Friday, June 7, 2013

Flagstaff, Arizona, Esther Williams & Me

Several years ago, I took Amtrak's Sunset Limited from Houston to Arizona. I got off the train in Tuscon, then found a Greyhound shuttle bus to take me from the desert to Flagstaff, which is 6,000 feet above sea level  That beats any hill in Houston, Texas.
I was lucky enough to find a room at the historic Hotel Monte Vista, which was the subject of a ghost story by mfriend, Debe BranningMy room was on the second
floor, near the top of the stairs, very quiet. It was Room No. 224. Esther Williams' room. A very turquoise room. I was thrilled to spend three nights in the same room as Williams when she was in Flagstaff, probably in the 1950s. In fact, I had probably seen the movie she was making. 

During high school in the 1950s, I was so enthralled by Esther Williams' swimming, I saw all her movies and joined a synchronized swimming team at Oakmont Country Club outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I wore modest, draped, one-piece bathing suits [Esther Williams brand below] and Speedo swim caps that fit over my entire head, decorated with colorful, wiggly flowers. 

As the coach played loud 45 records on the portable record player, I learned to float on my back with a red-lipstick smile on my face, to barrel roll and dive deep under water, to come back up to the surface with that smile still pasted on my soaking wet face, and float on my back again, but this time with my arms and legs extended, almost touching those of the girls on either side of me, slowly, slowly treading water and moving my hands in time to theirs and the music so that we all rotated 360 degrees, smiling, smiling, smiling.

Today, you can find me in a slow lane of the lap pool at the Tellepsen Family Downtown YMCAI smile brightly (no red lipstick) as I do back strokes, crawls, side strokes, and breast strokes, my head out of the water, my feet making no waves. 

When I'm done, I plunge deep underwater and make my way along the bottom of the pool to the stairs. I come back up to the surface with a smile on my soaking wet face, my hair in my eyes, no bathing cap. My ascents and descents are not elegant. And I wear a modest black bathing suit to cover all my bulges.

After all, I'm 72 years old. 
But when I'm in that cool turquoise pool, I'm Esther Williams all over again.

Esther Williams died this week. She was almost 92.


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