When I was very young, while my mother was still alive although quite ill (as she had been from before I was born), all the Blooms would rent two shared cottages for a couple of weeks each summer at White Sands Beach, Olde Lyme CT. While the men worked weekdays at Bloom’s Photo Supply in Springfield MA, a few hours away, my grandmother, mother and Bloom aunts took care of me, my sister, and Bloom cousins.
We spent those long summer days playing at the beach and spent our evenings playing card games (for the women) and board games (for us kids) on the porches while listening to what’s now called classic radio. I don’t remember my mother very well; she died when I was only five. But I’m told that she loved these family times and contributed to those weekday evenings by reading aloud to the younger children.
When the DADs (and I still think of them in capital letters, perhaps because time with them was such a treat) came down for the weekend (which might only be for Saturday night and most of Sunday because the store was open on Saturdays), the colors got brighter, the weather got better, and everything we did was more fun — or so I remember. When your mother is very ill, and you’re constantly reminded not to make too much noise, not to disturb her, to be on your best behavior, it’s no surprise that the arrival of your healthy, full of life and good humor DAD, had that effect.
Although most memories of my earliest years have been lost in the mists, some things still stand out quite clearly. One such memory is learning to swim, learning to love the water and never fear it, when I was about three. And it’s that love of the water which has served me so very well, with even this blog post written in my head during today’s swim. For me, the greatest luxury in the world, after being able to afford as many books as I want, is having my own swimming pool just outside my office door.
We little kids had to stay very close to shore when just our mothers and grandmother were in residence because none of them were great swimmers. Frankly, Jewish women of that generation didn’t do sports, although they all (except for Bubbi Bloom) got into golf a little later in life. There might have been lifeguards, but I sure don’t remember any. So we played on the beach and in the water close to shore, while nervous mothers shouted warnings.
But when the DADs came down, everything changed. There was a floating platform anchored offshore a good distance from the beach, and my DAD, Jack, was a strong swimmer who loved swimming out to that dock. I really don’t know when it happened, but at about three I apparently went from riding his back out to the dock to swimming along beside him to that wonderful place where the little kids couldn’t go.
And once I began swimming, there was no stopping me. I’ve loved the water ever since, rarely tiring even in open water (ask me about the mile ocean race I did at Club Med one time, to my husband’s astonishment), but also never acquiring any particularly correct strokes or breathing. Swimming ashore from our charter sailboat all over the Caribbean as soon as I’d set that anchor was a tradition on yearly ladies charters. Swimming is now my favorite form of exercise because it’s the one place that my arthritic joints don’t hurt. And whether doing laps or running through a formal aquatic program with “weights” etc., I do some of my best thinking and writing in my head.
As a child, there was always an adult telling me, usually many times before it took, that it was time to come out of the water. Left to my own devices, I might have appeared only when really hungry. But for me, childhood gave way to adult time pressures long before it should have done, and swimming has since then been bounded by the responsibilities of adulthood. So time in the water went from play to purpose, from just hanging out to exercise. But I am beginning to dream of a time in my life when adult pressures give way, finally, to childhood delights, and I plan to spend a good bit of that time in the water.