Man, was I jealous.
I was ten and half when my older brother turned twelve and joined the Boy Scouts. I wanted to join so badly, but I had a year and half to wait. Older brothers get all the breaks. But, a few months later the rules changed and we could join the Boy Scouts at eleven instead of twelve. I was elated.
I was so excited I couldn’t see straight. The next month I was a Boy Scout. Wow, Mom took me to Sears and an Army Surplus store and I got a Boy Scout shirt, an Army surplus web belt with canteen, a Boy Scout knife and a Boy Scout axe. I was in business.
Our meetings were held in a church across the street from the Junior High School I was still too young to attend. That’s where I met Jimmy and Johnny Peterson. Jimmy and Johnny’s Dad was the Pastor at the church where we had our meetings. They were twin brothers and had a younger brother a year older than me and all three were in our Boy Scout troop. Jimmy and Johnny were sixteen, good athletes, very good-looking, known and liked by everyone at the school. Guys liked them, girls loved them and I looked up to them as heroes as young boys always look up to and admire older guys.
All the younger boys in the Scout troop wanted to be noticed and to hang around with Jimmy and Johnny Peterson. I was lucky. My older brother was in with them, and so was another older guy, Ted Lind, who was fourteen and lived only a few doors away from my brother and me. He was another popular older guy and I used to hang out with him a lot, tagging along. But, he liked me, so he let me do that. Apart from my relationship with Ted, I developed a special bond with Jimmy and Johnny Peterson as well.
We used to play a game at Scout meetings where all the guys would form a circle facing inward with their hands folded behind their backs. One guy would be it and he would walk around the outside of the circle with a lanyard and would drop that lanyard into the hands of any guy at random, as he walked around the circle. Then he’d take off running and the guy who now had the lanyard would chase after him and if he could catch up to him, he’d whip the guy’s butt with the lanyard until the first guy reached the empty spot in the circle where the guy chasing had been and the chaser would stop running and walk around until he dropped the lanyard into another guy’s hands.
Then off he’d go. One day Jimmy Peterson dropped that lanyard into my hands. I chased him of course, but couldn’t catch him, I couldn’t hit him with the lanyard. Then I dropped the lanyard into Johnny Peterson’s hands and he chased me, beating my butt the whole way around. That became a tradition of sorts. I guess the twins respected me for letting them whip me the way they did and they didn’t pull any punches. But, I kept giving them the lanyard anyway and they’d give it back to me a lot so I could try to get even.
I never did, though, I wasn’t fast enough. There were four older guys who always led special hikes and other activities, one other guy who was not so well liked, and Jimmy, Johnny and Ted. All the younger guys wanted to go along on these special hikes, but the older guys got to select the few who could go. I got to go with them every time. So did my brother. Then one day the Petersons moved away. Their father had gotten an assignment somewhere in the Midwest. It was a very sad event to see them go. Seemed like half the kids from the Junior High School were at the church that day. I would really miss them.
About six months after the Peterson’s moved away we found out that Jimmy and Johnny had both drowned during a storm on the lake where they were out in a canoe. That was one of saddest days I can remember as a kid.
Jimmy and Johnny were known to be strong swimmers. That made it ever more unbelievable that they had drowned. My older brother also became a very strong swimmer. He was a life guard during the summers and had extensive experience in ocean swimming. When we’d go to the beach he’d swim out so far I could barely see his head bobbing and he’d be out there for over an hour.
Thirty six years after Jimmy an Johnny Peterson drowned, when he was forty-nine years old, my brother died in a drowning accident in the ocean on a routine scuba diving check out. Something had gone wrong with his equipment. My older brother didn’t get a break that day.
It’s good to know how to swim. My brother was a great swimmer, so were the Peterson twins. But, no matter how good you are, you have to use common sense about taking chances. I don’t think my brother was doing anything risky when he drowned, but he took a lot of chances when we were kids. He made everyone nervous when we went to the beach and he swam out so far we couldn’t even see him and stayed out for an hour.
Learn how to swim and learn how to swim well, teach your kids how to swim, but don’t take unnecessary risks. It can cost your life.
Keep in mind these rules for water safety in open water swimming.
1. Currents flowing parallel to the beach are called lateral currents. Not especially dangerous to the average swimmer, lateral currents can pull swimmers into more dangerous rip currents, the main cause of surf accidents. Rip currents can pull even strong swimmers from shallow into deeper water. If caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the shoreline in the same direction as the lateral current until you are past the rip stream, when you can turn toward shore.
2. Lifeguards can give you information on current or dangerous conditions. Always observe their instructions.
3. Never swim alone
4. Don’t exaggerate your swimming ability. Be realistic, don’t overestimate your skill level, especially in open water swimming.
5. Understand that anyone’s swimming ability is greatly degraded in cold water. Unless you are in a tropical zone, ocean and lake water is typically cold.
6. Never swim when drinking alcohol, you may be intoxicated and not realize it.
7. Do not take out small or unstable boats far from shore in choppy water or stormy weather.
8. And lastly, don’t take risks or show off in dangerous ways.