I want to tell you how I learned to swim, but first I shall invoke some memories of where I learned. The date was 1950 or 1951, and around this time – there were polio scares every summer – we did not go to public pools. We spent some time at the bay beach near Jones Beach Stadium (Long Island), where I generally played in the sand. But when we visited Grandma Paula, we swam almost every day.
Her farm was in the lower Catskills near the Ashokan reservoir. We usually went to the “Cold Spot” or to the “Spillway pond”. The Spillway pond was the preferred place, but its water consisted of runoff from the Ashokan, and in dry years there was no pond at all. In wet years, the pond was deep and its current too fierce.
The Cold Spot was always the same, wonderfully swampy with water spiders, wasps, and reeds in many different clusters and shapes. After we swam there, our parents carefully plucked the leeches from our bodies.
Rarely, we swam at “The Weir”, a great expanse of shallow water. I'm not sure why we generally avoided the Weir, but perhaps the reason was a retaining wall of the Ashokan that loomed fifty feet above, shutting out the sunlight on even the brightest afternoons.
I learned to swim at the Spillway, rather suddenly, and tomorrow I plan to tell you about it.