July 15, 2013: Swimming Pool Blues

I am Miss USA to the left and Bev, Miss America, to the right.
With my many years of running and recent addition of cycling to my repertoire, I am frequently asked the question, "Why don't you do a triathlon?"  My answer has always been, "I'm not a very good swimmer. I would sink."

I have perfected the dog paddle, but past that; my skills are limited.

This statement does seem a bit odd based on my childhood summers spent with endless, parentless hours at the pool. An inquiring mind would wonder how I could have slipped through those many sun-filled years without a whistle twirling around my finger and my butt situated in a lifeguard seat.

I am going to have to blame this one on my mom; the woman who virtually does nothing wrong. But in this case, her snap decision to remedy a wardrobe malfunction with a safety pin totally derailed my swimming future.

My wardrobe was designed and sewn by my talented seamstress mother. Mom had a little Stella McCartney in her and loved the challenge of sewing a piece that was difficult, different, and required her to 'go outside the pattern'.

The photo above is of me in my first bikini which was handmade by my mom. My best friend, Bev, and I decided to dress up as Miss America and Miss USA for the Remsen Kids' Days costume parade. We made our roses out of tissue paper, our banners out of streamers, cut our crowns out of card board, and added string to sheets for our capes.

All of our design work was done with the handiwork and imagination of two twelve year old girls who only wished we had (and were allowed) high heels to finish off our look. There wasn't a hint of self-consciousness in our parade walk that day. We felt confident in our role as two small town beauty queens.

You will notice subtle differences in Bev's and my bikinis if you look closely. Bev's store bought stunner had about half the material as mine; both in the bottom and in the top.  I would refer to my bikini as a 'full coverage' version. I would also say that my mom may have had some ulterior motives in choosing to make mine herself. I had a bit of of pot belly, so her extra caution in garment design prevented me from having my junk hanging out.

I was very grateful to my mom for allowing me this indulgence of sporting my first bikini. I wore it proudly to the pool that summer of 1979, a time of youthful innocence and joy-filled sunny days.

My brothers and I would make our daily trek to the pool, walking eight blocks  and waiting in line until the opening hour of noon. These were the days we were constantly reminded that we needed to wait an hour after eating before swimming. Note that although the hour rule was strictly enforced to promote safe swimming, we hadn't a clue on the benefits of sun screen. Instead we saturated our bodies in baby oil to take in ever inch of the sun.

We would hang out at the pool all day with our friends until the church bells sounded their fifteen minute warning call for 6:00 supper. When we weren't in the pool, we were either running barefoot in the adjacent park, causing trouble somewhere in Remsen (pay phones were a sinful temptation, the cemetery was our playground, and the church tower was our jungle gym) or spending our hard-earned bean walking money on melted white water taffy, salty popcorn, or sour bottle tops.

There was no such thing as a helicopter mom in the 70's.  I am sure my mom knew where the pool was located, but I have no recollection of her ever checking in on us from a park bench outside the chain link fence. She had better things to do with her precious time and we never thought twice of her absence from our carefree days.

In order to gain the privilege of spending hours at the pool alone while ruining our youthful skin, we were required by mom to go to swimming lessons. These lessons ran throughout the summer months in the early morning hours when the water was it's coldest. I never looked forward to these cold swims, but followed the instruction of the trained life guards and passed the entry levels without incident.

Most kids in town went through the beginning learners courses, but only a few took it to the Junior Water Safety level which was necessary to move on to the Life Saver level which was the only avenue to become a life guard. With my own aspirations for Miss USA, I totally wanted to be a life guard. Passing the Junior Water Safety with flying colors, I was all over going on to the coveted Life Saver level.

I went through the lessons, learning how to lug weighted dummies out of the deep end of the pool and how to effectively dive in a timed trial utilizing the precious seconds necessary to save a life. I was prepared and ready to take the Life Saver test. Since being a life guard was not taken lightly, these tests were given on a one-on-one basis to ensure that the swimmer had effectively mastered these skills.

On the morning of my testing, I put on my cherished floral bikini, ready to pedal up to the pool and show my skills. By this time, we were closing in on the end of our summer break and my suit had gotten the typical intense chlorine workout of a twelve year old pool rat. I had noticed my bikini bottoms progressively getting looser. But by that particular morning, they had gotten so loose that they wouldn't stay up. Panicked, I ran to Mom showing her my wardrobe malfunction.

