Long-Ago Summer

What S.Hooligan and I did last summer…

Fall is officially here, which is great. I’ve always loved fall. But as I’ve gotten older, I have a harder and harder time letting go of summer. The last couple weeks of August are almost as bad as January after the holidays for me. I get bummed, I shake my fist at school buses, and I chafe at the reinstated constrictions after the free, carnival atmosphere of the summer months.

Right after Labor Day I glanced through the fence at the local pool as I drove by. All the lounge chairs and umbrella tables were gone, and a dark blue cover was closed tight over the pool that had been so refreshing and sparkling just a week before. It was like a shroud over the recently deceased season.

The pool had special meaning to me this year. S.Hooligan and I made a weekly visit to the neighborhood pool to swim together, sometimes for hours. Mom would pick her up right before lunch, get S. a Happy Meal, and we’d have lunch together at home before S. and I pulled on our suits and slathered on the sunscreen.

The pool is just up at the corner, a short walk—much shorter than the walk to the Oakley Pool when I was a kid. During our first visits this summer, S.Hooligan struggled with her swimming. She’s had a couple rounds of swimming lessons, but she’d never gotten really comfortable in the water.

On our vacation trip to Niagara Falls in June, S. was showing signs of improvement when we went swimming in the hotel pool. She pushed herself to swim farther underwater, one-armed since she held her nose with one hand, but as she relaxed she took better strokes and kicked more. A couple of times she swam completely underwater across the pool (a small pool, but still).

By the time we started swimming at the local pool, S. had lost a little of what she’d accomplished on vacation, which frustrated her. We had one shrieking meltdown fit, and another time she cursed me all the way up the street because I’d made her leave just when she felt she could almost swim above water. We’d already been there for almost three hours, but that didn’t signify to S. Hooligan.

My niece, though, is a determined nine-year-old who relishes having something to practice. And she practiced her swimming for hours during those Friday afternoon sessions. I gave her little tips that I knew about swimming—I have no speed, no form, and no endurance, but I’m very comfortable in the water, which I think S. envied—and she’d practice over and over. She was exultant the day she swam a few feet with her head above water. “I knew this day would come!” she rejoiced on our triumphant walk back to Mom’s.

“I can swim!”

Then she wanted to be able to swim without holding her nose. I’d bought her a pair of nose clips for her birthday in early July, but by mid-month she’d abandoned them because she was able to swim freely with her face in the water, quite an accomplishment for her. She’d told me she’d been practicing putting her face in the tub water when she took her baths. Sheer will led her to success.

By our last swim in August, she’d lost all her frustration and was really enjoying her time in the water, doing whatever she wanted to do. I hope she doesn’t lose it over the winter, but I have faith she’ll get it back the next time she’s in the water. S.Hooligan can do anything she wants to do.

Summer 2012 overflowed with wonderful times, but I’m especially fond of those golden-haloed memories filled with sunshine, blue sky, and glimmering water in which a tall, slim girl joyfully swims like a seal.

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