I will never forget the day I had to come up swimming or get laughed at in front of everybody. For several weeks Daddy would get in the Jerkins pool with me in the mornings to show me how to swim. Daddy was very detailed in showing me how to swim like he had shown hundreds of kids before at Jerkins High and as Manager of the Jerkins Pool in the summers. He showed me the One Arm Side Stroke, The Breast Stroke, how to tread the water, dog paddle, The Butter Fly Stroke, how to float, how to frog kick, and many other things about swimming. He did all of this in 3ft of water and he had me to lie on the flat surface of the side of the pool with half of my body in the water and the other half in the water. He would get in front of me and demonstrated the various kicks and arm movements and I had to imitate them.
As the weeks went on, I quickly caught on to the various swimming techniques. And as usual, Daddy allowed me to ask as many questions as I wanted, and he would answer them with great detail, and if need be, he would show me physically if he needed to while he was in the water. I had so much confidence in him. Whatever he did, he did it with great skill and precision. These traits I always trusted. “Lil Man, you doing real good. One day you are going to have to take all of these things I am teaching you over into 11ft of water.”
That one day he told me about came about in a very unexpected way, without warning or anything. It went down like this. Within weeks, I was almost a master of 3 ft swimming. At 5 years old 3 feet was at my chest and all the things daddy had shown me I was doing with great ease. As daddy would sit up in the lifeguard chair or do his daily routine, I would call out to him, “hey daddy check this out, watch me do the one arm side stroke”. That’s all right lil man, I am going to have to get you in the Olympics and let you bring home the gold medal. How bout hitting that butterfly for me from one side of the pool to the other” daddy would yell to me. Sometimes I would even wonder on down the pool to 5ft. Now this was water that was a little over my head, but I only had to push off the floor of the pool slightly and come to the surface, and start swimming on back to 3ft.
Well, one day I was riding on one of Daddy’s tall football players shoulders named Allen Dale Campbell. This guy was like a giant to me at the time. He was like 6 foot 4 and 240 pounds. He use to ride me on his shoulders and carry me into 5ft of water duck under the ropes that separated the 3 and 5ft water from the 11ft water. Once you crossed the ropes, the water quickly dropped off into 11ft of water. Many days I would ride his shoulders around the pool. He would lift me up over his head, turn me around, let me stretch straight out like a plane, and he would throw me like a rocket out from him, and I would hit the water with a pretty dive or ball my feet up and hit the water like a cannon ball.
Well, this particular day, Allen Dale called me as I was swimming in the shallow water as usual doing all kinds of swims. “He little Chief, you ready to ride” Allen Dale called out to me. He ducked down and let me get on his shoulders. The whole time he is just talking like always as he walked around the shallow side on the 3ft and 5 ft side of the ropes. But for some reason, he seemed to be talking to me more than usual. Usually he would walk around and do his normal routine of holding me over his head and throwing me into the water and all that, and when he got tired, he would go to the ropes near the deep center of the pool with me on his shoulders, let me touch the ropes, and turn around and bring me back to the shallow water. Then he would get out, and go to his position on the lifeguard stand or go to the entrance of the pool and take money from the people as they paid to get in the pool. The lifeguards at the entrance of the pool and the lifeguards on the lifeguard chair had to rotate duties like every hour so they would not get bored at either position, and keep their enthusiasm, and keep the summer pool with a friendly spirit.
Well anyway, Allen Dale went to the ropes, but, instead of him letting me touch the ropes, he raised me up off shoulders up over his head, and the whole time I am just to laughing not yet realizing what was about to go down. He raised me up high, higher than ever before, and told me to stretch out my hands he is going to throw me back toward the shallow water, and I did stretch out my hands like an airplane. With the quickness of a bullfighter, he turned his body around with my hands still stretched out and threw me over the ropes into 11ft. Since I was so accustomed to diving or doing the cannon ball and splashing in 3 or 5ft, I just reacted as usual, and hit the water. I in and instant did the dive as I hit the water. As I hit the water with my eyes wide open, I could see the water on this end was a darker blue, which meant it was deeper. As I hit the water, the first thing I did was look in the direction of daddy sitting on the lifeguard stand. As I looked out the water, I could vaguely see daddy on the lifeguard stand through the water. He had his hands in a ready position on the arms of the chair, but he did not move, and was just watching me. All of this seemed to be almost like slow motion from this point. Once I saw him not do anything, I almost panicked. This was unfamiliar territory for me. Now I am mad at Allen Dale, scared, and had to make a decision because neither Allen Dale or Daddy did nothing while I was in 11ft. Within a few seconds, I just reacted, I sunk a little further under the water, and said to myself, “ I am getting up out of here”, I pushed my hands in a downward flap, and at the same time did like a frog kick. These two movements simultaneously caused me to rocket to the surface, and as I did, Daddy started clapping and said, that is Daddy’s Lil Man, do it Lil Man, Show them what you made of.” That is all I needed to hear. When I leveled my body off with the water level, I started swimming toward the ladder on the side of the pool in 11ft. As I was swimming to the ladder I was so happy. Words can not describe the feeling I had swimming to the ladder. No longer was I swimming in that light blue water of 3 and 5ft, but this water was a deep blue. This water was the same water I had looked over the ropes for years at that I had designated in my mind as the big boys and girls, and the adults side of the pool. Here I am only 5 years old doing my thing like a champ. With all that in mind, As I start swimming to the wall, I got sporty propelling my arms in the water pulling my body forward with each stroke and kicking my feet pushing me forward like a boat motor in an open river.
When I got to the ladder, the first thing I did was climb out, and went straight to the diving board. Oh no, I was not going to that little kid side of the pool today. From that point on, I hardly ever went to the kids side of the pool unless I was going to wrestle some of my friends. I went to the diving board in 11ft, dived in, then swam to the sides. I did the same thing again…and from that point on, the rest was history.
On the way home from the pool, daddy told me he felt like it was time for me to go into 11ft. He explained to me he had shown me most of the things he wanted me to know about swimming, and he and Allen Dale had planned this for a few days. He was laughing as he told me and told me he had a sign for Allen Dale to proceed with their plan by blowing his whistle with a light blow and nodding his head. As we rode home he laughed and said, “Man, it was time for you to hit 11ft, but you needed that extra boost, I knew you could do it the whole time, I was not worried the least bit”. Daddy had confidence in me, and I had all the confidence in the world of him. That was The Day I Had to Swim or Stay a Little Boy. That day I will never forget. I was not going to be a little boy…not when I was Daddy’s Lil Man.
* 1974 Memoir
* SPECIAL NOTE of Photo above…My Father said I had just swam in from Cuba…LOL…by this time I could handle my own in Ocean Swimming (Daytona, FL Beach)… Pool Swimming…Had that mastered a long time ago, since 5 years old.