Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Teacher made mermaids out of little mud-crawlers

When I was young, kids did what we called "mud crawl" at Flat Rock swimming hole in Grindstone Creek. We’d squat down in the water, put our hands on the creek’s firm mud bottom and "walk" them along near shore while splashing up a storm with our feet and legs. We called that swimming.

Some parents at Flat Rock threw their kids into deep water and yelled "Sink or swim!" People laughed as the poor kids struggled to survive; they clapped when the "swimmers" reached safety, frightened and half-drowned. Some learned to dog-paddle with that experience, and others never went near the water again.

My brother and I had no such brutal swimming lesson! Mom made us a float from a thick slab of cork that was left over after Dad insulated a large cooling room for our dairy products.

I clung on to that float and kicked both legs at the same time to move all around in our favorite water hole. In time I was ducking my head under water and moving around without the cork float. I’d come up, take a quick breath and go back down. I began pulling with both arms and kicking with both kegs - sort of like a frog - and could go all over Flat Rock swimming hole. By stroking fast, I could keep my head up and see where I was going.

I had never seen anybody swim any better, and most kids didn’t swim at all. When I visited cousins at Moscow Mills, they swam dog paddle, and I swam like a water bug and was pretty daring about jumping into deep water from high banks or off an old log. No one I knew could swim any better.

We seventh-grade girls at University Laboratory School could choose swimming for our physical education activity by paying $5 a semester, but there was no place in Mid-Missouri for men and boys to swim indoors.

I managed to keep a personal checking account of at least $30 in the Columbia Savings Bank and gladly wrote my own check for this chance to swim in winter. We girls had to run about three blocks to the University Women’s Gym.

But I wasn’t ready for this shocker!

On that first day, Miss Ruby Cline called roll at the shallow end of the pool and said, "All who can swim are to go to the deep water, and those who can’t swim, stay in the shallow."

I can see her now as she followed us toward the deep and stopped me halfway!

"Sue, that’s not real swimming," she said. "Go back to the shallow end."

She even pointed the way! She didn’t mean to be cruel, but I was crushed!

I soon learned to worship Miss Cline for all of the wonderful new things she taught me during my high school years.

Everyone was talking about a daring swimmer, Gertrude Ederle, who swam the English Channel.

I was old enough and skilled enough to pass Miss Cline’s class in American Red Cross Senior Life Saving when I was a freshman at the university. We always wore the ugly, gray cotton bathing suits with legs longer than the skirts! A maid washed and dried white towels and gray cotton suits after each use, day in and day out.

Miss Cline coached me in diving between classes so I could pass the rigid requirements of a students’ club called "Missouri Mermaids."

I proudly wore the gold club insignia on my new black bathing suit. We girls put on one swimming show each year, including comedy, beautiful water formations and water ballet - plus some educational parts - for the paying public!

Synchronized swimming was beginning to replace the simple "swim to the music" technique called water ballet.

To look like "real" mermaids, we used makeup to draw fish scales from our thighs down to our ankles, and we walked spraddle-legged to keep from smearing the black scale marks on our upper thighs.

We could wear our own colorful bathing suits when Miss Cline knew there would be guests watching from the balcony.

My suit was red, all wool, with white stripes around the skirt - as seen on the front cover of my first book, "My First 84 Years."

Rubber bathing caps were required to protect the filters from accumulations of hair. Nude soap showers were semi-supervised before and after each swim. Then came swim team and my lifesaving examiner’s certificate, the highest level for people not on the ARC staff.

To be continued.

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