Swimming With My Clothes On

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Do you remember when you were in school and there was always one rude, loudmouthed boy at the back of the class shouting out, throwing pieces of pink erasers, flying paper airplanes, flinging elastic bands and generally creating chaos? He was usually older than the rest of the class, having "failed" a few times. Now we know that some kids have learning disabilities, like Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder known briefly as ADHD or ADD which stands for that without the hyperactivity. Dyslexia is when words and numbers get all scrambled up in the brain. Usually you hear that the words and numbers come out backwards or upside down. When we were younger these terms were not invented and I'm not sure they were even recognized. The big nuisance at the back of the room was just plain dumb.

The boy that sat at the back of my class was named Will Rock. His name described him perfectly. He was tough as nails and quite scary. No one really talked to him because you never knew how he might respond and no one liked to be humiliated in class. He could be quite vulgar and used colourful language. Sometimes he would say something that would make the whole class burst out laughing and the teacher would have to rein us all back in after sending Will into the hall. I'm sure he spent most of his days either there or in the principal's office. He was likely suspended many times too, although he always seemed to be at school.

I led an idyllic childhood living in a leafy small town. Most of the houses were Victorian and huge trees lined all the streets. My house was a huge, centre hall planned home with a massive wrap around veranda and circular pointed roof that I have since learned is called a turret. My father screened in the side portion and my parents practically lived there all summer. There was almost an acre of property and a big circular driveway in front. Inside the double front doors was a black and white tiled foyer and plush red carpeted stairs with a curved oak bannister leading up to a two tiered second floor. The living room and dining room flanked the wide hall both facing the front by huge picture windows. On special occasions when we sat in these generously sized rooms we would see cars slowing down to stare. Mostly we sat in the richly panelled den at the back of the house where the TV and in the winter the endlessly burning fireplace were. Those old houses have high ceilings and are hard to heat. That was in the evenings however. We played outside during the day on weekends and after school until our grumbling stomachs sent us running home for meals or the streetlights came on. There were many quirky characters in that town and Will was one of them although I have no idea where he lived. All I know is it wasn't in my neighbourhood.

I'm not sure if Will had many friends. We certainly didn't invite him to play with us. In fact I'm quite sure we would cross the street to avoid him if we happened to run into him in our travels. The entire town was our playground and we rode our "Mustang" bikes with the banana seats all around. Those long seats just begged to be occupied by two so we usually rode "double". A second person came in handy to hold the transistor radio, that was held together with black electrical tape from being dropped so many times, while we sped around town. Life for me and my friends was grand.

After school in warm weather we would often congregate at the river, the "Mighty Maitland", as it was known to everyone. Some kids liked the huge bridge to jump off but I was never that brave, even though I was an experienced swimmer, having been forced to take swimming lessons from a very young age. My mother couldn't swim and I think may have developed a fear of water. She vowed that all four of us would learn to swim. Every morning in the summer we would be roused from our slumber, given a good breakfast and make the trek to the local swimming pool for swimming lessons. Now you must understand that it's chilly some mornings at 8 o'clock when there's still dew on the ground. That brisk temperature felt warm after plunging into frigid water in an unheated pool. To me it was torture and I longed for my cozy bed. What are lazy summer mornings for, if not for sleeping in until noon?

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