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.