Summers in Plymouth: Always Wear a One Piece Bathing Suit

Here I am, missing my front teeth and with the new no-fuss bowl haircut. That's my Mom and my new baby brother.
Here I am, missing my front teeth and with the new no-fuss bowl haircut. That’s my Mom and my new baby brother.

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

At the Eel River Beach Club with my cousin Peter
At the Eel River Beach Club with my cousin Peter

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.




21 thoughts on “Summers in Plymouth: Always Wear a One Piece Bathing Suit”

  1. That would have been a horrifying feeling with the bathers Noelle. This is the most glorious description of someone – a tiny pixie with blonde hair for whom the water just seemed to part. Beautiful post Noelle 🙂

  2. I agree with Belinda–it is a beautiful post.
    I can stay afloat, but that’s about it, and I managed to pass the swimming test that was then required at my college as an undergraduate–but I’m sure it was not a pretty sight!
    I’m a good cook, but I can’t sew. It’s funny to me that your mom would think a bathing suit would be an easy project. 🙂

  3. Oh how awful. I can just imagine how embarrassing it must have been for you and for your mother! One pieces are definitely the way to go when doing serious swimming or anything involving lots of movement in the water. I’m a terrible swimmer so I always admire people who are good swimmers. What fun about the Olympic coach. While it’s not a life I would want to live having the opportunity to do so would be a nice memory!

    1. My mother, thankfully, wasn’t there! The outfit I am wearing in the picture with my mother was made by my grandmother and I have on a ONE piece suit in the other!

  4. Ha the stuff of nightmare’s; must be a generation thing, these uber competent mothers. Mine too would do all the jobs about the house and cook etc. She loathed cleaning though and did whatever she could to avoid it.

  5. Oh, I felt your mortification. I swam with a summer team from the age of 7 to 17, and I had the same experience when a newly developed teen. Never wore a two-piece again! Great post.

  6. Oh, wow…. I would be so mortified! I’d never be able to swim again!! 🙁 I’m definitely a believer in the one piece. I only ever wore a two piece when I was in the single digits.

    1. I might have transgressed with a two piece when I was in college but it’s hard enough now not to look like a series of rubber tires that a one piece is essential!

  7. I’m a big believer in the one piece swimming suit too. Although I don’t believe you when you say you couldn’t pull a two piece one, but one is more elegant… And more comfortable for swimming. Some day I’ll tell you my story with a strapless bra (clue… never wear it during an operation when you can’t touch anything due to wearing sterile gloves).

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