We (my brother and I ) took swimming lessons every summer. Our Mother did not swim, she never learned to swim until very late in her life.. she was always scared of the water.
Photo of the Osage Beach in the Fall of 2009
In the late 1950’s and the early 1960’s we took swimming lessons at the Osage Beach. It was the old beach then, you just walked down the sandy hill to get to the water, someone had dumped some sand in the center of the beach, there were drop offs on both sides, huge slabs of concrete had been dumped there on the south side. There was a rope swing that was hung in a tree on the north side drop off. The area to swim safely was very small. Of course you knew everyone at the swim lessons. The Moms would sit on the beach and visit. I remember that pedal pushers were very popular back then, in beautiful shades of coral and lilac. During one of those summers my Mother was pregnant with my other baby brother.
Our swim instructor was one of the Coaches and Physical Education teachers from nearby Park Rapids. He was very tall and very good looking. I believe his name was John Haugo. Classes were ten or fifteen minutes long. Sometimes we would stay until the end of the lessons to splash and play around in the water. Kids were supposed to stay out of the water during the lessons..unless of course it was time for your lesson.
One day during lessons, Mary and Margaret disappeared. They were sisters, one was a thin red head, and the other was a pudgy little gal with dark hair. They were gone, they just dissapeared just like that. Mr. Haugo dove in the water in the drop off area that had all the huge blocks of concrete, he came up with Mary first ( I think, Good Lord that was fifty years ago, I am lucky to remember it at all) she was blue, then he dove back in and got Margaret..who was pale, he worked on both of them..lifting their arms..patting on their backs..they spit and sputtered and coughed and cried and shivered..but they were alive. I am not sure how he realized what area of the water to search..those little girls were lucky that day. Until that day, I had no fear of the water, yes I had been told that people could drown, but not children at swimming lessons..I gained a new respect for the water that day, and for swimming lesson teachers.
One year, when I must have been nine or ten years old, the big day arrived. The testing to see if you passed from one section of swimming lessons to the other. I was so nervous, my knees were knocking together, I was sure I was going to drown. The dam was not blocked off then, it had an upper fence or railing made of horizontal bars. People used to fish from the cement platform. We were supposed to climb under the railing and stand on the pillar ( the one on the right front) and then plug our noses and jump off. Someone was out in a boat, rowing around ready to help the drowning ones. I was afraid of heights, I was afraid to jump off the dam. I was sure that if I did not drown, I would be sucked in between the bars of the bottom part of the dam and be sent under the highway and disappear forever. Someone was counting..one..two..three..jump.. they had to count several times for me..I was a big chicken. Finally I threw caution to the wind and jumped..down, down, I went, the water was a murky green color and I saw bubbles everywhere..I popped right back up to the surface like a cork..the people in the boat shouted..SWIM..so I swam to shore. I think I might have peed in the water:)