You already know about Mother getting her driver’s license (which she did not do until after we had moved to Decatur when I was nine years old). You also know that Mother did not often participate in fun activities with her family and that my sister Lindy and I learned to do things with Dad or on our own. If you have read about our Saturdays in Taylorville, you know how we handled being on our own. Now it’s time to switch gears and tell you about a different side of Mother.
Surprise! Sometimes Mother would take us to the beach at ! My sister and I loved the water and the opportunity to go swimming was wonderful. As you may remember, of we two sisters, one was quite good a swimmer and the other one (me) couldn’t get past the beginning swim class. Because Mother had one daughter who didn’t swim well. you might think that she would be especially vigilant; but you would be wrong.
Once Mother had driven us to the beach at Lake Decatur, she would walk through the locker room and spread her large blue blanket on the sand. She would put on her dark sunglasses and begin to smoke cigarettes as she basked in the sun. Lindy and I would run for the water since we had no intention of listening to Mother complain about the heat, the location of her blanket, and the lack of appropriate refreshments (they did not serve margaritas, rum and Cokes, or any other sort of adult beverage at Lake Decatur, much to Mother’s chagrin).
Needless to say, Mother did not mention to us anything about using sunscreen or that perhaps we should stay out of the sun for part of the day. She was actually quite grateful to have a day to sit in the sun and pretend that she had no responsibilities as she slathered baby oil on herself and worked to perfect her tan.
Lindy and I stayed near the shore and played in the water and sand. We usually found some of our friends from school and began to play with them. Normally, it was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
On one occasion, an older man started paying a lot of attention to me. He told me I reminded him of Gertrude Ederle, and of course I had no clue who she was. He then explained that she was the first woman to swim the English Channel, so you know that I actually had nothing in common with her!
Next he asked me if I knew how to float on my back and when I said “No,” he offered to help me. He told me to lay down on the water and he told me he would hold me up. Okay, I know you are already thinking, “What a pervert,” but my sister and I were fairly sheltered. This was about to change.
As he held me up in the water, I realized “Hey, I was floating!”
At the very same time, I realized I needed to get away from the creepy old guy.
Oh, my family is leaving.
I said as I ran toward the large blue blanket. I was trembling when I got to my mother but with her usual great maternal instincts she ignored me. She eventually acknowledged my presence by grumbling:
Stop getting sand on the blanket. I don’t know why you kids can’t stay in the water longer. What is wrong with you?
All I could think to say was:
I guess I am just tired.
I never mentioned the older man to my mother and luckily I did not run into him again. That day at the beach was far from normal.