I think just about every kid has a “flotation device” that means something to them. There’s the lifesaver ring, the floating mat, and then there are the rings with something added to them to make them distinct. In my case, mine was a swan.
Now, this was back in the 1960s, so the water toys of that era were, well, that high-tech or fancy. Meaning, they didn’t look that charming! My “swan” was an orange ring, a simple white neck and a small orange bill. It was basic. Yet, it held a lot of meaning for me. These days, there are SO many flotation devices to help little kids learn to swim or maybe just keep their heads above water while they tread water! Some are the upper arm inflatable-types, others are swimsuits, made especially for this purpose; there are vests as well as other devices.
Back in my youth, there weren’t any items like that. It was just the simple ones, and mine was that dumb old swan. For that one special summer, I think I must have been no more than four, I took my swan to State Beach and Town Beach on Martha’s Vineyard and it kept my head above water. It made me feel safe.
Then the big steps forward came. First, I started to kick my legs, and thus was able to move about on my own. This was a truly monumental stage in my development. I was no longer dependent on my dad or brother or a friend to tow me around the water. I couldn’t help but feel a certain surge of pride!
Then there was step two: putting my face in the water. This was another massive rung in the ladder of aquatic activity; I was getting saltwater in my eyes. For a little kid scared of drowning, this was critical. There was also the issue of water up my nose, which, as far as I was concerned, that was drowning! Even a single drop would, in my mind, lead to instant death. I had to clamp my nostrils closed, tight. To do this, I had to use one hand, which meant I needed something to keep me afloat while I did it.
This was where my faithful swan came in. Repeatedly, no matter how many times I needed to dunk and get used to the feel of being under the water, my swan didn’t mind supporting me. To a little kid, there was no clearer act of a true friend. After that, after I learned that I could get my whole head under the water and not drown instantly, I began to try to swim. I found that I took to water as if born to it; I was swimming before the end of summer.
The thing was, I couldn’t bring myself to toss that swan in the trash – and it was not only because I was a packrat like my dad! No, I felt a slight twinge of gratitude and obligation to my old friend. He’d helped me in a small developmental stage of my young life and I was happy to keep him at hand.
Of course, there came a time when his plastic worn thin, the seams grew weak, and he had to go. I still chuckle to think of the little remnants of my childhood that evoke happy memories in my aging brain.
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.
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