July 15, 2013: Swimming Pool Blues
|I am Miss USA to the left and Bev, Miss America, to the right.|
My wardrobe, designed and sewn my my talented seamstress mother, included exquisite designs that were rarely tackled by her Remsen housewife counterparts. 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". Above is a photo 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 sole handiwork and imagination of two twelve year old girls who only wished we had (and were allowed) high heals to finish off our look. Ahhh...got to love the innocence of youth. There wasn't a hint of embarrassment or self-consciousness in our parade walk that day. We felt confident in our role as two small town beauty queens.
You will notice some very subtle differences in Bev's and my bikini 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 mine as a "full coverage" fit. I would also say that my mom may have had some ulterior motives choosing to make mine herself. I am quite sure that the thought of me prancing around the Remsen Public Pool in my pre-teen years without full coverage would not be her preference. And there was room to grow left in both pieces as I am now sure she wanted to be extra cautious in not having my junk hanging out. Perhaps my mom should be a designer of today's swimwear. I am sure many parents of teens (girls AND boys) would appreciate her discretion.
I was very grateful to my mom for allowing me this indulgence and for designing my floral bikini. I wore it proudly to the pool that summer of 1979. My brothers and I would make our daily trek to the pool and wait in line until the opening hour of noon. These were the days we were 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 didn't have a clue on the benefits of sun screen and 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. And 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 watching from a park bench outside the chain link fence or checking in on us. 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 while ruining our youthful skin under the rays of the sun, we were also required by mom to go to swimming lessons. These lessons ran throughout the summer months and were also 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 coveted 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. And wasn't every Miss USA a life guard as a teenager? Yes, of course, I wanted this. Being a good student, the junior water safety course was a breeze. I passed this phase with flying colors. The next step, and the only remaining step toward the life guard track, was passing the 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 saver and a potential 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 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 that particular morning, they had gotten so loose that they wouldn't stay up. Panicked, I ran to Mom showing her my wardrobe malfunction. She 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 adding, "I'll fix them when you get home tonight." Hesitant, but with faith in my ever-resourceful mother, I took off for the pool.
A bit worried about 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 never noticed my safety pin as he was more concerned with tanned and trim Connie who was starting her life guard duties of the day by cleaning the leaves out of the pool. Connie was sporting a pink ruffled bikini which was accentuated with large breasts that were visibly absent from my suit. Rob couldn't take his eyes off of Connie as she playfully teased him back with every flirtatious curve ball he threw her way. Not only was I relieved that Rob didn't notice the obviousness of my safety pin, but I was now self-conscious about my noticably homemade swimsuit as well. This was the first time it crossed my mind that homemade was not the norm (kind of like how Eve felt when she first realized she was naked). Connie's hot pink ruffles were certainly gathered somewhere outside of Remsen.
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 noticed 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 while head bobbing and trying to lug the dummy to the side with 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 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 as I was trying to inconspicuously slide my arm underwater to pull up my bottoms, I had surely looked like a drowning rat as Rob looked on. I am also pretty sure Connie was watching me too, wondering what was up with this strange girl flailing around in the water.
The last part of the test was diving off of the high board. As 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 elasticless 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 swim suit 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 as he nicely 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 the 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 and Connie. Rob did take it easy on me as he explained that he couldn't pass me, 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 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 day in my perfectly fitting floral bikini as I blended in with the hoards of kids with the same idea. I never did take the test again, but have decided that some lessons are in order before I take on the triathlon. But no bikini this go around. I will go for the one-piece spandex made exquisitely in China.