Scanning Around With Gene: Getting into the Swim of Things
My mother was what I like to call a safety Nazi, and of all the calamities that could befall small children, drowning was the most feared. So from a very early age we were carted off to the Smith Park pool in San Gabriel, California to take swimming lessons. And while my memories of those times are a little fuzzy, I do recall the smell of the chlorine and the fear of getting my head under the water. And of course of my mother sitting just beyond the fence, watching like a hawk. The best part of swimming lessons was the snow cone that came at the end as a reward for not drowning.
For many people learning to swim is accomplished through lessons, either from a professional or a parent. But not everyone has someone to teach them, so of course there are various booklets and pamphlets on the subject. Although I find the sport something that seems very hard to imagine from a printed piece. The old saying “sink or swim” has a certain truth to it and getting in the water seems like the best way to learn. Today’s images are from four different “learn to swim” publications, ranging in dates from 1940 to 1959. Click on any image for a larger version.
The first and most difficult lesson for most when learning to swim is getting your head underwater. I remember in particular my own challenges with this part – my mother would rub my head after each lesson to see if I had achieved this step. I never thought about practicing in the bathroom sink or a bowl of water, but according to the experts, that’s a reasonable thing to do.
I think kids everywhere find places to swim, whether a local pool, lake, or swimming hole (though I’m not exactly sure what that is). In my case, growing up in Southern California we had swimming pools galore, and of course the Pacific ocean was nearby. So there were plenty of places to get wet.
Before we got our own pool, we had a neighbor who opened her pool every day to the neighborhood kids for a couple of hours. It cost 10 cents to swim and, because she was a gym teacher and swim coach at the local school, my mother allowed us to attend.
In my own case, once I got over the part about getting my head wet, I took to swimming pretty well and became somewhat obsessed by it.
We eventually built a swimming pool of our own and my sisters and I spent most of the summer either in the pool or laying out next to it, getting a suntan. There was no fear of skin cancer back then or sun screen – the darker the tan the better.
But because my mother was such a safety nut, we ended up spending more time at the neighbor’s pool than our own since none of my friends wanted to swim at our house – too many rules and my mother watching like a hawk.
And though my parents didn’t like going to the beach, fortunately my friend’s families did and so I ended up spending a couple weeks each summer at Balboa Island where we would swim in the bay and make regular trips to the “real” ocean to play in the waves. And of course to eat too many frozen bananas.
I’ve met a few people as adults who don’t know how to swim and I mostly feel a little sorry for them – it seems like such an important part of growing up. I can’t imagine childhood without swimming pools and the beach.
My love of the water lead to an interest in scuba diving, which became my obsession as a teenager. My friends and I would pile in the car and drive to Laguna Beach at the crack of dawn and spend the day in and under the water.
And to think it all began at the Smith Park pool where I had a bit of trouble getting my head wet. Perhaps if I had seen some of these pamphlets, I would have tried the old “bathroom sink trick” and gotten my start with swimming even earlier.
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