Makes the Step
By Jeff Salter
Our assignment for this week was vague enough – and last week I had my say about Halloween – that I decided to break ranks … and break the season as well.
This is a flashback not only to a different season (summer) but to the early 1980s —probably 1981 or 1982. We were ‘vacationing’ at a place called Hot Springs Village.
At the pool, my daughter – then about 6 or 7 years old – decided she’d finally jump off the high board. In August 1991 – some 9 or 10 years later – I featured that experience in a poem.
Most of my blog readers are ladies … and many of you are mothers. I thought it might be interesting to share one of my Father-Daughter moments. Here it is:
Makes The Step
By Jeffrey L. Salter
My daughter on the high board:
ready, she insists, to jump.
I’m dubious – she’s so tiny –
but it’s okay if she’ll wait ‘til I position myself
where I can grab her when she surfaces.
The lifeguard doesn’t challenge me
about swimming to the middle of the deep end
and treading water
while she gathers her nerve.
I don’t want to rush this (or push her)
but I’m getting weary.
My arm movements make ripples
like lop-sided rings of a liquid target.
Poised way above, over this bulls-eye,
she calls down, “Are you ready?”
“I’ll be right here when you come back up,” I promise.
The air is cool
and there’s a steady shiver in my slender parcel
as she takes a deep breath,
holds her nose with both hands,
and makes the step
that sends her plummeting to the surface below.
She comes up with eyes closed,
breathes in sharply and clings to my neck
as we make our way to the ladder.
“I did it, daddy!” she sputters,
apparently more surprised than I am.
and her heart pounds heavily against my chest.
“Yes, baby, you sure did.”
She’s made many other big steps,
before then and after.
Each time I’ve waited – treading water –
outlining her landing area:
far enough to be out of the way,
but near enough to grab her when she surfaces.
“I’ll be right here when you come back up,” I remind her,
and I pray my arms will last out my promise.
Published: Sunday At Four Vol. 1, No. 2 (Spring 1992)
Published: BreeZe Vol. 1, No. 33 (Aug. 31, 2007) p. 8
[It’s also been posted in poetry displays two or three times]
Do you remember YOUR first jump from the high board? How about the first time one of your kids made that momentous step?
Hey Jeff – great poem! I remember both, actually. My little one dove off the high board (actually a huge tree that anchors one side of the dock at the lake) a couple summers ago. She had no fear. I had plenty. 🙂
I was never much of a diver. In fact, I never learned the *proper* way to swim. I just developed some moves that I saw other people using.
But I was always a JUMPER as a kid. So the high board was vanquished by 4th grade.
HOW FUN that you memorialized that event in a poem! You’re such a great dad!!
Hm…..four kids gave me a lot of memories. But the problem is, I get them confused. “NO MOM, that was Austin.” sigh…..
LOL about confusing the kids. We only had two — one boy, one girl — and I STILL sometimes mis-remember who did what (and when). Small comfort to see that they have similar problems keeping details straight on their OWN kids!
Touching poem, Jeff. Such a great dad. You’re daughter is lucky to have such a great dad and she’ll always know you’re there.
Me – I was a chicken shit. That high board was waaaaay too high. But I can remember watching in awe as my dad would dive off that board. Dive! It was, like, 30 feet high!!! Okay, I confess. I have no idea how high that board was, but I never saw anyone else DIVE off of it. Fearless, my dad was and is my hero.
Oh, and my daughter is chicken shit, too. LOL!
Thank you, Jenn.
Even though I wrote this poem over 20 yrs ago, I still get a little misty sometimes when I re-read it.
In 4th grade, I began jumping off the high board. But in 5th grade — to ‘impress’ the girl I had a crush on — I did a cannonball instead. Oops, in all that height, I somehow rotated — either over or forward (no longer remember — and got a face blast when I hit.
Never did a cannonball again from that height.
I never saw my dad on a diving board … but mostly we swam in places that didn’t have one.
Great poem- I l ove it. Very nice.
I was going off the high dive at 8. I learned to swim at 5 and never had any fear. I actually almost drowned when I was young – I think I was four, almost five and it’s a wonder I’ve never had any fear. I guess that experience didn’t scar me other than mess with my electrical field- LOL!
Both our kids had “lessons” of a sort at the YMCA in Bossier — as best I recall — and I remember seeing one of them dive off the low board. I don’t know if they ever kept up their swimming, though. Mostly when we’ve been in water … it’s just splashing around.
