A Sunny September Day

“It is September 24! You’ll catch your death.” Mom declared. “You may not go swimming with your friends.”


I couldn’t believe it. I’d finally, finally, finally been invited to the cool kids beach by Cathy, a seriously cool girl. And Mom was telling me that I couldn’t go. Or that I couldn’t go swimming, which was what people do at the beach.

We compromised. I got to go to the beach with a promise not to swim. A promise I was planning to break just as soon as it was out of my mouth. Mom wouldn’t be there – she’d never know. And she didn’t until much later.

Mom was being ridiculous, I thought – it was a warm September day, in the 80s. A perfect, last beach day of the year.

In spite of growing up on the beach, I was (and am) a rotten swimmer. I never really learned to get very far or very fast. I splash around in the water in something a half notch above a dog paddle.

But I love the water.

Early on I learned to back float forever. When I tire after my first 10 strokes, I turn over, point my head in the direction I want to go, and meander through the water. I watch the gulls overhead, see pictures in the clouds, daydream. It’s wonderful. Relaxing. Peaceful.  Not at all tiring.

In elementary school, Burying Hill Beach was where the cool kids went in the summer. It wasn’t my beach.  I was not generally invited there. But when school started that September, Cathy took a liking to me, and invited me to meet her and some other friends there.

In fact, there were tons of people at the beach that day. It was likely to be the last sunny, warm day for swimming at the beach. Everybody in 7th grade was there. Everybody in our class and all the other classes. The beach was packed.

For some reason I don’t recall, Cathy wanted to swim in the causeway that runs between Burying Hill and Sherwood Island State Park. All the cool kids did it. At least when the life guard wasn’t looking, they did. In fact, it was probably what the lifeguards spent most of their time doing all summer long – chasing people off the jetty and away from the causeway. Of course it was late September; there was no lifeguard. We were free to swim wherever we pleased.   As we stood there considering the other side, we heard half-hearted warnings from behind us, which, naturally, we ignored. We’d crossed to Sherwood Island earlier in the day. What was their problem?

Google Image, Natch.

Google Image, Natch.

“Race you across!” said Cathy. And in she went.

Ingrid and I looked at each other, shrugged, and dove in after Cathy, who quickly outpaced us. Soon, I was left far behind even mediocre swimmer Ingrid.

It had been really easy to swim the causeway just an hour or two ago. Even I managed it.  But of course, the tide had ebbed, and was now going out. And while the water looked completely placid, the tidal current was heading straight out. Fast.  And it took me with it, out towards Long Island, 30 wet miles away.

But don’t worry. Remember, I am a champion floater. Possibly the best back floater ever.  Olympic-quality floating.  (Hey, synchronized swimming is an event.  Don’t judge.)

I wasn’t scared in the least. I turned over on my back, pointed my head towards shore (I had long since passed the end of the jetty) and started kicking my feet and flapping my arms. I was making good progress, getting out of the strong part of the current. I was heading to Long Island a little more slowly. And besides, it was a beautiful day, the water was warm, the sky was blue. It was delightful. And I knew I’d make it back to shore. I only hoped I’d make it before dinner. I was supposed to be home by then.  If I didn’t make it, my mother’d kill me.

I don’t know how long I was floating, enjoying myself, when I was rudely interrupted. Some man just swam up to me and started shouting stuff to me.  At me.

“Put your arms around my neck,” he ordered. “And don’t be afraid. I’ve got you now.”

“Afraid of what?” I asked. “What does this guy want?” I wondered. Fortunately, I kept that thought to myself.

But I did as I was told for the first time that day, and held onto his neck. I must admit, that it was easier to see the crowd that had formed on the shore while my head was above the water.  What’s everybody looking at?

So the man towed me in, chatting all the while.

“You’re very calm. Some people panic,” he said.

Frankly, I was more panicked about having my arms around a strange man, to tell you the truth. That’s why people panic, I thought. It was quite humiliating, in fact.

As soon as we got in, somebody else immediately wrapped me up in a towel and started rubbing my arms and back as if I was suffering from hypothermia.

“I’m OK!” I kept saying over and over again. Why is everybody making such a fuss? I wondered.  What’s the big deal?  I would have made it.

