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Family in the swim of things – but none could manage a stroke

A summer frock appeared to be the approved garb of the day for a spirited game of beach ball.

Flappers of the Roaring Twenties, the women of our family were in the swim, although not one of them could paddle a single stroke. In our family album are faded photographs of my mother in her swimsuit and bathing cap, posing with her young brother, Bobbie. There are also snapshots of Aunt Margaret, at play on the beach in a bathing suit reminiscent of a gym tunic.

Neither my mother, nor her older sister Mary could swim a stroke, yet vintage photos show them in bathing costumes. Aunt Margaret could not swim, either, but apparently knew how to toss a beach ball with the best of them.

Margaret (Shannon) Jamieson, wife of Bob Jamieson, models a tunic-style swimsuit fashionable in the Roaring Twenties.

My father, who learned to swim at Healey’s Cove, used to say that Minnie Kirby, a resident of The Commons, could swim like a fish. However, many girls of her day lacked this skill. Among them was a young maid employed by the Hepburn family. My father saved her from drowning when she waded out too far, while “swimming” at the cove.

Dad’s older brother, Harvey, was a strong swimmer, as was my Uncle Bob. Both could swim for long distances without tiring. Uncle Harvey left Prince Edward County to live in Buffalo, New York. Often, in letters to my father he would vow to return to Picton “for one more swim in the bay”. Sadly, he never returned to his birthplace.

My older sister Mary learned to swim, as a child, but preferred sunbathing on the beach to doing the breast stroke. However, when in her mid-teens, she decided to challenge herself by swimming across the Outlet River at Martin’s. My father, who had volunteered to act as her swim coach for this undertaking, accompanied her to the Outlet, on her big day.

Violet (Jamieson) Haylock with her brother Bobbie, dressed for a day at the beach. Violet's swimsuit and bathing cap are strictly for show. She could not swim a stroke.

My sister would later recall that dad’s presence did little to encourage her during the swim. She observed that he stood on the shore, gesturing and shouting to her. She concluded by saying that our sailor father must have thought he was docking the Queen Mary. Despite his well-intentioned advice that proved of no real help, my sister managed to reach shore.

After Mary’s triumphant crossing of the Outlet River, she retired her swim fins. Each summer, she bought a new bathing suit, but it was just for show. She sunned herself on the beach and sometimes waded along the shoreline, but steadfastly refused to get her stylish new swimsuit wet.

Although my sister posed no threat to the Little Mermaid, her husband, Art, was a strong swimmer. Once, he had worked as a lifeguard. Often, when they visited my parents, in the summer months, Art would take me to Outlet Beach. A teenager, at the time, I enjoyed these trips with my brother-in-law. Like my sister, I always kept my swimsuit dry and stuck close to shore, while Art took a dip.

On one of our beach excursions, Art decided to demonstrate an underwater handstand. Children pointed in excitement as his legs shot above water, while his torso remained submerged. However, Art’s 15 minutes of fame was doomed to an inglorious end.

When we returned to the parking lot, a few minutes after his display of athletic prowess, my brother-in-law began to fumble for his car keys, which he had placed in the pocket of his swim trunks. Quickly, he realized that when he had performed his handstand, the key had fallen from his pocket. Now, it was sleeping with the fishes. The car was securely locked and we were stranded. Our clothing and our wallets were inside the vehicle.

While Art pondered our dilemma, I hit upon a possible solution. During numerous trips to the beach that summer, my friends and I had made the acquaintance of its student lifeguards, Dick Proctor and Barry Crawford. On the day of Art’s handstand, I had observed that Dick was on duty. His shift would end soon and I knew that he lived close to town. I suggested that we ask him for a ride home.

Dick cheerfully came to our rescue and drove us to Picton. As soon as we arrived, Art located his spare car key and my father drove him back to the beach to reclaim his car. My brother-in-law had learned an important lesson in beach gymnastics – never do a handstand with your car key in your pocket.

Our long ago “summers by the sea” are now just memories in the pages of the family photo album. We have taken our places, with mother, Aunt Margaret and Uncle Bob. Future generations, one day will smile at our bathing costumes, much as we laugh at the voluminous swimsuits of our relatives who romped on the beach, in the 1920’s. Even on dry land, we were in the swim.

Filed Under: Margaret Haylock-Capon

About the Author: Maggie Haylock is a freelance writer and former newspaper reporter who has co-authored several books with her husband, Alan Capon.

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  1. Ann Sherwood says:

    Cute story, and great pictures!

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