What a great poem, Jeff! I don’t remember the first time I jumped off the high dive, but I do remember the first (and only) time I chickened out! I had mastered the low and medium boards but I thought I was ready to jump off the high one. I was about 9 or 10 years old. I climbed the steep steps to the top but then freaked out and climbed back down. I still remember a boy from my class, Doug Rosenthal, telling the life guard that I wasn’t allowed to climb the stairs backwards, drawing attention to me. I was so embarrased at the time! A year or so later, I was jumping, jumping backwards and even diving off the high board, but I guess I wasn’t quite ready that day. Thanks for the memory 🙂
Thank you, Meredith.
Good for you … for getting back up on that high board the following year.
BAD for that Doug guy for embarrassing you even more than you already were. I’ve always resented people who took delight in further embarrasing people who find themselves in awkward situations.
That is such a touching poem! You are such a sensitive father! For such a shy little person as a child, Autumn was rather fearless in the swimming pool although her “diving” was all from the side of the pool. I, on the other hand was never a shy person, but was a real chicken about swimming. Daddy attempted to use the technique with me that he used with my brothers and that his father used with him which was to toss you into water that was over your head and tell you sink or swim. Well, I sunk and he had to jump in to pull me out. Our swimming was all done in creeks, bayous and lakes. My finally learning to swim was a safety measure as my older brothers were trying to drown me. I learned enough about swimming to get myself to the edge of the pool or creek, but definitely not strong enough to save anyone. My biggest problem is that I don’t like to have my face in the water!
The comparison that I can make with Julie diving off the high board was Autumn playing a solo flute selection at a band concert when she was in high school. As she was shy, she was very nervous at the idea of performing in front of a lot of people. She put aside her shyness with her determination to be a leader in music. She was usually 1st chair or no lower than 2nd chair parish wide, during Junior High and High School, plus she was the drum major in the 8th grade and during her Junior and Senior years in high school. She stayed with her flute and band through two years of college before she put it aside. Yesterday Autumn told us that she had contacted a flute teacher and will make room on Thursdays at noon to take lessons and brush up on her skills. She said that she was doing this for HER!
I’ve heard of a lot of kids who were ‘taught’ to swim by that method your father used. It always seemed barbaric to me. We, as little kids, were taught what my mom called the ‘dog paddle’ with feet kicking. It was usually enough to get us to shore in the Bogue Falaya River.
My favorite swimming, however, was always underwater — surprisingly — with goggles, of course (since I never wanted to open my eyes under water). I used to think I was a porpoise or something. Since adulthood, however, the water in my EARS bothered me and I can’t remember the last time my head was underwater.
This is so heartwarming, Jeff; just beautiful. You said the ‘moms’ like this, (and as a mom, I do) , but it hit me more from a daughter’s perspective [we who did not have dads who made us feel safe]. Your daughter is very fortunate.
The BIG LEAP that shook me to the core was when I realized that I was in the passenger seat and my oldest ‘baby’ was about to operate the car that would actually take us onto the road. There was a second of true panic as I clicked on the seat belt. I had to get a grip on myself, fast!
Thank you, Tonette. Yes, I hoped this would strike a chord with daughters also.
Yeah, I can see where the child driving would be a major step.
The ones I remember next for my own daughter were things like being in a school play, winning some academic awards, graduating, getting her own car loan, moving from home to live in Memphis, etc. And then, of course the whole wedding thing. And grandkids.
Wow. There must be some more poems in there somewhere.
Ahhhh. What a GREAT experience for both you and your daughter, Jeff. I love that you immortalized it in a poem. 🙂 This very much reminds me of my own mother, whom I’ve always said let us find our own way, but was always there to cheer us on or help pick up the pieces as needed. I love her dearly and am so grateful that, at 87 years old, she’s still going strong.
I’m glad I worked it into a poem also — if I hadn’t, it’s possible my memory would have lost it. But with the poem to jog my recollection, the experience feels just as fresh now as it did 28 or 29 years ago. [Not sure why, but I think the trip was in ’83 … daughter thinks it was ’81. We need Wife to settle this bet.]
Glad your mom is doing well at 87. Some folks are still alert and mobile … well into their 90s.
I have never been on a high board and never plan to. In fact, I’ve never been on a diving board at all. The one time I was supposed to was at swimming lessons when I was 7. I refused to get on the board and jumped off the side of the pool instead. I had a brilliant plan to make a 90 degree turn in the middle of the pool to swim to the shallow area, but I uh, messed up somewhere and ran smack into the opposite side. Yeah, diving is not for me. Okay, swimming isn’t for me. If I have kids, I hope they do better than their mom.