Mom quickly assessed the situation and determined that I had stretched out the elastic to the point of it no longer holding it's elasticity (too much taffy perhaps?).  She pondered threading a new piece of elastic through the sewed band with a safety pin, but settled on a last second call of tucking the bikini bottoms to a tight fit by securing them with a large safety pin.

"This will work for now," she said. "I'll fix them when you get home tonight."

 Hesitant, but with faith in my ever-resourceful mother, I took off for the pool with a large safety pin holding up my drawers.

Self-conscious with the exposed safety pin pressing on my hip, I listened to the hunky and tanned life guard, Rob, explain the steps involved with my testing that morning. The good news was that Rob was more concerned about the tanned and trim Connie, who was starting her life guard duties of the day by cleaning the leaves out of the pool, than me with my extra large exposed safety pin.

Connie was sporting a pink ruffled bikini (likely not handmade by her mother) which was accentuated with large breasts. These were visibly absent from my suit.  Rob couldn't take his eyes off of Connie as she playfully responded with every flirtatious curve ball he threw her way.

Although I was relieved that Rob didn't notice me, I was now self-conscious about my noticeably homemade swimsuit (no ruffles, covered bellybutton model).  This was the first time it crossed my mind that homemade was not the norm. Connie's hot pink ruffles were certainly gathered somewhere outside of Remsen.

My testing began.

As I lugged the heavy dummy across the length of the pool in hopes that Rob would actually watch so I wouldn't have to redo, I began noticing that my bottoms weren't staying secured. As I swam, they would fall down below my hips with my behind exposed under water.  I pulled them up with one hand with my head bobbing while trying to lug the heavy dummy from one side to the other. I am sure it looked a bit like I was drowning myself when I was supposed to be demonstrating my skills as the one able to save a life. But the choice between exposing my rear or looking confident in my dummy dragging skills went to not letting Rob see my very white buttocks.

After going through the swimming laps portion of the test, it was clear to me that my drawers were a problem and the safety pin an inadequate fix. Working elastic was definitely a necessity for an effective swimming suit. Panic set in for me as Rob was making too many notes on his clip board and started looking at me strangely while losing interest in Connie. With every stroke I was trying to inconspicuously slide my arm underwater to pull up my bottoms. I had to look like a drowning rat or strange girl flailing around in the water.

The last part of the test was diving off of the high board.

Rob explained what was required of me with a puzzled look on his face. I was having flashbacks to my grade school lessons on the law of gravity.  This law certainly wasn't going to be in my favor with my wearing elastic-less bottoms going off a high diving board. As I stood at the edge of the tall board, I locked my knees together in an attempt to keep my suit on during my exposed decent into the water. I can only imagine how this technique looked by a set of eyes watching from the life guard stool.

Although I was able to keep my drawers on during flight, they came off (yes...all the way off) once I hit the water. After scrambling ten feet under water to find and re-secure my swimsuit bottoms back unto my body, I emerged by the ladder. At this point Rob was now concerned.

In his defense, all of his attention was now on me and not Connie as he showed me the proper stance and execution of a high dive. He even tried to physically position my legs into a stance where my knees didn't touch. The entire time he was explaining the obvious, I was panicking in worry that my already loose bottoms would fall down as he stood next to me and within inches of my rump.

A second try off the high board by me led to the same result as the first. Fortunately, I was again able to retrieve my suit bottoms before coming up and thus avoiding exposing either my swimsuit problem or my naked bottom to Rob or Connie who was watching from the side.

Rob was kind as he explained to me that I did not pass. But with a little work I could try again another time.

I couldn't get out of the Remsen Public Pool fast enough following my failed swim test. I raced home distancing myself from the embarrassment that stayed behind for Rob and Connie to rehash without me.

When Mom asked me how it went and I told her the play-by-play in my twelve year old voice, I think she was actually laughing. But without saying another word about my swimming pool blues, she simply took the bikini bottoms from me and secured them with a new piece of elastic while asking me what else lay ahead on that beautiful summer day.

Life went on. We never wasted any time crying over spilled milk at my house. I am also pretty sure that I decided to go back to the swimming pool that same day in my now perfectly fitting floral bikini, blending in with the hoards of kids with the same idea of summer fun.

I never did take the test again, but have decided that I do need some additional lessons before I take on a triathlon. But no homemade bikini this go around. I will instead go for the one-piece spandex made exquisitely in China.


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