I imagine I thanked him. I’m sure I did. Positive. I mean, I do have manners. I just can’t remember thanking him or anybody else.  I thought they’d overreacted.  (They hadn’t.)

It seemed that Cathy had made it to the other side. Ingrid, like me, had gotten back to dry land on some other unknown man’s back. I vowed to become a better swimmer, because it really is embarrassing to be hauled out of the water like a flounder.

I learned not long afterwards that Jenny L’s father had been the guy who fished me out.

Each of us went home, vowing never to tell our parents the story of that day. Nobody told.  Strangely, nobody else let our parents know, either.  Life was better when nobody was a tattle-tale.

But just like the promise I broke to my mother that day, I broke my pledge of silence.

I told Mom in 1982 when she was staying with me after my operation.

“What?!?!” she shouted. “Somebody saved your life and I didn’t even get to thank him?” She was mortified. Laughing, but mortified.

“You would have killed me yourself if you’d known at the time.”

“You are in such trouble for going swimming when I told you not to.”

“Mom, this happened in 1968.”

“… wait until I tell your Dad.”


*     *     *


In a couple of weeks I’ll be going to my 40th High School Reunion. I sure hope that Jenny’s there, and that her Dad is still alive. I hope that I can at last pass on my parents’ deepest thanks, and my own, for his unheralded rescue.


Filed under Childhood Traumas, Family, Huh?, Humor, Mom, Taking Care of Each Other

71 responses to “A Sunny September Day

  1. Did you ever figure out why they thought you were in trouble?


    • It may have been because I was a mile from shro. I was seriously far out there — and I had nightmares of this for years. I did need rescuing, although I think my chances of surviving were probably 50-50.

      I never swam there again!

      Sorry, Benze. Your comment got lost somewhere.


  2. Dear epic floater – I loved this story, everything about it, but mostly the way you told it and made me go there. And the fact that you still got in trouble for it years later. Does your mom know mine?


  3. Great story, even if you are no longer 54.5. I am tempted to leave a half answer here because it says there are 54 comments and I would like to watch your blog name. I missed my 40th last year, but I hope you get to go!


    • That’s so funny, Luanne! No, I am waaaay past 54.5. I decided to keep my incredibly stupid blog name. It turns out that 54.5 is the average age my two sisters reached. So every time I look at it I feel kind of lucky. So I keep it and count myself lucky.

      I do plan to go to the reunion but the turnout seems quite low. Oh well. I will have fun regardless.


  4. I once got into huge trouble when I was doing something my mother had forbidden me to do… and then of course I couldn’t tell her about it. I felt like every Leave It To Beaver episode I had ever seen.


    • Does it still make your stomach cringe? This memory still does that to me. Partly because I might have died, but mostly because I’d be in SOOOOOOO much trouble!


  5. You had me enthralled with this memory! Which then made me think of my own high school escapades in the mid-70’s — living in Pensacola, skipping school to go to the beach, coming home with a sunburn, “oh, we sat outside at lunch today,” wondering how my parents never really figured it out (they did eventually, of course).

    My now adult daughters, especially my youngest, had a few “moments” in school too … but overall, I gave my parents so much trouble and was blessed with daughters who didn’t. Reverse karma?

    Hope you are able to pass along your and your Mom’s sincere thanks to your friend’s father!


    • I’m so glad that your parents were as clueless as mine. I kept thinking all the while I wrote this that my long hair would have been a total mess and made it obvious that I’d been swimming. But did she notice? Nope. In her defense, she probably knew I’d gone swimming that day and just chose her battles! She did not know, though, that I’d nearly drowned.

      As for your daughters — either you lucked out or you were simply a good mother. I’ll go with the latter. My wild older sister, Judy, had three kids. They are all wonderful and kept stupid things to a minimum.

      I hope we can too. I am actually not even sure if she graduated with me — folks in that town moved a lot. And I haven’t located anyone I’m sure is her via my bible, Google, either. We’ll see.


