In a previous life I worked as the aquatics director at Camp Jamison - which was part of Bert Adams Scout Reservation, just outside Covington. We called our camp "Man's Land," because the Scouts who camped at Jamison lived in tents and cooked their own food, the way God and Baden Powell intended.
Every Sunday, during the summer, we would get a whole new batch of 200 or 300 Scouts, and the first thing they all had to do, upon arrival, was put on their swimming trunks and head down to the waterfront to take the dreaded "swim check."
I must have explained the swim check a million times during my seven summers as King of the Jamison Waterfront.
"You will jump into the water feet first and swim three lengths of the swimming area using any stroke you choose. Then you will swim one length of the swimming area using the elementary back stroke. Finally, you will float as motionless as possible until we tell you to get out."
Those that passed the test got a red and blue buddy tag - indicating that they were "swimmers." The swimmers could take aquatic merit badges and play in the deep end during troop swims. Those that couldn't make the whole 100 yards got a red buddy tag. These Scouts were beginners and could take lessons during the week to improve their skill. Those who couldn't swim at all got plain white buddy tags and were required to learn how to swim - or die trying - before their week in camp was over.
Naturally, before we would let anybody jump into the water, we asked them the all-important question, "Can you swim?" If the answer was no, we sent them back to dry land.
Once a year we would have inner-city week, when the majority of campers were from newly-formed urban troops. Most of those kids had never had a chance to learn to swim, and we knew that the learner classes would be filled to the brim during inner-city week. We didn't change any of our procedures, though, and still had the kids come down to the waterfront upon arrival for the swim check.
The Scouts would plod out to the end of the dock and there I would be, all greased up with baby oil - the darker the tan the better in those days, you know - with my mirror sunglasses and floppy hat and ever-present whistle around my neck. One by one I would ask them if they could swim and one by one they would shake their head no. I would hand them a plain white buddy tag and tell them what time to show up for lessons on Monday morning.
One brash youngster, however, upon hearing the question, threw out his chest, cocked his head to one side and proclaimed, "Yeah, I can swim. I'm pretty good."
"Jump in," I told him, and he did.
Sank like a rock. Straight to the bottom of the lake. All I could see were his fingertips reaching toward the heavens.
I reached in and pulled him out of the water and onto a sitting position on the dock in one motion, and then I chastised him. "Man, I thought you said you could swim!"
And then he looked at me, one eye squinting against the harsh sun, and said, "Well, I ain't never tried, but it looked easy."
Now, I told you all of that to tell you this.
I found out last weekend how my little friend from the Camp Jamison must have felt when he jumped in over his head, oh so many years ago.
As you may or may not know, I spend a lot of time travelling across the South speaking to various church, civic and institutional functions. I share semi-funny stories and try to offer bits of inspiration and patriotism when I can. For a while now, I have been threatening to record a CD of my stories - to make available for sale on my speaking excursions.
Sunday afternoon I decided to go ahead and do it - in front of a live audience. I hired some sound experts to record my presentation, coerced a few friends to join me at an undisclosed location and cut a CD - just like the big boys.
I had never tried it before but it looked easy.
I have spoken to hundreds of groups - large and small - over the past decade. Nothing to it. Sunday afternoon I was as nervous as Hillary Clinton at a combined meeting of the NRA and National Right to Life organizations. I stuttered and stammered and had to stop and restart several times; and sweat poured out of my pores until - well, I might as well have jumped in a lake.
Fortunately, Ron Benner was there to pull me out of the deep water and he says he can fix my mistakes through the magic of editing and voice-over.
We'll see. The results will be called "Porterdale City Limits," and I'll let you know when it is available. Meanwhile, I need to find out what time practice starts Monday, because when it comes to the recording business, I definitely have a plain white buddy tag.
Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.