‘You can’t go swimming ‘til you learn how'

By Willis Webb —

Boys, particularly those who grew up in my time in a rural area, learned to swim and swam most every day in warm weather in a stock tank or creek.

My sweet, late mother had a deathly fear of water. I don’t know what precipitated that dread of any amount of water deeper than a few inches in a bathtub, but her fear was real and palpable. I know she lost a friend to drowning in a river, but I was a young boy when that happened and had already heard the swimming edict.

She tried to transfer the fear to her four sons with some early success … me. I’d ask to go swimming with some buddies and she’d issue her dead serious, only qualification: “You can’t go swimming until you learn how to swim.”

“But, Mother, these guys know how to swim real good and they’re going to teach me so I’ll be as good a swimmer as they are.”

“Nope. You can’t go until you learn how to swim.”

So, I pretended I wasn’t going to go swimming, but as soon as we got to the stock tank or creek (Teague had no public pool in those days), it was skinny-dipping time. But I still didn’t learn to swim. Even when my buddies teased me and called me fraidy cat or sissy, I clung to the bank and didn’t move past waist-deep water.

At age 12, I went off to Boy Scout camp for the first time and Mother’s repetitive admonition was leveled at me and at the Scoutmaster.

Of course, I ignored it and it was torturous. She had instilled her own fear of water in me to such a degree that I was afraid to learn how to swim. I clung to the side of the Camp Tahauya natural rock pool all week long, with little progress to learn something I really needed to know how to do for personal safety and social acceptance. 

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