She was born a Pisces, the fish sign. It fit her, she loved the water. When her family moved to Garden Grove, California, they had to buy a house with a pool. She swam in it every day. She wasn’t for fancy swimsuits; she liked practical black. Her husband made sure it was clean, the water always pearl blue. After a swim, she smoked a cigarette.

She lived in Florida for a while. When I was a baby, she brought me to the beach to show me the ocean and the white sands. She liked Florida, but she missed her family, so they moved back to California. They managed an apartment building in Walnut Creek, near where we lived. Of course it had a pool.

She showed me the differences between the shallow end and the deep end. “Until you learn how to swim, don’t go in the deep end unless an adult is with you.” I promised her I wouldn’t. The next year we moved to a house with no pool. There was a park pool nearby. She signed me up for swimming lessons.

Every summer day, she swam in that pool during lap time. She wore her black swimsuit, and she was beautiful, tanned. Wearing a white swim cap, she looked younger than her age.

She didn’t go swimming the summer of 1980. She was in a hospital room that had a beautiful view of Mt. Diablo. All those cigarettes caught up with her. Dad got time off work and took me swimming every morning in the park pool, then Mom picked me up to go visit. I would tell her about the pool, how much I missed her. I never asked when are you coming home. We all knew she wasn’t going to leave the hospital alive.

July 22nd, 1980: Mom woke me up. “We have to go to the hospital now.” It was three-thirty in the morning. I knew what was happening, yet I didn’t know. I waited in a dark room in John Muir hospital. When I saw my aunts come in the room crying, I prayed that in Heaven, there would be a pool, or an ocean so she could swim.

She’s been gone over thirty years. Every July, I sometimes cry without knowing why I’m crying, but I do know why. I still miss Thora Christine Peterson Cobb, the woman who taught me how to swim, the grandmother I adored.

Her great-grandson was born March 2nd, 2004. Another Fish.

He loves to swim.

Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons has been published in Salon, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Stereo Embers, The Billfold, and Not Very Quiet. A recent MFA graduate from Vermont College of Fine Arts, she lives in Central California and is working on a memoir.

Photo by Stefano Zocca on Unsplash

Fresh disruptive content delivered right to your inbox.