The beach was my second home in the summer of 1947. In Southern California the beach is beautiful year round, but our first outing of the season was usually around Easter vacation and we were ready.
We would all squeeze into the Ole’ Chevy and away we’d go, singing and acting the fool, on our way to a fun filled day at the beach. Easter vacation gave us a week to be free, no school or work, just fun. We rode the big waves into shore, and played badmitton and volleyball on the sandy beach. It was a glorious time. All play and no work, just sun bathing and body surfing.
It was a teenager’s dream...an all day beach party with no parents in sight, just a whole lot of fun. To wind up the day we’d build a bonfire on the beach to roast hot dogs and marshmellows on a stick, and then home we’d go sunburned and happy. It was a great time in my life.
However, that wasn’t always the case. Before I saw the ocean for the first time, the only water I had seen was a gravel pit, a swimming hole, a few miles from our home in Berkley, Michigan. That’s were I learned to fear the water.
I was about eight years old, I think, and we were picnicking one Sunday at the gravel pit. Mom and Dad were sitting on a blanket on the beach and my little brother and I were floating around on our inner tubes, and we had drifted out a little too far. My little brother, who was a big tease, started rocking my inner tube and I panicked and fell through the inner tube and sunk like a rock to the bottom. I couldn’t swim! I fought to get to the surface to gasp for air, and as I was going down for the third time, I felt a hand grab my hair and pull me to the surface. It was my father, the man who didn’t know how to swim. On that day he managed to swim out to get me. As I clung to his back with my arms wrapped tightly around his neck, he was so petrified. I though he would have a heart attack, but he didn’t. He saved his little girl.
When I entered high school in California, I was told that I had to learn to swim, or at least stay afloat for five minutes, before I could graduate. This meant I had to take swimming lessons as part of my gym class. With my near drowning experience, I was scared to death to even get into the water. With a very patient coach and a whole lot of coaxing, my instructor finally convinced me I wouldn’t drown. Once I learned I could float, I took to the water fast. You couldn’t get me out of the pool. I even joined the synchronized swim-team and learned water acrobatics, which was great fun.
All it took was a little confidence to feel at home in the water. I’ve loved swimming ever since.
I will cherish those memories of our time at the beach, floating on the crest of the waves and sitting around the bonfire. It was a special time in my life.
Do you body surf? If not you should try it...you would love it. It is a feeling you will never forget.