June 17th…“DID YOU EVER LEARN TO SWIM WHILE LIVING ON THE FARM?”
NOPE!!! The sparkling blue lake was smooth as glass when a lithe-bodied youth confidently strode to the end of the dock. With a muscular leap, he sliced into the water with a clean, knife-like dive. Timid me watched from the safety of the shoreline as we had gathered to celebrate someone’s birthday at this aquatic rendezvous. Minnesota touts itself as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”……yet it was THIS one lake that almost saw the end of me.
Other than pretending in the bathtub, or wading in shallow Brush Creek near our farm……..I could not swim ONE stroke. This supposedly happy day, for the birthday kid, ended up cementing the fear of drowning in me for the rest of my life.
“Birthday Brat Boy” (rather than use his real name) was on the loose as he rampaged all over everything and everyone that day; terrorizing his way from the picnic tables to the water’s edge. Boisterous and bullying are two fitting adjectives that capitalized his raw-natured exuberance. For the most part of that day, I had tried to keep my distance from the birthday tyrant who was a year or so older than I. I kept to myself as I peacefully waded along the shallow shores of the lake. I made the mistake of wading out to chest-high water when the “Birthday Brat Boy” chose ME for his next target. He launched himself onto my back and proceeded to “bury” me beneath the water’s surface; not letting me up for air. I took in major amounts of water and felt myself “blacking out”. With a last burst of survival strength, I managed to fight off this brash bully and shot to the water’s surface to puke out my water-logged stomach and gasp for some precious air. “Birthday Brat Boy”, in his calloused ways, thought the whole deadly incident to be funny and sloshed off to find another victim to attack.
Later that same day, I was guilty of almost drowning myself!! I had waded out too far into the lake to the point where the lake bottom dropped off suddenly. Terror consumed me!!! There was very little sandy bottom for my toes to grab onto for traction back towards shore. I wanted to yell for help, but was too embarrassed by my own stupidity of allowing myself to get into another water dilemma. I truly believe that the good Lord had mercy on me and sent one of His angels to gently push me just close enough towards shore so that I could once again touch bottom and regain my composure…….and live yet another day.
Fear can have an incredible power over our lives. I once heard that the definition of courage is nothing more than fear moving forward. To counteract my fear of drowning, I decided to move forward with it when I joined Boy Scouts after our family moved to Washington State in 1967. I had passed the Tenderfoot Scout test and the Second Class Scout test, as well. In order to pass the test for being a First Class Scout, I would have to learn how to swim. With much trepidation, I revealed to my Scout Master my intense fear of drowning. He kindly assured me that he would personally teach me to swim so that I could achieve my rank as a First Class Scout. How? I asked! I was told we’d be going out to the Lewis River and that I would be suited up inside a “wet suit” for buoyancy. Upon arrival, on that dreaded day, that dear Scout Master started pulling all kinds of scuba gear from out of his truck. As I tugged and yanked that black rubber skin over my body, I was being assured that, “Elliott, you can NOT sink in a wet suit!” I guess this was his way of bolstering what little courage I had at the moment, cause I was scared spitless!! Sure enough, like I mentioned earlier here, the power of fear took over and my body became one rigid block of flesh that didn’t trust myself, say nothing of trusting this stranger that was trying to do his Scouting “good deed” of attempting to teach me how to swim. Every time he had me lay back into the water, I’d go to the bottom like a rock. Glub, glub, glub!!! After an hour or so, my flabbergasted Scout Master said, “I thought I’d never see the day, son, but, Elliott, you SANK in a wet suit!!”
I rejoice for all, Who know how to swim,
And frolic in water, At the drop of a whim.
This leaden body, Will stay on shore,
Where those nasty waves, Can’t get me no more.
So says a land-locked Norwegian Farmer’s Son.