Summer’s coming: Be careful out there

Swimming season is upon us and many of us will be taking children to the lake, pool or beach. And, while most of us have had experiences with the hazards associated with swimming, a reminder might be in order at this time of year. So, in the interest of keeping us all safe, here goes.

Years ago, in a place called Whittle Springs, Tennessee, there was a humongous swimming pool. It had a very deep end for diving, a deep end for people who could swim well and a shallow end for people who wanted to float. I was a pretty good floater, and, at the age of 13, could swim just enough to get into trouble and once in a while drifted into the very deep (12 feet, due to the extremely high dive) end, which was bounded by a rope. You could play on the rope but if you let go on the very deep end, bad things could happen, like disorientation.

The very deep end had a lifeguard the year I was there whose name was Mike Lucci. He sat in a lifeguard stand high above the three diving boards, a low board, a high board and a board similar to the one Lacy Underall dove from in the movie “Caddyshack.” Lucci was a good lifeguard, kept order and discipline, but was of course focused on not allowing anything in the way of accidents to happen to the girls around the pool. And there were lots of pretty girls at Whittle Springs infatuated with that Tennessee linebacker, with the Italian good looks, who eventually played for the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions.

The Whittle Springs swimming area was just a small part of the park, which was a meeting place for young people from way back in the ‘40s. My mom and dad would go there on dates and when he came home on leave during World War II, they would meet there when she did USO shows. There were no drugs to speak of back then, probably a lot of beer consumed, not much theft, maybe a few fights, mainly over girls, so Whittle Springs was a focal point of social life for young people around Knoxville for a lot of years. But I digress.

One particular day, when floating got boring and 13-year-old girls were out of the question, I drifted toward the rope. I remember looking up at the lifeguard stand, seeing Lucci watching some folks take dives in the deep end and then I shoved the inner tube I was on away and got on the rope. Swimming under water was fun and challenging at 13, so I went under several times trying to touch the bottom of the pool. On one of the last times down I became disoriented with my eyes closed and panicked, being saved only by luck as I found a rung on the ladder on the side of the pool. When I surfaced, I realized no one even knew I was in trouble. It was scary and embarrassing at the same time so I told no one.

Years later at a wedding party in Savannah, I walked into a covered pool area with several adults sitting by the pool chatting. As I walked by I noticed something near the bottom of the pool, recognized a small body and jumped in, clothes and all to pull them out. It was a small child who — unnoticed by the adults — had slipped over the side. He had been holding his breath but I suppose, like me, had become disoriented and panicked. No one was aware of his being in the water, much less in trouble.

The lessons here are simple. Small children cannot be around water unsupervised or unwatched, even for a second. Teenagers will test their limits in water. It only takes one second for someone to slip under and then they are out of sight and very importantly, we make no sound under water. Screams of help are only heard from those who are trying to swim to safety.

Lifeguards are wonderful but need the help of all of us, as we not only watch our children but the children of others as well.

Let’s all have a safe summer this year by being the guardians we need to be around water.