In 1944, Chub was in the Coast Guard, teaching at General Motors Institute of
Technology. I joined him in June, and we lived in a hot, stuffy upstairs
apartment in Flint, Mich.
I convinced the Parks and Recreation Department that I could teach children to
swim without organizing formal classes. It was a new thing in Flint, teaching
swimming to the masses. If a person could keep his head up, he was swimming. I
had taught large groups as a volunteer for the Red Cross. I was to go to a
different pool each day of the week and would save gas-rationing stamps by
bicycling to work.
Children were eager to learn water stunts and games. I began by working with
three or four girls who could hold their noses and duck underwater -- but
couldn’t float or swim. Soon I had a dozen boys and girls walking underwater,
hopping like kangaroos and going under an imaginary bridge. They crowded
around to learn new skills like hungry cattle at a feed bunk. We organized a
senior lifesaving class for better swimmers, and one of the fellows from that
class helped me save the life of a little boy who tried to swim across the
deep end -- and couldn’t.
I was going toward the dressing area when someone screamed, “Hey, this kid’s
drowned!” A boy was holding another boy against the side of the pool, pulling
him by the hair and trying to lift his face above the water. I grabbed the
child’s wrist, yanked him to the deck, straddled his legs and pressed on his
back. To no one in particular, I barked, “Get a lot of dry towels.” “Get a
doctor.” “Call an ambulance.”
“Place, swing forward slowly, release and sit back,” slowly, over and over.
I had taught hundreds of students to do this, but I’d never needed the skill
before. The boy’s skin was a bluish-gray color. His cheek bones, jaw bones and
ribs made white marks through the blue, and he was stiff. I suspected rigor
mortis. Joe from my lifesaving class came running saying, “They want a dime a
towel.” “Get ’em anyway!” What were the on-duty lifeguards doing? They were
entertaining the onlookers, telling about an earlier drowning that happened in
that pool! Joe came back with an arm load of towels. “Place, swing forward
slowly...” Between back pressures, Joe and I scooted the victim to a dry
spot, and he put dry towels under him, rubbed him dry and moved the crowd
“Place, swing forward....” Suddenly the boy buckled up and floundered
wildly. I sat down on his legs and held his shoulders down. Joe held his head.
Wait. Watch. Be ready to press again. Then he vomited explosively. More
towels. The boy relaxed. Wait. Watch. “Where’s Mark?” he mumbled. Life!
Thank you, God! Mark was the friend who was trying to lift the boy’s face out
of the water. The ambulance crew put the boy on a stretcher and left with its
siren wailing as I made my way down the steps on wobbly legs. Alone in that
poorly lighted, wet basement, I said, aloud: “Thank you for this victory, for
my being here, for the Red Cross who taught me and for Joe. Give me strength
to teach hundreds of others who will someday be in the right spot at the right
time.” I bicycled home and crawled into bed, in shock.