I never really knew how to swim. Not really. I knew you had to windmill your arms and kick your legs and turn your head side to side, but that was about it. I managed to live a life that way quite nicely. Bobbing and floating was all that I expected when I was in the water -pool or ocean – and I was happy with that.
Now I live in Florida and I have a swimming pool right outside my door. Coincidentally, this happened just about the same time as I was referred to physical therapy for two bum knees. When the insurance authorized evaluation + five sessions were over, I continued on my own but in the pool where gravity could not do its evil work. Those exercises made a world of difference in my on-land mobility and stamina. So since I’m such a fine physical specimen now, I decided to add actual swimming to my repertoire.
“Swimming” as in windmilling my arms, kicking a little, running out of air and getting hit by all the water that I pushed ahead of me to end of the pool just as I was about to take in a breath through my mouth. All this with the added effect of arching my back to keep my head above the water line.
But then YouTube taught me how to swim.
Hey, you guys- there’s a lot to this. I had to focus on one part each week and add it to what I had already learned. It took me WEEEEEKS to get it all together and I still have to concentrate on each part to get it right. But it paid off. I can feel it when everything is going right – I can swim longer because I’m not as tired out from fighting the water and I don’t get overtaken by a big bad wave at the end of the pool anymore. But get this:
My last out-of-state visitor was here earlier this month and we were blessed with beautiful weather almost every day. Lots of pool time. My knees had been especially achy then so I mostly bobbed and floated through the early days but when I finally did a few laps in front of him, something happened that was so astonishing, I’m still thinking about it. When I stopped to take a rest , he asked me if I ever took swimming lessons. And then he said
“Your form is really good. You hardly make any movement above the water. I asked about the lessons because Little Edie had perfect form when she swam and you reminded me of her when you were doing laps.” *
[Now this might not be an exact quote. I was then and still am stunned to realize what he said. My recollection is that he said my form was perfect but I didn’t want to overstate it here in case he didn’t really say that. Something about Little Edie (Beale) taking swimming lessons and seeing her (in a film clip) gliding so smoothly the water wasn’t disturbed at all.]
I’m up to 50 laps a day now. It doesn’t sound like much but considering the absolute zero of exercise I’ve been doing lately (for years) , I’m proud of that. The pool is only about 12 strokes long, 11 on a good day but a lap is a lap and I’m only comparing myself with myself, not with Olympians or even Little Edie. Okay maybe with Little Edie. This happy state could crumble at any time depending on what’s going on with the knees so except when it’s a full out thunderstorm, I’m out there every day, plugging along, silently chanting Head still Eyes on the floor Cut into the water Power scoop Rotate the shoulder Rotate the hip Straight leg kicks. When I get to the end of a lap where I’ve got it down perfectly and I can feel myself absolutely SLICING through the water, now I pop up for a turn and add Ooh, you Little Edie to the silent chant as a private reward.
And that brings me to this:
Not only is my friend a sincere complimenter, but he’s also quite ingenious. When he saw that I was pulling to the side and ending up far off from the center of the pool where I intended to be ( because I was staring intently at the floor and not trying to look up to see the pool wall ), he started thinking about how we could mark the bottom of the pool and quickly came up with laying the long-handled pool brush down as sort of an underwater runway. It works! It seems so obvious now, but I never thought of it on my own.
So now , when I come to the end of a lap the silent chant doesn’t change, but when I see the broom handle I realize with relief and pride that I’m headed on the right path and that my form could hold up against Little Edie. It’s a weird feeling.
post script: I haven’t thought about Little Edie in years, not since I saw the Drew Barrymore movie in 2009. In googling around the web fruitlessly searching for a film clip of Little Edie swimming, I did come across many articles noting Little Edie’s struggle to be her own person in the shadow of Big Edie’s dominance. This article The Edies After Grey Gardens discusses how she lived after her mother died. Spoiler: she sold the old house. It made me happy to read this: “Photos taken during that time show the smiling ex-socialite lounging on leather furniture, posing with family members, and—generally—enjoying her life. By all accounts, Edie returned to the world of wealth and pomp with the grace and poise that had always resided beneath the patina of her circumstance. “
So here we are after all this time, me and Little Edie. She returned to the world of wealth and pomp with poise and grace and I’m the backyard athlete that has always resided beneath the patina of my physical circumstance.