I spent a lot of my youth at the Milsop Community center. It was such a wonderful place. It had a basketball court, which was transformed into a roller skating rink, a weight room, a raquetball court, and a huge room with a snack shop that was used for dances. There was a huge entrance when you walked in. It almost reminded you of an airport waiting area. A lot of times this is where photography and art contests were held or school children’s projects of one sort or another. Oh, and then there was the indoor swimming pool. That’s where I learned to hate.
Mr. Marshall Jack was the swim instructor for the Milsop Community Center. I hated him. My mom had first signed me up at the Marland Heights pool, but the water was too cold for Bluey. I shivered and complained and never learned to do a thing but dog paddle..and like a mentally challenged dog to boot. Swim lessons were held early in the mornings. Early like fog rising over the mountains early. It was cold in the mornings. Even in summer. And the pool was not heated. I used to think that someone must have put ice cubes in the pool right before we got there. My lips were always blue. And that made little skinny Vickie quite unhappy.
Everyone back in the 60′s had to wear their hair in a bathing cap. I don’t know why. Maybe so your long stringy hair wouldn’t float over your eyes while you are swimming and you swim right into the side of the concrete pool. Not that that happened to me or anything. When I was quite small, I had short hair. Twiggy the model short hair. I asked why I had to wear a bathing cap when my hair was just as short as a boy’s. I asked the Marland Heights instructor before I left for good.
” Well, you are a girl, and girl’s have to wear a bathing cap……..Because it is a rule, Vickie……….Why is it a rule?…………Well, you could get your hair caught in the drain at the bottom of the pool and you would drown………Vickie, who has scissors at the swimming pool?…………..No, you can’t go see if your mom has a pair in her purse…………….”
I hated wearing that thing. It was elastic and the chin thing looked stupid and always left a mark when I took it off. The only thing it was good for was scooping up water and throwing it on people who weren’t swimming. Not that I did that t or anything.
So, I did not stay long at Marland Heights pool. My mom then enrolled me downtown at the indoor pool….with Marshall Jack. Sadistic Marshall Jack. Isn’t it funny how I can’t remember what I did 15 minutes ago, but I can remember the name of the guy who taught me how to swim.
The first day of swim lessons was not good. I’m thinking that I was seven at the time. Marshall Jack divided us into groups. I was a damn polliwog, I believe. Back then, infants didn’t take swim lessons. That would have been stupid. They could drown. There were other groups, like guppies, minnows, and porpoises. I believe I am making up the last one. It could have been shark. It didn’t matter. I was never going to be a porpoise or a shark. Unless it was dead, washed up on shore. I would have made a fine decomposing shark.
The first damn thing we had to do was jump in the water in the shallow end. Everyone had to do it before swim class started each session. I don’t think so.
“Vickie, come on. Jump in…………..You have to………………We can’t start swim lessons until everyone is in the water……You can go to the bathroom after your lesson…………..Vickie……………….Come on…………Ok, I’m going to have to tell your mother that you are refusing to learn to swim. She won’t get her money back…..She is not rich……..Ok, jump in or I am going to get out and push you in……”
I hated him. So, I quickly sat down on the edge of the pool and slid into the water. That counted as jumping in my book. He just stared at me. I wanted to cry. What a mean man.
Marshall Jack was brutal. During the course of the swim lessons, he made us dog paddle the length of the pool. We also had to tread water forever it seemed. In the deep end. He said it was in case our boat tipped over and we didn’t have life jackets on and we had to tread water until the rescue people found us. Wouldn’t it just be easier to swim towards shore? I didn’t think he made much sense. Plus, I am pretty sure someone would put a life jacket on a kid.
I did learn how to tread water, I learned how to do the side stroke and breast stroke, and I learned how to float on my back. I thought that was pretty special. A lot of people can’t float. I almost learned everything I needed to before I was graduated to a minnow. I had to quit though, because of my last session with Marshall Jack.
We had to jump off of the board into the deep water and then tread water. The hell you say! Um, not gonna happen. Everyone stood in a line and one by one, the little urchins step off the board into the dark abyss. I was polite and let each person ahead of me until I was the last to go. I got up on the board, walked to the end, and stood there. I wasn’t feeling it.
“Vickie, jump…………..Vickie……………..Vickie, come on, jump……………..You are not going to get your toe caught in the bottom drain and drown………….Vickie, now…………..NOW!!!!!!………………If you don’t jump off the board RIGHT now, I’m going to nail your feet to the board and you can just stay there!”
I will never forget that as long as I live. My mom also heard it, as she was sitting in the stands, waiting for me. She walked over, said something to Marshall Jack, and then told me to get off of the diving board. She didn’t say a word all the way home. She came into my room later that night.
“Vickie, I want you to know that I enrolled you in lessons at Lynnwood Pool. We had to join the pool just so you can learn to swim.” And that’s how our family joined a private swimming pool. And Marshall Jack didn’t get a chance to
nail my feet to the board.
In the end, though, I did learn a lot from him. And I thought of him the first time I did jump off of the board.
And I was so happy to leave my bathing cap behind.