I dive into the water and the years dissolve and I am 10 again. The water invites and seems eager to feel my arms pull and my legs kick. I meet it with my own joy in rhythmic strokes and full breaths. It seems like so long since I have felt this free. I am a swimmer once again. The odd laps are freestyle; the even laps backstroke. I count the laps, remembering how my dad celebrated our lap count each evening at dinner. He gave us other challenges such as measuring how far we could swim under water with no breath.

My father taught me to swim at Tuckahoe. I remember feeling is hand under my back as I learned to trust the water to hold me while I floated. Then his hand under my tummy as I learned to use my arms and legs. He taught me all he knew about freestyle. Only later did I realize that he wasn’t a very strong swimmer (speedwise) because of the unique way he used his large, gentle hands.

Most swimmers know that a clean hand entry into the water with a strong pull of the hand and forearm is what helps you move smoothly and quickly through the water. My dad’s big hands seemed to pet the top of the water like he was petting a horse. His flat hands with his fingertips up were caressing the top of the water, never going too deep, almost like he didn’t want to break the surface tension of the water or cause too big of a disturbance.

I love the memory of my dad swimming. He didn’t often stop working long enough to play at the pool, but once or twice a summer he was there with us. Those few hours are precious to me now. Perhaps he was remembering younger days as well, when he swam in the cold North Sea off the coast of Germany where sperm whales gently migrate.

6 thoughts on “A Swimmer

  1. So good to read your writing again, Marilyn!
    In your piece, swimming turns your body back into that 10 year old through muscle memory, then you take us further back with reflections on your father teaching you (so lovely, your writing about his hand on your back and then your belly), then we focus on your father as a swimmer, and then you end by taking us back to his youth- such a surprise! I think your last line might be my favorite.
    You know how writers sometimes extract a single line from a piece and use it to start a new, different piece? I Wonder if you might do this with this last line 🙂

    1. That is a great idea. I had the sense that I was ending with a beginning. I’ll have to see where it takes me. I have been absent from my writing for a time, but this summer it has felt really good to re-connect. I hope you and your family are well.

  2. Oh, I love this piece, another swimmer amidst the writing community! I love this line:”My dad’s big hands seemed to pet the top of the water like he was petting a horse.” Your experience taught with love gives me chills. My start in the world of water was different. I don’t think I ever saw my father swim despite being the parent to avid swimmers, ocean, river and pool. I really think you’ll appreciate, dare I say love this poem.I also love how at the end your memories and his converge. Lovely writing. Thanks.

      1. I gave a copy to my son—we did go through learning to swim together—and when I remarked about the daughter part, he said, “Mom, the gender thing isn’t what makes it so beautiful.” Ah, poetry…

  3. What a lovely memory and a beautifully told story. I am not a swimmer and don’t have that trust that the water will support me.

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