One of the best parts about summers on Martha’s Vineyard was going to the beach. Building sandcastles was always fun, but the best of the best was swimming. For several years, I was rather timid about the whole process. I just couldn’t bring myself to put my head under the water. Of course, in my defense, the waters of Cape Cod are far from mild, even in the summer. My dad always said, “The best way to get used to the temperature is to just jump right in.”
Ah, me, well, I had a little trouble with that method. Still, I did eventually get to where I could swim underwater. Almost at once, I realized that I had to open my eyes. Now, while I was okay swimming with my eyes closed in the open water, if I was near the jetties, I had to open them; I had to avoid bumping into those big boulders. The saltwater turned out to be rather stingy; it took some time getting used to it. Eventually, like the temperature of the water, I did. Yet, swimming around, I really couldn’t see much; everything was so blurry, which was a real downer. I so wanted to see what everything looked like.
Then came Christmas; I think I must have been about eight. Among my many gifts was a large one, long, kind of flat and very wide. When I tore away the wrapping, I saw that it was a pair of swim fins, a mask and a snorkel.
I had no idea what they were.
I forget who had given me the gift, I think it was one of my brothers, and he explained the purpose of each item. Oh, I couldn’t wait until next summer to try them out! Come the summer, I just about raced to Town Beach. Putting on the flippers, I very quickly using them on land was not a good idea. I almost fell over trying to get to the water. Ah, but once I was in the water, watch out, man, I was like a dolphin on steroids! I raced. I zipped. I roared about. It seemed so effortless. Yeah, flippers were now my thing. I mean, I was actually leaving a wake, as I rocketed by the shore!
Then there was the mask. I put it on, stuck my head underwater and was promptly drenched. It seemed I hadn’t quite tightened the straps up enough. Guess I must have overestimated the size of my head. I tried again. This time, I couldn’t get the mask on: okay, too tight. My mom helped me to get it just right. At last, I stuck my face under the water and found a new world.
Never had I seen anything like it.
Crabs scurried across the bottom. Oh, I knew not to walk there! Small minnows, in great large schools, fluttered about. How in the world did they turn in unison like that? Did the lead one shout out some sort of commands? “Down, right, left, forward!” I was truly saddened when I had to pull my head up to take a breath. Yeah, I definitely needed to add the snorkel! It took a bit of doing to get it positioned properly, and get used to the taste of the thing in my mouth – yuck. The payoff made it all worthwhile. Now I could just float along, gently kicking my flippers to move forward, breathe in and out (I could even hear my breath in the snorkel), and study this new and strange world. I felt like I was flying across an alien planet. For a young Star Trek fan, that was almost as good as going into space.
Yeah, that was definitely a good Christmas gift. One of these days, I’ll need to get some new ones. Maybe I’ll put them on my letter to Santa for next year.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
Click above to tell a friend about this article.