I was about six the first time I took the class. I took the class for at least three years and never learned to swim. The water was just too darn cold for skinny little me. You could enter the freezing cold bay water down concrete steps and I could easily stand in water about chest high. There was a wall at the edge, just like a swimming pool.
We started by learning the dead man’s float. You just held onto the edge and floated with your eyes closed. When my brother Ronn joined the class, he cried when they said we were going to learn the “dead man’s” anything at all. Later that day, when my father learned of Ronn’s distress, he suggested that we all call it the “Superman” float, and that actually worked.
So I could do the dead man’s float and hold the edge while I kicked. I could perform a meager dog paddle, but I had to stand up ever couple feet. Every year on the last day of class, we lined up by height in the water and were expected to swim the distance between two poles (that held the rope and buoys signaling the supervised swimming area).
I paddled with all my might for about five feet and then touched ground and watched the rest of the class swim down to the finish line, earning a cool patch you could sew onto your jacket or something. I never got the patch. On the last day that I would ever take the free swimming lessons, my friend Nancy Armstrong came with us. She joined in the test and won the patch. There is a picture of us that day, somewhere in the family effects, showing big strong Nancy with weak shivering Shelley, clutching a towel around her skinny frame.
Link to Non-Fiction -- Memoirs -- Swimming Through My Life