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Friday, September 28, 2007

Scenes from Childhood: Johnson Bones

People who have bones that float, that are filled with air, can swim easily. Buoyed by their bones, they stay afloat with little effort and their swimming energy can be devoted to the business of propelling themselves forward.


My Johnson bones are dense. Oh, I know, that's the goal established by today's medical gurus. And I don't know whether the lifelong density of my bone structure is the same kind of density that the doctors are exhorting us to achieve.


Let me put this a lot more simply: I am a terrible swimmer. The history of my body in water is not a pretty story.


We had no swimming pool (or Old Swimming Hole, either) where I grew up. But one summer when I was 13, our high school gym department organized swimming classes at a pool in Lafayette, twenty miles down the road. The classes were to be taught by our own Coach Miller, who coached all the Delphi High School sports teams.


Coach Miller was over six feet tall, young, and handsome by anyone's standards. He was the kind of teacher who inspires high school boys to great loyalty and high school girls to ardent crushes.


Here's what I remember about that first swimming class. We beginners were in the water, hanging on to the edge of the pool. On a signal from Coach Miller, we were to push off and float on our backs. Coach Miller described what this would be like, this floating. We would be able, he said, to extend our arms, relax our legs and torsos, and just float, breathing naturally.


On the signal, all ten of us little fledgling fish pushed off and floated. I relaxed. I kept my eyes closed so as to concentrate better on what I was doing, or to keep the chlorine out. But I was floating. I was relieved to know that I had passed the first test of the class. Look, ma! I'm floating on my back!


The next thing I knew Coach Miller had jumped into the water and was lifting me up. It seems I was doing everything exactly right. I was indeed floating. Unfortunately, I was floating a foot below the surface and thus in danger of drowning should I try to take a breath.


My body does not float.


This was the start of my ignominious relationship with water.


A one-term swimming class was compulsory for freshmen girls at my university. The teacher was Miss Somebody (her name is gone, but I can see her as clearly as if I'd seen her yesterday). She assigned me a position right next to the pool wall. And as I swam, pluckily attempting all the strokes she was teaching us, Miss Somebody walked along the edge of the pool. Right beside me.


I thought nothing of this. Someone had to be in that lane, after all.


It was only years later that I learned that my sister Sari, who entered that same university four years after me, also had Miss Somebody as her swimming teacher. And she also was assigned to the lane beside the wall. And Miss Somebody walked alongside her through every exercise.


These Johnson bones: long and lanky, and apparently as dense as cement blocks.


Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

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