Unlike my wife, I’ve never wished that our home had a pool. Maybe that’s because she grew up with one in her backyard and I didn’t. I just remember hearing my dad say time and time again that pools were nothing but a hole in the ground that you keep throwing money into. Or that they weren’t worth the weekly upkeep and chemicals.
Then again, living in rocky La Crescenta like we did, installing a pool required heavy equipment and engineering skills capable of constructing Hoover Dam. That may have contributed to my parents’ reluctance to install a pool. That and the fact that insurance companies look at pools only slightly more favorably than breeding Dobermans and Pit Bulls on your property.
Somehow, even without a pool, I learned to swim. Or at least learned how not to drown. Watching me thrash around in the water, no one would ever confuse me with Michael Phelps. Heck, I couldn’t even learn how to do that stupid “crawl” technique where you put your face in the water, blow air out through your nose, then turn your face ever so slightly out of the water as you swing your arm past your nose and take a deep breath just before you plunge your face back underwater. To this day I wind up hitting myself in the nose, panic and take a breath at the precise time I put my face underwater. It ain’t pretty.
Be that as it may, I can somehow tread water, do a passable breast stroke and can float on my back like nobody’s business. Whether I learned through private lessons at a neighbor’s house (like many of my friends), or lessons at the YMCA (way back when “MCA” still meant something!) or maybe it was when I had to earn my swimming merit badge for Boys Scouts, I just don’t remember.
I got to thinking about where and how we learn or don’t learn to swim when watching the tragic news reports last week of those six teenage kids who drowned in the Red River back in Shreveport, Louisiana. All six of the victims, aged 13-18, drowned trying to save their friend who had stepped into a 25-foot-deep underwater sinkhole while wading in shallow water along a sandbar.
Subsequent news stories explained how the ill-fated teens were part of a larger group of adults and kids who regularly play in the water at the Red River. Amazingly, tragically, not one of the adults or kids present that hot August day last week could swim. And yet, they were spending the day playing in a river? How does that happen?
Many of the reports about the horrible incident tied in the lack of swimming ability to the race of the victims, all of whom were African-Americans. Appropriately grim reporters discussed how – in many inner-city cultures across America – being able to swim is considered a “white thing” and way uncool. Seriously? I think being dead is sorta uncool. I mean, how do you save people from that kind of thinking?
Worse, I’ve already heard some commentators wonder out loud whether or not a lawsuit might be filed because whoever is in charge of the river should have installed warnings that drowning could occur in deep water. I’m sorry, but I don’t think any number of warning signs, or after school programs or lawsuits against bankrupt municipalities – can save someone from drowning who thinks learning to swim is only for “other” races. You mean, like fish?
When my kids were old enough, one of the most important things on my wife’s and my parent to-do list was to make sure that each precious progeny could swim well enough at least to keep themselves afloat until help came. (Which, by the way, also accurately describes my own swimming technique.)
My heart aches for the ones who died in Louisiana last week, and for their families and friends. I just hope that now, every swimming instructor in Shreveport has more business than they can handle the rest of summer.
I’ll see you ‘round town.
Jim Chase is an award-winning advertising copywriter and lifetime CV resident. Find him online at www.wordchaser.com.