They think I was conceived in Chicago, next to Lake Michigan. There was a slight discrepancy that I possibly could be a conception from a business trip my mom took with my dad to Russia in 1969. My due date had been predicted as Christmas, but I showed up a month later. I was born in Columbia, South Carolina, on Saturday the 31st in 1970 during the month of January. That makes me an Aquarius to most astro-lovers. People often confuse this sun sign as being of the water element because it’s the “Water Bearer” sign, but in truth, it means I’m an air sign. This is said to make me very mental and intellectually in my head quite a bit. I concur. I was the first child for my proud parents, Jim and Braden, on top of being the first grandchild for my mother’s parents. One summer during a trip on Lake Mohave I interviewed my mom about my birth and childhood. I’ve always been curious and asked lots of questions through the years, but this time I took notes.
Providence Hospital was basically run by Catholic nuns. The Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine had founded this place way back in 1938 and were frontrunners for the women in the workplace movement before it was an acceptable calling. My parents were, and remain, far from anything deeply religious or Catholic, so let’s assume this was a case of mercy meets charity meet convenience. Our home during my birth was mere moments away from the hospital doorsteps. My mom has fond memories of most of the hospital’s women staff being of great support for her. Pointedly considering my mom’s primary doctor was (in her words) “too busy finishing his golf game to arrive in time for the birth itself” and swooping in only after I was received in some Catholically-safe hands. My father had been under strict orders of not being allowed in the delivery room during the entire hospital process. Though one of the nuns would let him sneak in for brief moments when the head nun would step away. That same sympathetic nun even covertly permitted my mom to do the radical walking around the room and sitting upon the toilet for movement of me into place to aid pushing me out for birth. Radical nunnery alive and well in the conservative south — yeah for me!
My parents soon moved us from downtown Columbia out to the little community of Chapin on Lake Murray about six months into my life. Our newly converted summer home sat on a beautiful acre-and-a-half point directly along the waterfront. Mom and dad are avid water and outdoor people. Knowing that water would play an immediate part in my life, not to mention being my backyard and front yard the same, I was enrolled in swimming lessons before I was walking or even a year old. My mom tells the hilarious, yet slightly fearful for her, tale of the mothers first time having to release their children into the deeper end of the pool and me being the only one to swim down instead of up! To this day I prefer swimming as far as I can underneath the water’s surface and to depths when I can handle the ear pressure. I took to water ‘like white on rice’ they would say in the south.
Once in the dead of winter at the Chapin lake home, when I was not quite four years of age, in all my bundled layers of warm clothing, I recall standing at the edge of our property looking out at the choppy water with white caps forming on the wave tips. I stood at what our family fondly called our “seawall”, yet we clearly lived on a lake. I loved that we called it the sea wall as it somehow made me feel the vast largess of life beyond me. Anyway, I then just toppled over “into the drink” my mom said (her consistent expression for getting into the lake)! With no fear at all, I swam easily in all my clothing, the long way around the dock and over to our boat ramp, which had no boat for many years, and crawled out of the water. My parents were thrilled there was little drama. The only crisis sensation I recall is specifically choosing to swim my way around the lengthy dock that jutted out into the lake, instead of taking the shorter route under it to the ramp. At such a young age I hadn’t learned to brave the darkness of the water lurking under the dock’s shadow. In later years I would relish challenging my neighbor Chris, who I had a crush on and always sought to impress, to diving to the bottom under our dock to scavenge a rock or anything he could come up with.
I was a tomboy through and through. There wasn’t a tree, a boulder, mountain or anything similar I wouldn’t try to tackle. I loved to swing high and get dirty. I performed flips on land and in the water. I especially excelled at running all around. I was so good at charging that at age three I sustained my only two significant childhood injuries in the same year. First was a split lip I received racing around my nursery school, ending up looking like ‘Cassius Clay’ my mom reported. Next was slicing my chin open by biting down below my lower lip’s skin with my then-generous overbite while going over a big bump riding in a jeep along the wildly undiscovered shores of a tiny island my dad recently staked partial ownership in with a family friend. Capers it was called and sat just off the South Carolina coast near Beaufort (not to be confused with the tourist island of the same name).
At four months I made my first trip to Washington DC, and in conjunction my first trip to Europe and Eastern Europe at six months. Hence my parentals preparation of wee one water time as well, since we logged time along the Adriatic coastline. All this cosmopolitan jetting simultaneously set the stage for nurturing my water wanderlust. From lakes to oceans to seas and notably islands, I remain a seasoned aqua adventurer to this day.
I also remember countless winters when the area beneath our lake dock would be dry of water as the county retreated the dam waters back for some sort of electricity purposes. My dad or I would spend hours in search of my mom’s wedding band that would have fallen off during the hot months of her stripping entirely bare — wedding ring and all — to bathe in the summer sun, and invariably losing her nuptials symbol. This happened nearly every summer, over and again “into the drink” went mom’s marriage marker. We always found it though. Our ‘sea’ not typically as turbulent as real ocean waters I would come to know well in others places on the planet.
While a lot of kids across the country went to summer camp and I did enjoy the usual Girl Scouts routinely each season, plenty of my better early overnight camp memories are of Sailing Camp. Water, boys, camping, and sailing. I couldn’t imagine anything better! I would come back to this delicious combination again in college. I settled into the sea-faring College of Charleston Olympian-caliber racing community extremely comfortably. There remains something extra special for me about a skilled man aboard a boat, expressly in preppy boating attire, sporting his Mount Gay Rum red hat. Oh, the charm of drinking and flirting with a sailor wearing one of those coveted red caps in hopes he might let you have it for keeps.
One of the defined photos placed in my baby book is of me in a kiddie pool naked with the biggest grin. Though my vivid memories spent swimming and of all saltwatery things start early around age one and a half, I have often joked that maybe I came from the great big blue ocean, actually the child of the great Greek God of the Seas Neptune or the birthing from some mermaid union. Think Madison from that movie Splash I so love. All plays marvelously into my fantasy-prone psyche. Maybe that day long ago when I fell into Lake Murray I was daydreamingly ‘lost at sea’ trying to reach back to my mermaid maker. This babe is certainly one full-fledged water baby at heart, an earnest sea animal.