My Daddy, he was so unique. He was cheerful, though that didn’t mean that we five children didn’t upset him with our squabbling, oh once or twice a year. He had a younger brother and they were polar opposites. Even as babies, Daddy widely grinned in photographs of him while his younger brother never smiled in any photo.
Daddy was no wimp, far from it. He was a frogman during World War II (under water demolition, UDTs), an elite special-purpose force established by the United States Navy during the war. These were the precursors of the Navy Seals, the best of the best. Their primary function was to reconnoiter and destroy enemy defensive obstacles, usually with explosives, on beaches prior to amphibious landings. As the U.S. Navy’s elite combat swimmer pioneers, they surface swam without a breathing apparatus as they infiltrated ships, beaches, or harbors. They tore down the cables and nets protecting enemy harbors and planted magnetic mines on the bottoms of enemy ships, without being seen of course. They also located and marked mines for clearing by minesweepers. They had to have incredible endurance and courage.
Therefore Daddy spent much of his time in the Pacific field of operations wearing bathing trunks. Not everyone can say that about their father. The frogmen did not wear wetsuits; the suits weren’t invented until the mid1950s. They just wore their trunks, a large knife on their belt and a revolver, which Daddy said was just to make them feel safer because after being in the water the gun did not work. And then of course there was the TNT they carried to attach to enemy ships in enemy harbors, in complete darkness, geez.
Of course Daddy was buff, but just nicely so, yet more than his buddies. He lifted weights to keep it that way. When I was in elementary school we belonged to a small country club that had an Olympic size pool and a small gym. Daddy wanted a place to swim. But at the gym occasionally he would jump up on the steady rings and do a few exercises such as holding his body parallel to the ground at ring height with arms extended; this without any practice. If he had had the desire he could have been an Olympic athlete, for he certainly had the innate ability.
Daddy could have been tough and rude and few would dare to cross him, but it wasn’t in him. He was Mr. Friendly. He loved to talk to strangers. This friendliness, his athletic abilities and a bit of wisdom were to pay off in an amazing way. When I was a baby and my brother was about five years old, we moved from a small frame house to a slightly larger one to accommodate our growing family. We soon found out that the 10 and 12-year-old brothers that lived next door were known as the neighborhood bullies. Their father was an alcoholic and their mother had lost control of them. Daddy didn’t want them bothering his kids, but instead of being stern with them and telling them to leave us alone, he made friends with them. He took them with our family to the pool and taught them to swim.
Daddy taught each of his kids to swim as we became old enough. He took us girls into the shallow end and held us up as we learned to stroke. With my brother, after minimum verbal instruction, Daddy tied a rope around the boy’s waist and threw him in the deep end. Well, I guess Daddy wasn’t above a little double standard. Though I don’t think that is how he had previously taught the neighbor boys to swim.
That fall, after the pool was closed, the city decided to rebuild our street, down to the six foot round pipes underground. At two points on our short, block-long street were new six-foot wide manholes. Of course it happened to rain so construction was halted with the manhole pipes wide open. Now such holes would not be left uncovered but back in the dark ages when I was a baby, they were. Saw horses were put around the holes with the old smoke pots as warning lights. The holes were 8 to 10 feet deep and had filled more than half full of water. Back then all children played outside with little supervision other than the older kids. Of course the manholes drew the neighborhood children like flies to honey. A bunch of the children were standing around one of these very intriguing holes, looking in at the opaque muddy water. At five years old my brother wasn’t as cautious as the older ones and leaned over too far, falling in. Remember, this water was at least five feet deep, deeper than my brother was tall. The level of the water was also several feet from the street above.
The two brothers that my father had taught to swim were there. One jumped in and treading water, grabbed my brother from under the muddy water and saved him from drowning. The boy and my brother had their pictures in the newspaper. I remember seeing the clipping that my mother kept for years.
Daddy had reaped the kindness he had sowed into those neglected neighbor boys and reaped it back a hundredfold with the life of his son. This true family story has been more than an example for me to follow. It has been a shining beacon of one of the universe’s basic laws, a comfort and an admonition. “Don’t be deceived, God will not be mocked, a person reaps what he sows”( Galatians 6:7).