Swim Lesson

I jumped out of the car and ran across the driveway, my sandaled feet slipping over the loose gravel.

My Great Aunt Dotsie was taking down her stiff towels from the line. My Uncle Tommy was already counting for hamburgers and hotdogs, pretending not to see my younger sisters. The tiny yard smelled of charcoal and lighter fluid. The picnic table was set with a yellow tablecloth and a stack of paper plates.

“Aunt Dotsie!” I said.

“Carry these in, honey,” she said, handing me the crunchy towels. They smelled of sun and bleach.

Over the tomato plants, we heard Mrs. Halpern’s voice yell to her husband. Her front door slammed.

My Aunt Dotsie rolled her eyes. “Here she comes,” she said. “Run.”

I ran inside with the towels and put them on the couch. When I sat in my Uncle Tommy’s green TV chair, I saw my older cousin and her friends in the front yard, where we weren’t allowed to go. Beyond the line of pines, a car whizzed by with a trail of guitar, heading to the Tarrytown Lakes.

I went out the front door and stood with my cousin and the older girls. One older girl was leaning on a pine tree, looking at me and my rainbow bathing suit.

“Do you know how to swim?” she asked me.

“Sort of,” I said. “Yes.”

“Sort of!”

We all turned toward the voice.

It was Mrs. Halpern with a hotdog in her hand, wearing a visor. She had the head of a tan turtle.

“You don’t know how to swim?” she asked me.

My Aunt Dotsie came up behind her, holding a wiggly pink mold.

“Who wants mold?” she asked us, motioning to me with her head.

“Me!” we all said, and followed her into the front yard, where my Uncle Tommy was handing out hotdogs to my sisters.

I grabbed a paper plate and spooned my Aunt Dotsie’s macaroni salad and pink mold onto my plate.

“Amy doesn’t know how to swim?”

I looked up.

Mrs. Halpern was talking to my mother. They started to discuss something. I watched them for a second but then I ate the macaroni salad. It had little pieces of green pepper. I usually hated green pepper, but not in this cold macaroni salad I didn’t!

My mother came over.

“Amy, why don’t you go to the pool with Mrs. Halpern?” said my mother. “She’s a swimming teacher.”

I looked at Mrs. Halpern. “C’mon, get in my car,” she said. “You have your bathing suit on.”

She started walking toward her house.

I looked at my mother. She nodded. “Grab a towel off the couch and go with Mrs. Halpern,” she said.

Two minutes later, we were in Mrs. Halpern’s loud VW Beetle with hot seats, headed to a pool. I was sort of excited, especially when I saw the pool. It was enormous. It smelled my favorite smell, chlorine, and it was bigger than the Ardsley Middle School pool.

“Go down to the deep end,” said Mrs. Halpern.

I did. I took off my shorts and left them on the floor and saw how deep the pool was. It said “21 Feet” in red squares. I stood in front of the 21 Feet. My toes were touching the red squares, and wondered if the—

Hands were on my back and then I was in the chlorine air. I fell into the deep cave of the 21 Feet.

Under water my arms flailed. I came up breathing pool, frightened.

I turned myself around and looked up at her. I was treading water. She was standing with her arms on her hips. My hair was draped across my face like a curtain.

“See?” said Mrs. Halpern. “Now you know how to swim.”

I don’t remember much more of the lesson. We did do a crawl stroke at the other end of the pool and she put her hands on my head, twisting my head back and forth so I could learn how to breathe properly.

Later, in my Aunt Dotsie’s kitchen, I told everyone what happened. My Aunt Dotsie slapped her hand down on the counter.

“What?!” she said. “She walks around town sayin’ she’s this great swim teacher? She doesn’t have a bird-brain in her head!”

My mother was examining me with a look of distress and draped a crunchy towel around my shoulders.

My sister, Laurette, was tapping my Aunt Dotsie. “Aunt Dotsie, Aunt Dotsie, can I cut your hair on the couch?” she asked.

Aunt Dotsie was still talking about Mrs. Halpern’s bird brain but she stopped, and looked down at my sister. “Sure honey, go get the scissors,” she said. My sister ran for the scissors.

The kitchen cleared.

My Great Aunt Mary stood next to the green fridge. She was holding a Tom Collins, looking at me. She raised her chin in the air, and waited.

I raised mine.

“I see you survived,” she said.

pool water

Next up: ASK, on July 17. Please stop back and read! It makes my day!! 🙂

The Mean Lady

I walked inside the rhododendron bush that was two stories high, planted years ago by the hunchback, the first person to live in our blue Ardsley house.

We could walk in to this rhododendron bush as if it were a room. I sat on the “horse,” the long branch with a saddle seat curve that we hopped up and down on to make the tall bush shake.

But today I sat without jumping up and down. I was tired of this horse. I wanted a real horse, and I knew I would not be getting a horse.

Then I heard a Saturday mower.

The noise met me in the shade of the rhododendron. I lifted my chin to it.

Somewhere in the neighborhood, sounding its presence like a cavalry horn, was the first mower of spring. It ignited the sullen kernels of adventure in my ears and I got off the horse.

I knocked on front doors and said, “Let’s go to the stream.”

We were in walking distance to the “new park” and the stream along its far edge. New houses lined the stream on the other side, and people lived in them, but the stream was ours because we loved it.

Its bottom was soft and cushiony. We loved to lift rocks and peek for crayfish, scoop minnows and longed for its elusive frogs. We laughed and fought in the stream, threw buckets at each other and bounced on the wooden slats and shouted things like “I got one!” When we were hunting, we were careful to lift rocks slowly so we wouldn’t disturb the silt, which might allow an escape route for the living treasures underneath. We didn’t wear water shoes because they didn’t exist. Nor did we bring water bottles. We drank the stream. Sunscreen was for getting a tan at the beach and we actually called it suntan lotion. This was a playground, a safe extension of home that opened its world for us, every time.

But the stream of last year would not be the same stream of this year. Continue reading