Getting out of bed early in the morning is something I’ve never looked forward to, especially during my younger years. There was one activity, however, that I didn’t need to set an alarm clock for: swimming lessons.
Back in my preteen years, snagging a ride to a swimming pool was a real rarity. Number one: there weren’t that many pools and, number two: few adults had the desire to jump in one.
Of course, when the hot months of summer came rolling in, so did a kid’s desire to cool off in a real swimming pool. Most of the boys I chummed around with also yearned for some chlorinated water. Heck, we could always hike three miles out to Big Creek, but thanks to the crawdads, spiders, turtles, fish and cows that also took advantage of the stream, it just didn’t seem like a good place to lay bare our bodies.
The American Red Cross came to our rescue. I believe I was in the fourth grade when I first heard about swimming lessons. Right toward the end of the school year our teacher announced a sign-up in the lunchroom for anyone wishing to learn to swim. Naturally, Slick and I decided this might have possibilities.
We soon discovered the school bus would be traveling up to Carr’s Pool in Ames every Monday, Wednesday and Friday that summer. The answer to our prayers.
Prospective swimmers would be enrolled in classes according to their ability to stay afloat. Slick and I had never learned the proper way to swim, but we had gained enough knowledge to keep our head above water.
Thus began our arduous careers as Red Cross swimmers. To begin with, we always had the misfortune of drawing the 9 a.m. time slot, which made lessons that much more challenging. Besides the challenge of getting up early, we also discovered how chilly the water in a swimming pool can be first thing each morning.
Looking back at those days, I have to express my admiration for our bus driver, George Jones. How he managed to put up with all of us screaming, boisterous munchkins is beyond me. Actually, we were fairly calm on the trip to Ames, but coming home we gained the enthusiasm of a pride of unruly lions.
My guess is popcorn combined with Slo Poke suckers, purchased at the refreshment stand, was enough to unleash the untamed devilment that lurks deep within most kids. To be truthful, Slick and I had been blessed with more than our fair share.
Yes, George was one-in-a-million. He always got us home in one piece and never tossed us off the bus. No small achievement for a mortal man.
(Ed Rood is former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He and his wife Sharon live near Cambridge.)