Tonight, as the weekenders returned to their lives in town and the families are tucked in their houses, Kirk and I floated with perfect contentment on the glassy calm waters near the damn on the lake where we live. No other boats, no motors or jetskis or screaming kids on tubes, just me, my hubby, and the quiet lapping of the water kissing the boat and caressing our skin.
Those of you who know me in person can attest to the fact that I love water. Yes, I love living on the lake, and playing water sports like wake-surfing and wakeboarding, and I can happily stay on a boat from dawn to dusk. But that is just the surface of the love affair which started as an infant when my father unceremoniously dropped me into a pool and let my instincts figure out the rest.
Wake surfing in the dead of winter
I have spoken before of my Nana and Papa’s house, nestled in the endless suburban grid of Northern Indiana, not far from Chicago. What I didn’t mention was that my mother’s cousin, my godmother, lived only a few blocks away. My Aunt Penny is a blonde beauty, charming and vivacious and endlessly generous. I appreciate all of these things now, but as a young child, the number one thing to love about Aunt Penny was the glorious pool in their backyard.
It rose like a great, blue monument from their tiny, fenced-in, tree-lined backyard, beckoning me with all the allure of the sirens in Homer’s magical odyssey. I yearned for the summer visits to my grandparents, where I would suit up and walk the short distance with my siblings, melting orange sherbet push-pops in one hand, inflated plastic floats in the other.
My brother and me in Aunt Penny’s backyard
Once in, it took nearly an act of congress to get me out. As soon as my mother started to ask me to get out, I would immediately submerge, coming up only long enough to gasp for air before plunging into the four-foot depths once more. Inevitably, my sister or father had to fish me out, and at last I would be deposited on the deck like a waterlogged sack of potatoes, roundly scolded by my mother, and unceremoniously dragged back to Nana and Papa’s. Exhausted, sunburned, and happy, I would sleep like tuckered-out puppy, dreaming of the next time I could doggie paddle the day away.
Closer to home, I remember early morning trips to the Olympic-sized pool at Tom Sawyer State Park for my swim lessons, when the water was still frigid and the sun too low to scale the fence and warm us. Shivering in my rainbow colored swimsuit, clutching my arms to my chest while I waited with breathless anticipation for the instructor to tweet her whistle as our signal to dive in. Breaking the surface of the water, I would come up quickly, panting, heart pounding wildly in my ears but still not loud enough to override the sound of my chattering teeth. My limbs flailed gracelessly through the water, trying to stay afloat but also trying to warm my tiny, scantily clad 8-year-old body.
By the end of the hour, I would be giggling and slipping through the chlorine saturated water, wishing I could dive deeper but heeding the painful warning of my eardrums to stay afloat.
Family trips to Butler State Park when I was a little older found the five of us sitting on the shore eating watermelon, contemplating the paddleboats before finally wading into the murky brown lake. Dad floated on his back like a polar bear, like he was born to live his days drifting on his back through the waters of time. Before long, I would pester him to play with us, and he would loop my arms around his neck and warn me to hold on before taking a great deep breath and launching us into the chocolate milk water. He would swim in long, powerful strokes, propelling us forward; a polar bear with his cub.
Soon my lungs would start to burn, and I would squirm with the need to let go, but still I held on as we glided, fast and straight, nowhere and everywhere, like astronauts in the endless expanse of explorable universe. Sometimes I made it until he rocketed us to the surface, sometimes I had to let go. Sucking in air, my need to laugh with joy and wonder warred with my need to breathe. My dad would turn and splash me with great walls of water, and I would beg him to take me under again.
When I was eleven, my parents packed me off on a Delta plane, back when they could wave teary-eyed from the terminal as I skipped down the jetway to adventure. I was off to stay with my Aunt Dee and Uncle Kevin for a month in California, two wonderful but foreign relatives whom I could only recalling meeting once before.
My aunt and uncle introduced me to yachts, and swordfish fillets, and the Pacific Ocean. Uncle Kevin and my cousin Scott also introduced me to boogie boarding, and I remember the thrill of that first wave picking me up and hurtling me towards shore, its power overwhelming yet somehow controlled. We played for hours, sometimes catching the perfect wave, sometimes being passed by as if that particular swell had better things to do than giving a pre-adolescent a piggy-back ride. At one point, we decided to paddle out farther, where the waves were fewer but more impressive when they made an appearance. Waiting patiently, my feet dangling in the water as I rocked gently in the undulating water, I will never forget the sight of a grey fin breaking the surface nearby.
My heart skidded to a halt; I hadn’t seen Jaws at this point, but I didn’t need to for my mind to conjure the worst possible fate. I flailed my limbs, trying to propel myself toward the impossibly distant shoreline when another fin slipped above the surface even closer, this time accompanied by the spurt of air from a small blowhole before the creature disappeared once more. Soon another splash drew my attention, and I was wide-eyed with wonder when a dolphin jumped through the air before diving eagerly beneath the ocean once more.
The fear drained from me like bathwater from a tub, swirling and twirling as it left. I laughed and swam, marveling in these magical beings I had only seen on the glowing, two-dimensional screen of our ancient television. Here they danced and glided through the water, more skilled than ballerinas, more beautiful than a thousand sunsets. From this moment, I wrote an essay that won me a scholarship into the Marine Science program at my chosen university years later.
When people used to roll there eyes and quip that I wanted to swim with dolphins when I told them my major, I would haughtily shake my head and inform them that I was in marine science with a focus on chemistry and physics, but the little girl within me smiled and knew that it was because I swam with dolphins that I was in the program at all.
There are so many other stories, like when my parents gave me Scuba lessons for my 16th birthday, or when I spent my summers as a lifeguard, or even when I fell in love with my husband at Rough River when I was 17. But it all blends together, like tributaries rushing toward the mighty river; it all contributes to the completeness, the utter contentment when I glide through the glassy waters of the lake on a late summer day, enveloped by the warm, silken waters heated by the waning sun of a lazy August day. Just me, and the setting sun, and the wide open lake, inviting me to swim, to explore, to twirl weightlessly through its depths or float effortlessly on its surface. All those memories wrap around me like a welcoming cocoon, bringing me peace, and joy, and simple pleasure.
Yesterday, my husband and I were cruising home on the ski boat after a day spent playing on the water. I sat beside him, draped across colorful towels and squinting into the setting, pink sun. Kirk leaned over and smiled at me, and I smiled back. “I love when you swim,” he said, running a hand over my outstretched arm.
I looked at him in confusion; what a strange thing to say. “Why?”
He leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. “Because it makes you happy.”
I grin back, trailing a finger over his stubbly cheek. Such a sweet husband, and so very, very perceptive.
Do you have a special place that makes you happy, calm, or wonderfully content?
For a recipe this week, I want you to go out and do what I did this weekend:
Buy a watermelon. Slice it into thick wedges. Sit in the sun and enjoy :) Sometimes, it really is the simple things in life that can really make us appreciate the beauty—or flavors—around us.