The city Parks and Recreation Department employed me to go to each of its four swimming pools to help kids learn to swim. It was a new thing in Flint to teach swimming to the masses. If a person could keep his head up, he was swimming! I had sold the idea that I could teach those eager kids.
Of course I had no experience teaching that way, but we needed the money. They handed me a map showing Flint’s four pools, and I was on my own. I stashed away my gas rationing stamps and rode my bike to work each day.
When I arrived at the first pool, more than 100 children were lined up waiting to get in.
I lined up with them and found them eager to learn water stunts and games.
I began by working with four girls who could hold their noses and duck under - but couldn’t float or swim.
I soon had a crowd walking under water, hopping like kangaroos and "going under a bridge." Teaching children eager to learn is like feeding hungry cattle. They crowded around me to learn.
It was the same at each pool. We organized a senior lifesaving class for older teens, and one of the fellows from that class, Joe, helped me save a life one afternoon.
I was walking toward the dressing area when I heard a boy scream, "Hey, this kid’s drowned!" He was trying, unsuccessfully, to lift a boy’s face above the water.
I grabbed the child’s wrist and yanked him to the deck, straddled his legs and pressed on his back as I barked out orders. "Get a lot of dry towels!" I shouted. "Call an ambulance!"
As I worked, I repeated, "Place, swing forward slowly, release, sit back," the way I had taught hundreds of students to do, but I’d never needed to use this skill.
The child was a bluish gray color, like the worn knees of jeans. His cheekbones, jawbones and ribs showed white through the blue skin. He was stiff, and I feared rigor mortis.
Joe, the fellow from my lifesaving class, came running, saying, "They want me to pay a dime a towel!"
I screamed, "Just grab an armload and run!"
Between back pressures, we dragged the child to a dry spot, and Joe put towels under and over him.
Where were the lifeguards? They were entertaining the onlookers, telling about another drowning that had happened in that pool!
The boy who had tried to get his friend’s face out of the water was saying that they had tried to swim across the deep end; his friend didn’t get far before he went down.
"Place, swing forward..." Suddenly, the stiff body buckled up. I sat down on him and held his shoulders, and Joe held his head so he couldn’t injure himself.
He vomited explosively! Life!
The ambulance attendants whisked him away, and I made my way to the dressing room on wobbly legs.
I stood in that wet basement, praying out loud, "Thank you, God, for this victory, for being here when needed, for the Red Cross who taught me, and for Joe! Give me strength to teach others who might be in the right spot when they’re needed someday."