Photo was on Wild Woman Sisterhood FB page
When I was a little girl, I was fascinated with mermaids and all other elemental/magical/mystical creatures. I took to water early on, spending a great deal of time in the tub until my fingers and toes were like prunes. I smile wistfully now when I remember that my mother used to pronounce the word in two syllables- ‘pru-ens’, even though she knew the correct pronunciation. We had a wading pool in the back yard in the summer in which my sister and I would splash around. When I was 4 or so, I took swimming lessons for the first time and was hooked. I became more proficient and when I was 11, at the recommendation of our family doc, I joined a swim team to help alleviate the symptoms of asthma and strengthen my lungs. Bless you, Jerry Cohen for that, rest your soul! For 7 years, I swam on the Pennypacker Park swim team in Willingboro, NJ where I met many other water babies, including my BFF Barbara Chimel (now Cohen…..no relation to the aforementioned ‘medicine man’. ) who swam for a competing team. My strokes were freestyle and butterfly; the latter chosen for two reasons. The first was that as a child, I was pigeon toed, which served me well, because it enabled me to ‘toe in’ when kicking (that was a big no-no and disqualification in the breast stroke). The second was that it is the most rigorous and challenging and I had a need to prove that with my physical issues, I wasn’t going to let anyone stop me! Imagine having the upper and lower parts of your body doing two different things simultaneously. I still have the broad shoulders and strong legs to show for it.
When I was 18, I took on a summer job that many kids who were on the teams thought was a natural evolution. I became a life guard, instructor and swim team coach. I spent 3 months a year for 3 years in this role and felt as if I was part of an earned-elite group; one of the cool kids for the first time in my life. Don’t get me wrong. It was hard work. Up at the crack of dawn to coach and then offer lessons for children and adults and then cleaning and maintaining the pool and keeping an eye on swimmers to make sure no one got hurt. It was a wonderful bonding experience with my co-workers and we had plenty of silliness to keep us sane in the midst of the physical exertion. No wonder I was so tiny back then!
My mermaid sensibilities accompanied me when my family would (and I’m about to use a Philly regional term here) ‘go down the shore’. I would swim a little too far out for my mother’s comfort and even though the life guards wouldn’t blow the whistle to call me back in, I could hear HER internal whistle and head back to the beach, even though I knew I was safe, since King Neptune would always protect his mermaids.
When I was in my junior year at Glassboro State College, for Halloween, I decided to dress the part and a friend who was handy with needle and thread (I wasn’t), sewed a green sheath into which I wiggled myself, to cover the lower half of my body and donned a bikini top to cover ‘the girls’. I had long, flowing hair at the time, so no one would ever know that I wasn’t born to be a mermaid. I made sure that I used the bathroom prior to the party and I wasn’t able to do more than lean against furniture the whole night, since the costume; as pretty as it was, wouldn’t accommodate sitting down.
As a seasoned woman, although I no longer look like that siren, I have embodied the essence. Not content to settle for less than cave exploration of feelings and relationships, I flip my fins and off I go into the depths.
http://youtu.be/y5TE3BcF_VY Celtic Mermaid Music by Derek Fiechter