I have such fond memories of the Hampton Street YMCA! Also known as the NDG Y, due to its location in the leafy Montreal borough of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, it was my second home during the summers when I was eight, nine and ten years old.
Here is where my friends and I used to gather to watch Laurel and Hardy comedy films on many a Saturday afternoon, while sipping our 7-cent cokes, Nesbitt orange or cream sodas.
We enjoyed dodge ball and makeshift soccer out in the large yard next to the Y’s white-brick building, or in the gym when it rained.
But my main memory is of the Beginners B swimming class, held in the chlorine-drenched indoor pool. I was very proud of myself for having passed Beginners A. I had had to swim 20 feet across the width of the pool. It was a bit of a miracle that I passed, really. Why? Because that was about as long as I managed to both hold my breath AND swim with my eyes tightly shut.
Y’see, I had two problems. First, no one ever bothered to teach us how to breathe properly while swimming. So my solution was not to breathe at all! Twenty feet was juuust about my limit before hypoxia would set in, as I kept my head under the water the whole time.
My second problem was the fact that I could not, for the life of me, keep my eyes open in that heavily chlorinated water. To this day I can’t figure out how the other kids managed to do it – I’m assuming they could do it, because, well, you’ll see why in a minute.
So as I say, I did pass Beginners A. The instructor either didn’t notice – or didn’t care – that I swam without seeing or breathing!
Beginners B was another kettle of sardines altogether. In order to pass this level and go on to the coveted advanced levels, we had to swim not 30, not 40, no: 50 feet! And to make it even harder, we had to start from about 45 feet down the length of one side, and swim to the opposite corner. This meant that for me, a very short little girl, I was starting the swim with the water up to my armpits. It’s hard to get any momentum going when you’re in water that deep. Add to that having to hold your breath (still not being taught how to breathe) and keeping your eyes clamped shut for much longer than you did in the previous test, and – well, it was a recipe for certain failure.
Time and time again… Every time, I would stop and stand up, gasping, water (and tears) streaming from my eyes, squinting to see how far away from the corner I was. Inevitably it was the same: the goal would be at least 15 feet away. (I believe this is the origin of the phrase, “so near and yet so far”!) To add insult to injury, I usually would have gone off course, since I wasn’t looking where the heck I was going. At least the kids who could keep their eyes open stayed on track for the corner!
Sigh. This is why, even after a long hard slog through a very damp summer, I never made it past Beginners B.
P.S. – Why didn’t I at least know about goggles?!