and had never experienced the glory of the hot shower until that cold, winter at the YMCA in Vincennes, Indiana. Helpers ran us through the showers in our swim suits on the way to the pool. A gentle shock. But afterwards, we shed our suits and stood in mass under steaming shower heads in a large white room. We were all naked but no one cared; we all looked alike. I still remember standing glassy-eyed, enthralled with the hot, pelting water on my back and thinking it was the best feeling in the world. The leaders would have to drive us out to get dressed and meet our rides. Some of the girls had to wait for working mothers and sat in the lobby playing checkers and nibbling candy bars, but I always went straight home. Mama had supper ready.


5 Responses to "As a Third Grader…."

Just read your blog and it is great,so many memories,I learned to swim in the Atlantic Ocean and loved it.Wish I could write stories like this.Have a good day.

How fantastic to learn to swim in the ocean!
Your life is a dream to me, Janet.

Great story! 😀 … I had swimming lessons like that too, but all it did was make me terrified of the water. It wasn’t until I was well into my teens that I taught myself to swim.

From Ann Tyron Rayl
I never check Facebook, but today I am delighted still with your style and story.
Remembering a couple of girls who were going to become teachers in Hawaii and drive Corvetts.

It was a great plan, too bad we both fell in love and got married instead. : )

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