My column in today's edition of Small Town Newspaper is about conquering the deep end. You can take that literally or as a metaphor—either way, it works. The piece is here.
When I was a kid, the Knaver family down the street had a swimming pool, an oblong above-ground pool that was probably not more than four or four-and-a-half feet deep. When you're 12, that's pretty deep, but I don't recall being afraid in it. The Knaver girls were relatively generous with their pool and would invite the rest of the neighbor girls to swim, although they learned quickly how to use their pool to their advantage.
One day, after inviting Linda and Kitty who lived next door to swim, the meanest Knaver girl told me I wasn't allowed because her mother didn't like my mother and didn't want me in her yard. That made no sense to me because our mothers had never interacted. There was that one time the same girl, who was sort of chubby, called me "fat" at the bus stop and made fun of the baggy pants my mother had made for me. I wasn't close to being chubby, but I had gained a few pounds the winter before after breaking my arm. I spent a good bit of the winter in a cast and eating Chips Ahoy in front of Gilligan's Island. Well, my mother said next time the girl made fun of my pants, I should reply, "Well, they wouldn't be baggy if YOU were wearing them." I never had the nerve to say that, though, so I don't think that was the problem.
In retaliation for the Knaver girls' manipulation, or maybe just out of sheer mischievousness, the rest of us would wait until they were out of town, then stand in their front yard where their crab apple trees dropped the duds and hurl crab apples over the roof into the backyard. You would throw the rotting apples and wait for the splash, and then you knew you had done it right. Then you would run off and giggle as you imagined the Knavers returning home to a pool full of bobbing apples.
Anyway, back to swimming. We all spent many summer afternoons in that shady pool, with the rest of the girls swimming and me just paddling around with floaties or just floating on my own. They would try to teach me to swim, but I was too afraid to put my face in the water. A sister of mine once suggested the fear might be a form of claustrophobia, which makes sense at this age, but isn't childhood a little early to develop that kind of neurosis?
By the time I learned to swim, as described in the column, we had all outgrown the Knavers' pool, and maybe they had taken it down by then anyway. Who knows. Either way, I now know how to swim, and I am now no longer afraid of the deep end, even when standing on the diving board to take a picture of the drain at the bottom.
OK, maybe I'm still a little afraid. I'm not quite ready to dive in.