  6. Julie

    God Elyse, I just love it when you tell a story! 😀


  7. Adventures, Adventures I love them!!


  8. Ah, the innocence of youth!

    Personally I think it’s fun to have a few surprises to spring on our parents just when they’re starting to think they know everything there is to know about us. 😉


  9. uh……. synchronized floating is not an Olympic event… yet…


  10. Rescue, schmescue. You HAD that swim/float thing!


  11. I think the mom’s who don’t know all the stuff we did when we were younger live longer than those that do! 😉


  12. Twindaddy

    Ha! What did your dad say when your mom told him?


  13. You are lucky your mom didn’t ground you even after all those years. Sometimes it’s best if parents don’t know everything that happens. I intend to take a few secrets to my grave….


    • She would have had an easy time of it. I told her right after I’d had surgery ….

      But I think it is important that kids get away with stuff, and that they figure a way out of their own problems. We’re not always gonna be around to help!

      It was a blast telling on myself to my mother. We laughed and laughed …

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Great story. An Olympic class floater is something to be. I hope Jenny makes it to your reunion.


  15. I’ve got a feeling that “Tales and Trial from an Olympic Floater” could be a huge hit for Simon & Schuester. Enjoy your reunion … and of all the changes, you and your friends haven’t changed.


  16. What a great post! It’s like an entire YA book compressed into one (hilarious) episode.


  17. If my daughter ever does this I’ll kill her. I take all these stories and internalize them. It’s a terrible habit. It’s why I can’t see horror films. Afterwards, I imagine my loved ones being terrorized.


    • I hadn’t been able to respond to comments until now, but yours really stuck in my head.

      First, yes, you should kill your daughter if she is even half as dumb as I was and nearly drowns. It is your right as her dad.

      But seriously, I used to do exactly that — internalize. I worried constantly, especially about my husband who traveled frequently. I was afraid to read the news or answer the phone when he was gone.

      And then, out of the blue, my sister Judy died unexpectedly. I hadn’t worried about her. It made me realize that my worrying didn’t make a difference and now I am like Doris Day


  18. Why panic? You didn’t know, right.

    40th Reunion, I hope everyone is there and you can pass on the heartfelt thanks all these years later. Pass mine on too, I am glad you were saved and are here!


    • Didn’t know I was going to die? It really didn’t occur to me. I had a lot of freedom as a kid and generally had to get myself out if whatever jam I got into!

      The reunion should be fun. But I have no idea if I’ll even know more than 1-2 people. It was a big class ~1,000) and I was shy. I am not any more, so I will make up for lost time!


  19. Hope you have a terrific time at your 40th reunion. Fun stories to share, lots of smiles, a few catty remarks (I mean, seriously, we’re human), and maybe even some new stories in the making? It will be a blast! 🙂


    • Thanks, 99. It is actually going to be quite small and informal. I might know almost nobody! I was quite shy and didn’t venture out of my little group.

      Hope you are doing well!


  20. Paul

    Well, you got the “Don’t Panic!” part down well anyway Elyse. I gotta admit that I wasn’t left feeling that you were doing OK floating along on your back. I grew up around an ocean and undercurrents kill quite a few people a year in my home province. Outgoing tides can be deadly, even in unexpected places and times.

    I’m really glad that you got back to land OK Elyse. It was great that someone was watching out for you.

    Your Mom was hilarious 14 years later: “… wait until I tell your Dad.” Ha! Too funny. I think you triggered her “I’m the Mom of a teenager” hormones. Ha!

    It’s a great idea to thank Jenny and her Dad – hopefully they are both still around.

    Great Post Elyse.


    • Thanks, Paul. I really did have the don’t panic thing down!

      I am pretty sure that there weren’t any nasty undertows in the area. Long Island Sound is large, but my part was quite tranquil. And amazingly, I never heard any stories of people drowning (unlike where I am now where there are multiple fatalities in the Potomac — sadly no politicians). Kids got killed touching wires. Strange, huh?

      But obviously since my rescue, I have realized that had things been different on the beach that day, I might not have survived. The idea of actually listening to my mother, of course, never crossed my mind.


  21. What a wonderful story! I love your mother’s reaction so many years later. If my mother knew about everything I did without her permission, I probably wouldn’t have made it out of my teens.


  22. That’s hilarious and horrifying at the same time. I can just picture you, cool as a cucumber out there, everybody else panicked about the drowning girl. 🙂


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