by S. J. Heron
I grew up in the 1950’s in a midwestern suburb. Summers were idyllic, but there was little to do except ride bikes, swing on the swings, or play dolls. Our parents were rather protective and didn’t allow us to wander far from home. We were often bored.
When the YMCA opened a facility in our neighborhood, the kids were thrilled. All the families joined. A gym, a trampoline, a swimming pool — and all within an area approved by our parents.
A group of us between 10 and 14 years old were most intrigued with the swimming pool. All of my friends and I signed up for swimming lessons and spent as much time as possible in that pool. We felt very safe there; usually one of our parents was there, sitting in the lounge chairs nearby, and a lifeguard was always present.
One of my best friends was rather timid and not a particularly good swimmer, but she loved that pool. We stayed in the shallower end for hours daily, often in water up to our necks. We played games, bounced up and down, and horsed around.
One day the pool was more crowded than usual at our end, and we edged into deeper water. I was confident at greater depths, having mastered basic swimming, but my friend didn’t like getting her face wet and had never passed the rudimentary course. We kept close to the side, hanging on with one hand as we moved.
Suddenly we were deeper than we intended, and my friend panicked. She lost contact with the pool edge and grabbed me around the neck. In an effort to get her face out of the water, she pushed me down and away from the edge. I struggled to surface, but she kept pushing me down, unaware she was close to drowning me.
Throughout this she didn’t call for help, which would have brought the lifeguard, and I couldn’t get my head above water to shout. It just looked like we were playing around. I thought we were going to die within yards of our parents.
Suddenly I felt myself being pulled to the surface by a nearby swimmer. He hauled us both up, asking, “Are you two all right?” He brought us to the pool edge and helped us crawl out.
I never knew who he was and didn’t have the presence of mind to even thank him. After recovering from the traumatic experience, I felt guilty for having allowed my friend and myself to get into such a situation.
She and I never spoke of it. We didn’t tell our parents for fear of losing our pool privileges. No one but the three of us was aware that anything untoward had happened.
I’m not sure I was aware back then of how close we came to a tragedy prevented by a stranger’s intervention. I send a very belated and heartfelt thank you to our mystery man.