When I was a little girl, I thought I could do everything. If I just tried hard enough. That’s how I learned to whistle. That’s how I learned to jump rope. That’s how I learned to swim. I didn’t think of it as work, or perseverance, or competition, or any of those grown up words. I just thought it was finding a way to get what I wanted. I was pretty good at it, too.
Once after my big sister Deanna and I, and Nancy, Deanna’s best friend from across the road, learned how to swim, our dads took us way, way out in the lake on inner tubes. I loved to swim. I could swim all day, I liked it so much.
The two dads swam out over their heads with us three girls on our inner tubes. Nancy had a huge inner tube from a tractor. That was the best fun ever, cuz about six kids could fit on that inner tube all at the same time. Deanna and I just had regular old inner tubes that had a bunch of patches on them cuz they were finally no good for anything except swimming. My dad believed in patching stuff up until there were more patches than stuff.
Nancy’s dad bought her inner tube from the gas station: no patches. They were rich.
Way, way out in the lake was a sand dune. Once we all got out there, we got off the inner tubes and the dads got in the inner tubes. Us girls started swimming to shore. Dad floated right behind, telling me what a good swimmer I was and ‘keep it up’, and ‘wow, I can’t believe how that girl can swim’, and other nice stuff like that.
It was super-easy, ‘cuz if I got tired of the dog paddle, I could turn over on my back and float for a while. That was a good way to rest; anyways that’s what the teachers at swim lessons taught us. Besides, it’s just the berries to look up at the blue-blue sky, same color as my blue crayola, and to listen to the sounds of my own heart beating in my ears.
That’s what always happens with the back float.
I swam so long that my hands started to touch bottom. I looked behind me, and there were the dads walking in water half-way between their ankles and their knees; there were Deanna and Nancy floating in the inner tubes happy as could be. Wow! I swam farther than either one of those older girls.
I was dumbfounded.
He smiled so his front tooth, the one with gold all around it, glinted in the sun just like a movie star, and he just kept looking at me until I started to feel a little embarrassed.
Deanna told me first Nancy stopped, then she stopped, and Dad gave them the Shhh… sign with his pointer finger over his lips, so I wouldn’t know they stopped.
“Let’s see how far she can get.” Deanna told me Dad whispered in her ear.
Nobody could believe I got so far.
Mom smiled and said, “Yes sir. I always said that girl has a will of steel.”
About a week went by before Mom sat me and Deanna down and read us a newspaper clipping about Florence May Chadwich, some lady about as old as Mom who swam the English Channel way back when I was practically a baby. Florence said she lost a lot of races, which kept her going, trying harder than ever. She said if she was always a winner when she was a kid, maybe she would have given up on the English Channel because that took a lot of will power.
I looked over at Deanna, to see how she taking it, ‘cuz for sure Mom wanted her to hear that it was okay she lost to me, even if I was littler than her.
“See it’s okay if you don’t always win,” I said, just to help Mom out in case Deanna missed the point.
In the afternoon, Nancy’s mom, Mrs. R, was over for some tea with Mom. Mom’s always drink tea when they’re gonna have a baby, and my Mom was almost always gonna have a baby, so she was always having tea. Maybe Mrs. R was too, ‘cuz she sure was a tea-drinker.
“I read this article to the girls this morning,” Mom said, then gave Mrs. R some time to read it. “The person I thought could learn the most from it thought it wasn’t for her.”
She looked over at me, with that tired look she got just before she put her hands on my cheeks and turned my face so my eyes looked straight into hers.
As the years went by, I had plenty of time to I shouldered an almost-win. I even won the “Most Strokes” prize at my work’s golf outing three years in a row. (For you non-golfers, that’s last place.)
Mom could have just let me bask in my glory, just that one time.
But then again, maybe she’s the reason that lesson stuck with me so well. Or maybe I’m just too strong-willed to ever give up. Whatever the reason, taking a leap of faith, jumping in for the swim, and not looking back to see who’s still in the race is a pretty good way to approach life.
Oh, and one more thing: it’s still the berries to slow down and float when you’re tired, enjoy a little rest, and take some time to listen to your heart.