Swimming was always a big part of our lives, as you know from reading previous posts. However, I didn’t learn to swim in the river. My aquatic education began before I moved to Westlake at age eight. We lived on Foster Street in Lake Charles, less than a block from the lake for which the city was named. At that time Lakeshore Drive was named Shell Beach Drive, for obvious reasons.
The beach was covered with clamshells, and when we went into the water our feet connected with even more shells. My parents decided it was time for me to learn to swim. I couldn’t have been very old—maybe five or six. Hillene was just a toddler so she didn’t have to go to swimming lessons.
My mother heard that someone would be giving lessons down at the lake, not too far from our house which was right across from St. Patrick hospital. It was close enough to walk. Every morning for a week I was in my place with the other students in waist-high water (for me, anyway.)
I don’t remember the teacher’s name, but she was an enthusiastic young woman who took her job seriously. We started out dogpaddling, and soon learned the overhand stroke. The last day dawned and I was feeling somewhat proud of myself. She had told us the day before that we had one more thing to do, and that would be our “final exam.” If we couldn’t do that we wouldn’t pass and get our certificate.
At start of class we were all in our places ready for our test. She told us we had done really well on everything, but had not learned to duck our heads under water. Uh-oh. We looked at each other. We hadn’t thought of that. None of us had even put our faces in, much less our whole head.
The answer to the test would be when we came back up holding a shell. What? You mean I have to squat on the lake bottom, get a shell, and come back to the surface with it in my hand or I wouldn’t get a certificate? Panic time. She kept on talking and my brain was working overtime. I discovered I could curl my toe around a shell. I didn’t have to go all the way to the bottom.
She counted—three, two, one—duck. I barely had my head in the water, pulled my foot up with the prize, and latched on. Soon I was waving the shell around to let her know I passed the test. Most of us had a shell, and I wondered how many others fooled the teacher.
Anyway, by the time we moved to Westlake and the river, I didn’t have to wear water wings for very long.
Everyone have a safe and wonderful Memorial Day, and to all the veterans—gals and guys—thanks for your service.