At this point in my renewed blogging life on Blogspot, I need to give props to my cousin TJ who, in that spooky mode of communication that blood relatives have with each other, gave me the drop-kick I needed to move my blogging here. He’s a masters swimmer now in Colorado, having grown up with the sport in Pittsburgh and Chicago, and he’s been an enthusiastic supporter of my blogging.
His side of the family was the swimming side. Mine was the running and ball-sport side. I never got to see his side swim when they were competing in high school and college. I really wish I had. It might have prepared me a little better for married life.
But it’s ironic that TJ and I now connect because of swimming. One of my first fully formed memories of him involves a pool. But it doesn’t involve either him or me swimming in a pool. It involves him, as a preschooler, flinging a cat into a hotel pool.
Now, to be fair, he has maintained ever since then that he only wanted to see if the cat could swim. Which it did. But I can tell you it ran a heckuva lot better than it swam, once it got out of the pool.
That episode occurred during our families’ last visit to a lovely hotel near Bucks County, Penn., which our grandmother Meemo had selected for a family reunion. Not long after TJ heaved the hotel owner's cat into the pool, his sister Meg vomited split-pea soup all over the hotel’s dining room. And then the next day, after a wicked overnight thunderstorm, I sat on the hotel’s stone wall overlooking the Pennsylvania Canal and it crumbled beneath me.
A few years later, when one of our parents called to inquire about staging another family reunion there, we were told that the hotel no longer allowed visitors under the age of 13. I can’t imagine why.
Now my other swimming cousin is Mary Beth, TJ’s oldest sister. She swam in college before going on to become an emergency-room doctor and now a med-school professor. Knowing what I know now about swimming, I blame the sport for warping Mary Beth in ways that nearly put my daughter into psychotherapy.
It was about eight years ago that I got a call from one of my aunts, telling me to turn on the Discovery Channel at 8 p.m. because Mary Beth was going to be on it! So I let my then 7-year-old daughter, Little Miss Coach, stay up past her bedtime to watch Mary Beth on TV.
To watch Mary Beth get buried alive in a snow bank so she could test some fabulous invention that draws oxygen out of snow (using a converter tube built into a ski vest). Apparently her swimming background played a significant role in her getting the nod to go under the faux avalanche.
So, all of Mary Beth’s scientist buddies (and the television viewers) watched her on a closed-circuit feed from inside the snow bank to see how long she lasted before giving the signal to dig her out. Mary Beth lasted long enough to put my daughter into a fetal position, that’s how long she lasted. I don’t think Little Miss Coach has watched the Discovery Channel since then.
And I further think, having now met enough swimmers, I can understand why, to Mary Beth, getting buried alive in a snow bank would seem like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Just like, for TJ, flinging a cat into a pool also still seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to have done. Testing the limits is just so typically “swimmer.”