The Summer of 1969: The Fifth of July

By Richard Mabey Jr.


July of 1969 arrived. I had most of the painting of Thorpe Hall completed. There was still some detail work to be done. But for the most part, the big job of painting Thorpe Hall was completed. The first of July arrived. And on that fateful day, I made a most important phone call. I called the Paterson YMCA to ask about swimming lessons.


The summer before, I had failed my Swimming Merit Badge. If I were to ever become an Eagle Scout, it was required of me to earn the Swimming and Lifesaving Merit Badges. I knew I needed help to become a better and stronger swimmer. A friend, from church, suggested that I call the Paterson YMCA. And, I did just that.


I had an appointment for the first Saturday of July, the fifth of July, at nine o’clock in the morning to meet my new swimming instructor, Lisa Ann at the Paterson YMCA. I was very anxious and nervous because I was very self-conscious that I was not a very good swimmer.


Mom drove me down to the YMCA. I had a pocketful of dimes, so that I could call Mom when my swimming lesson was over. I had my swimsuit and a towel packed away in a small ditty bag. Mom pulled up to the big, tall building and wished me luck. I was a nervous wreck. I was stepping out on my own to the big city. I had no idea that the events that were destined to follow me that morning would be life changing.


An older man was in the lobby, sweeping the floor. When I walked into the YMCA, I had no idea where to go, so I asked the older man. He had a kind smile and a twinkle in his eye. He placed his broom in a corner spot and told me that he would walk me over the swimming pool.


It seemed that the good Lord had placed that dear old man in the lobby, at that very moment in time, to show me where the swimming pool was located. The elderly man pointed to the door to the swimming pool, wished me luck with my swimming lessons, then turned and walked away to return to his task of sweeping the floor in the spacious lobby.


I walked into the huge swimming pool room. The pool was long and wide. I saw a sign that stated, “Men’s Locker Room.” I went into the locker room, changed into my swim trunks, placed my shorts and T-shirt in my ditty bag. I threw my towel over my shoulder and walked to the exit door of the men’s locker room.


At that moment in time, I had no idea that when I walked through the door to the swimming pool room, I was to meet a very special person who was about to change my life.


Lisa Ann was standing, walking along the long edge of the big swimming pool. She had long brown hair that hung down past her shoulders. She was wearing a red bathing suit. I remember it all so well, as if it were just yesterday.


Lisa walked over to me, shook my hand and introduced herself. I was intimidated by how pretty Lisa Ann looked and I shyly introduced myself. Lisa Ann asked me if I had brought my Swimming Merit Bade book with me. Apparently, the person whom I had talked with on the telephone, earlier in the week, had informed Lisa Ann that I needed to develop my swimming skills to pass the Swimming Merit Badge.


I told Lisa Ann that I did not bring it with me. In a friendly, but rather stern voice tone, Lisa Ann told me to bring it with me for Wednesday afternoon’s swimming class. I told Lisa Ann that I would be sure to bring it with me.


By the time that our first class ended, Lisa Ann had told me that she had completed her freshman year at William Paterson State College. She also told me that she was studying to become a grammar school teacher.


Lisa Ann was kind and patient with me. She had great compassion for my anxiety about swimming. She had a calm and soothing voice. But there was the sense of authority in her voice, without being unkind. In short, I fell of the Grand Canyon for Lisa Ann. Little did I know it then, but Lisa Ann was destined to play a vital and important role in my journey to become an Eagle Scout.


To be continued.


Richard Mabey Jr. is a freelance writer. He can be reached at Please place the wording “My Life Weekly” in the subject line.

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