In one of his former lives, I am certain that my father had gills. The water was never too cold, the air never too chilly, the surf never too high to keep him out of the water.
He'd shallow dive off the poolside, avoiding diving boards because the impact jarred his ear canals. He'd point his fingers and his toes and create a straight arrow with his body and whoooosh across the bottom of the pool. He was as likely to come up underneath me as he was to arrive beside me. Swimming with him was always an adventure.
He'd burst from below, shaking his head and exhaling. If there was water in his mouth, those around him were sprayed. He thought it was funny; I did, too, until I turned 8. Still, he was having such a good time, it felt churlish to berate him; I hid my shame by pretending that I didn't know him. Once I became a parent, though, I could hardly wait for him to arise and spray my children. They found him delightful and I, safely ensconced on the edge of the pool, did too.
He was a champion wave rider, a body surfer before the term was coined. Growing up on the ocean, spending summers wearing nothing but a swim suit, frolicking in the Atlantic Ocean with 20 or 30 of his first cousins, their parents on the beach, under umbrellas, eagle eyes watching their every move. I learned water safety from my dad, and they were lessons that stuck.
Never swim alone.
Never hold anyone under water.
Look before you jump.
Don't assume it's deep enough.
Beware of the tides.
Just typing those lines brought the smell of seawater to my desk. I think there's sand between my toes, too.
We swam at the county pool and the town pool and the pool at the beach club. Daddooooo could be convinced to join us in the water, no matter how tired he was. He carried a bathing suit, a towel, and a pair of goggles in the trunk of his car. If a pool appeared, he would be ready. Our motel choices on summer vacations were predicated on the presence of a pool in the parking lot. If a pool was unavailable, we drove on.
The ocean was his favored milieu, though. He liked the unpredictability of the waves, the feel of the sand under his feet, the salty tang that remained on his skin as he shook himself off. He'd hold a child on his shoulders forever, taking him off only to clutch him to his chest when a really big one was coming in. The waves made the heat and the crowds bearable. He taught us to jump over the little ones when we were tiny and to allow ourselves to be propelled by the big ones when we grew. He was a cheerleader, urging us to go longer and faster. The fact that we couldn't hear him over the waves made no difference; he was yelling and that was all that mattered.
He'd come out of the water, exhausted and dripping, and collapse on the sand. Though we all had towels, he didn't bother with one. He'd scoop up sand for a pillow, splay his arms out, crucifixion style, and he'd nap. The man never had trouble sleeping, which made our forays into covering him with sand all the more delicious. His naps were short and deep; his snoring rivaled the crashing waves. Our squeals of joy were muted while we were working, and then one of us would get a bucket of sea water and dump it on his head or his butt or his toes and we'd stand back and watch him roar.
Imagine a St Bernard shaking off the snow... that's what he looked like... that's the image of Daddooooo at the beach which sits front and center in my brain.... that's what made him smile. Then, it was a race around G'ma's chair-cum-umbrella and into the water, some of us chasing the others and none of us caring who was It.
I'll go out to my pool this afternoon. I'll splash, I'll swim laps, I'll practice lunges and side-walking and going up steps. While I'm doing all that, I'll be thinking of Daddooooo sending whale spouts my way. The good memories never fade. They come back to enhance my todays.