I was flipping channels tonight while Shawn and the boys played a computer game and came across an English movie. One of the characters, a therapist I believe, asked a depressed school teacher, "What's your happiest memory?" The teacher couldn't answer. She had no happy memories. No wonder she was depressed.
But as I thought about it, I realized that's kind of a hard question -- not coming up with a memory, but narrowing it down to just one! Then I thought, hhmm, this could be a good series for my blog! So I think Wednesdays will be devoted to happiest memories. I love telling stories and this will be a good opportunity to write down some from my earlier years. So let's get going. These will be in no particular order, just whatever happy memory comes to mind when I sit down to type.
A Handful of Mud
After several failed attempts of summer swimming lessons at the public pool in Guthrie Center, my mother lamented to her aunt-in-law Ermadale that she didn't think we'd ever learn to swim. Ermadale, a spry and sassy woman in her 60s, offered to teach us.
Forget chlorine and concrete pools. We learned to swim in the pond. Gerald's pond -- the greatest body of water in Iowa. Ermadale and husband Gerald had a fascinating acreage and collection of oddities. The pond had a big sign that said: "Welcome to Belly Acres". There was a purple outhouse in one corner with pictures of naked ladies and naughty comics. There was "Boothill" with two or three fake gravestones. There was a log with a little boy statue fishing. There was a big yellow spider made from metal. There was a gazebo for picnics with a triangle you could ring. There was a little shed that housed the fishing poles and inflatables. It was just a really cool place.
About 10 or 15 silver leaf maple trees ringed the pond and rustled in the summer breeze to create one of the most relaxing sounds and sights I've ever experienced. (Memories of those trees have gotten me through two natural childbirth deliveries and countless stressful situations. They are my "happy place.")
Of the four of us, I think I was the most motivated to learn to swim. I was around 8 years old and took to the water quickly. We started with the doggie paddle and moved on to the breast stroke, or something like it. Erma's goal was to make us confident and keep us afloat so we didn't drown in the murky water.
After two weeks of swim classes, we had a picnic/party at the pond to show off our new skills to our parents and grandparents. First, we all swam from the little dock to the big dock -- 30 feet across in water 8-foot deep. Then we took turns jumping off the dock -- dazzling the crowd with cannon balls, twists and dives. And then, the big show stopper -- jumping off the diving board. The diving board was a thick, foreboding plank of wood underneath a group of silver maple trees. There was a hand-painted sign that said, "Don't Molest the Tadpoles." That sign puzzled me for years.
I was scared of the diving board in the same way you're scared to ride roller coasters -- it was dangerous and thrilling and fun and terrifying all at once. Sometimes I walked to the end and was frozen with fear, too scared to jump. But I was determined to dive off it that night.
Ermadale was stationed not far away in her floating recliner chair that had cup holders for her drink and cigarettes. When I got to the end of the board, she smiled at me and gave me the courage to dive in.
I put my arms above my head, took a deep breath and was ready to launch when my dad yelled, "I bet you can't touch the bottom!" I dove in with my mind repeating his challenge... Remember, this was a pond. You usually couldn't see your own hand 1 foot below the surface. So I knew my dad would want proof or he'd never believe that I'd swam all the way to the bottom. So instead of the shallow dive I had planned, I streaked through the water until my hands plunged into thick, gooey, Iowa mud -- the proof I needed! I grabbed two big handfuls and shot back to the surface. As I broke through near Erma, I raised my hands triumphantly over my head with that gooey, gray slime dripping down.
Before I could say a word, she started laughing that deep, gravelly, belly laugh of hers and said, "Look at that Kevin! She brought you a handful of mud! I guess she showed you!" And then she laughed and laughed and smiled at me like I was the smartest kid in the world! With adrenalin racing through me, I felt pure joy at that moment. I was happy and proud and excited.
The swimming exhibition was followed by an evening of Grandma's chocolate cake and homemade ice cream, never-ending praise from our grandmas and mom, and for me, the thrill of hearing Erma repeat my dive story at least three times to the crowd. It was a great night. And all because of a handful of mud from the bottom of the pond.