As a H.S. senior — while showing off, of course — I did a handstand on the side of a private pool. [No way a lifeguard would’ve let me get away with that.] My NOTION was that I’d do a graceful somersault kind of thing and enter the pool, feet-first, about three feet out.
Got disoriented and went crashing down along the INSIDE wall of the pool. Scraped my shoulder, elbow, knees, and other parts I can’t remember. Swallowed some water … banged my head.
Never tried a hand-stand again.
What a great memory, and such a beautiful presentation. :c)
Not quite the high dive, but one of the hardest “water” things I’ve done is leave my then-8-yo daughter floating in the middle of the intracoastal waterway (an “interstate” of sorts for yachts and commercial shipping vessels) while we took off without her. Which was only trumped by the moment the tow rope caught and we were then dragging her behind the boat on a kneeboard at pretty impressive speeds, LOL. Pool water doesn’t scare me too much, but the rivers here are tannic, the sounds and ocean not tranquil and clear. I’m terrified if one of my babies goes under we’d never find them in time. (Yes, they wear life jackets, but rational explanations seldom settle irrational fears). Years later, it’s still hard for me to throw them overboard … and then leave them there, LOL.
You had me going for a minute about ‘leaving’ your child in the intercoastal waterway. It sounded like throwing a bottle into the great Atlantic Current Thingy.
I’ve been in some pretty dicey lakes and rivers. Never wanted to touch bottom in any of them. As I’ve added years, I realize I much prefer the clean, predictable — and VISIBLE — pools. Hardly ever encounter anything weird in a pool … unless it’s an unwrapped Baby Ruth.
So sweet! Definitely a good daddy.
Thank you, Katharine. A terrific daughter makes it a lot easier to be a good dad.
Jeff, I will never ever forget my first step off the high board. Oh, I made the jump and got back out of the pool safely enough. It was after I was out and visiting with others in the class that I realized my swimsuit top had come UP over my, um, when I hit the water! Needless to say, I never returned to that class again. I have never been so humiliated in my LIFE!
That was the last swimming class I ever took, and I still don’t know how to swim!
Well, Janette, I’m cringing (on your behalf) … but I can’t help chuckling as well.
But what a traumatic experience for a young girl.
I’ve had occasions when my swim trunks collected more water than the strength of the elastic waistband … and I ALMOST lost them. So I can truly sympathize.
MANY years ago, at a water park, I was at the bottom of the slide waiting on one of my kids to come hurtling down. Right before my child, a teen-aged girl came down screaming. Turned out it wasn’t because of the fright of the descent, but for the very reason you just cited.
And even though I was right there, I truly did not see “anything” (other than her hands & forearms clutched about her bosom).
Somehow I doubt she ever took that slide again with a two-piece.
I had a crazy week last week and forgot to stop by last Thursday. What a wonderful poem! You make me wish that I’d captured memories of my kids like that. As for me, I can picture my daughter jumping off the high board at her swim lessons in San Antonio. What I don’t recall is when her first time was.
My daughter has always been a bit of a daredevil. I remember one of her first big rollercoaster rides. It was at the Williamsburg Busch Gardens. We’d approached the “Big Bad Wolf” ride from the back side of the park and upon checking the height requirement, decided to go on it. My husband and the boys passed. (The youngest was only 1, so out of the question for him anyhow.) My daughter had been on the kiddie coasters and figured if she was tall enough, she was brave enough for the bigger rides. Well, there was a huge drop we didn’t know about until we were on the ride and on the way down. (Lots of trees hid the ride from view.) She screamed almost as loud as I did. When we got back to the unloading station, the attendant asked if my daughter was okay. I could feel the you-terrible-mother glares coming from everyone who saw and heard my barely-tall-enough daughter’s yelling. Then she relieved everyone with her exclamation of how awesome the ride was. After we got off and headed around the park where we could see more of the ride, my husband’s jaw dropped when he saw the big drop. He asked our daughter, “You went on THAT?!” I wish I’d taken a picture of that big grin on her face.
There is something special about being there for our kids’ big moments. Honestly, I don’t remember all of the typical “firsts” (first step, first tooth), but it’s the moments like the first high dive jump or big coaster ride that stick with me. My daughter is about to take her first overnight school field trip and I was debating about whether to chaperone it. Your post just sealed the deal. I’m going and I’ll stay “far enough out of the way, but near enough to grab her when she surfaces.” Out of season or not, great post!
Thanks for the kind words, Micki.
Loved your account of the “Big Bad Wolf” ride. I’ve never been much of a roller coaster guy, but I rode everything at DisneyLand in 1957 when it was hardly a year old.