Life is like a casino where we all take chances. But for some unknown reason, there are those who always seem to have the winning hands, while others depart this world with just a few rounds played.
It was 1951 in Quantico, Va. My father was a Navy dentist stationed at this famous Marine base. It was a beautiful location for military duty, carved out of a dense Eastern forest and perched alongside of the Potomac River near Washington, D.C.
The summers were hot and humid. Afternoon thunderstorms rolled through on a regular basis, dropping temperatures. They were always a welcome sight, as these were the days before most had air conditioning.
The base had recreational facilities that were resort-like. Back then, a large swimming pool rested at the foot of a wooded hillside. Access was achieved by parking at the top and walking down a long flight of steps.
My folks believed it was a necessity for their children learn how to swim. Fortunately for us, the military was offering programs to teach dependent kids this very skill.
At 7 years old, I remember my anticipation as my mother drove our blue ’49 Dodge around a curve on a narrow road. Looking down, one could see the gigantic, outdoor turquoise-colored pool. I couldn’t wait to run down those stairs and join my peers.
In the shallow end, my feet could touch the bottom, but my head remained just above water. I joined a group of kids — perhaps 10 or so — listening to the teacher give basic instructions.
He emphasized a strong warning: No one was to go beyond the float rope, which was tied across the pool — just a few feet in front of us.
But being a curious kid, hearing an adult say I couldn’t do something made me want to find out the reason. When the instructor’s attention was turned away, I gradually moved to the left side of the pool. I walked toward the rope and slipped under it.
“What’s the big deal?” I thought. “I’m doing just fine.” I continued to move away from the forbidden barrier when suddenly, I dropped below the waterline — head and all.
I remember releasing air bubbles and thinking how peaceful everything was. I didn’t move and just seemed to accept whatever fate was about to take place.
The next thing remembered was being pulled up by a large hand that brought me to the surface. The instructor had been my rescuer, and after a few coughs, splashes and sputters, I was no worse for wear.
It was a long time ago, but I sometimes think about what could have happened that day. What if the teacher had not seen me? Obviously, I would not be here now, and a young life would have ended in a matter of moments — or at the very least, I could have suffered major brain damage.
Of course, there are some out there who might say I never did escape the latter.
But why did I end up unscathed when so many others under similar conditions never fare as well? Was it simply a matter of luck and circumstances, or was there some kind of spiritual guardian force that made the instructor turn his head just in the nick of time?
I don’t know, but I do know this. Over the years, I have been able to escape negative consequences from a variety of dangerous situations — sometimes created by me and sometimes fostered by others.
I tend to believe that it is more than just pure luck. But if it’s chance and simply playing the odds, then obviously, I’m glad that things worked out for the best.
Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.