My mother, in addition to being just plain smart about lots of things, including how to handle Dad’s whims, was also very handy. She had painted all the rooms in the house, replaced panes of glass, and could do a rewiring job if necessary. She could hook rugs and was also a darned good cook. One thing she had never mastered was sewing. Memmere (her mother) was a whiz with the needle and made her grandchildren’s clothes for years, but this was something Mom usually avoided.
One summer, she decided to make me a bathing suit. I think she figured a bathing suit was an easy place to start sewing. It was a cotton knit affair, which she made because I’d grown up and out rather quickly in the past year, and my old suits had become dangerously revealing. What Mom forgot, and what I knew, is that with the development of breasts, I’d become hideously self-conscious.
One of the things I could do well was swim fast. Technique was definitely not my forte, but I was
taller and stronger than my teammates on the Eel River Beach Club team and could power my way to the end of the pool faster than anyone in my age group. At one particular swim meet with another club, I lined up at the deep end of the pool for the start of a freestyle race, proudly sporting the newly constructed two piece bathing suit. Many of the kids at the pool wore two piece suits at that time, even for meets, but what I realized, as I stepped to the line, was the suit had not been tested for its swim-worthiness, let alone its ability to stay in place during a racing dive. At the sound of the gun, I hit the water in a flat, extended position (in those days you did not do an extended mermaid kick underwater) and began to swim mightily, only to discover that I had nothing around my chest – but something was indeed wrapped around my waist. I continued to swim for a few strokes, then stopped in the middle of the course and pulled my top up, while all the spectators looked on. Instant, grinding mortification.
I never wore that bathing suit again. As I grew older and swam seriously, the beauty of a one piece suit became clear, and to this day I’m a firm believer in the value of having your suit in one piece.
Another morsel of memory: some Olympic training coaches visited our team once and talked to me and another teammate – a tiny pixie with blonde hair for whom the water just seemed to part – about whether we’d be interested in a serious training camp. I can’t remember what happened after that; they may have talked to our parents, who nixed the idea. But it’s nice to think about, all these decades later.