What We Know about Our Mother’s Complicated Relationship with Water

Nonfiction by Susan Dugan

1. Never learned to swim. 

The youngest of seven children who grew up on a dairy farm in upstate, New York, mom either did not take to swimming or was never given or intentionally dodged instruction. Nonetheless she regularly visited a frigid swimming hole on days so muggy they sucked the brains right out of your head with her older, aquatically able siblings. Our grandmother had no objection to mom accompanying the brood across rural Route 190, the neighbors’ cornfields teaming with tics, on sweltering summer afternoons. To frolic in the dammed [also known as “damned” for the spirits of unbaptized-at-Saint Peter’s-Catholic Church-newborns who had perished frequently in the 1800-to-early-1900s; presumably paddling their tiny blue hands and feet among the pike in a murky Limbo] pond although she expressly forbid mom from ice skating there in the winter [see number 2].

2. Fell through the ice.

After defying her mother’s meager wishes and accompanying the aforementioned siblings on a skating expedition in early spring as the maples began bleeding their sweet sap, mom subsequently ignored her older brother Bernard’s edicts to immediately vacate the pond’s surface due to telltale cracks. She nearly drowned and froze to death after being rescued by Bernard with sibling backup and ultimately lost an eardrum to Scarlett Fever, compromising her hearing for life and preventing her forevermore from immersing her face and ears in bodies of water large and small. 

3. Terrified of the union of water and fire. 

Convinced that we were all just treading water, so to speak, when it came to the inevitability of the diabolical marriage of lightening and water conspiring to kill us, Mom instructed us to unplug the toaster, the percolator, the television at the first clap of thunderstorms approaching like Revolutionary War soldiers risen from their graves above the river. “To hang up the God-damn phone” lest the bolts blaze a path down its curly coils through the handset directly into the unsecured portals of our tender ears. To close all windows to prevent the admittedly slim but nonetheless possible chance of sideways entry – I know! Oh, and, above all, never to run water but instead; drop to our scabbed and scrawny knees to pray and try – for once in our sorry lives – to sound sincere. 

Published 21st June, 2023.

Susan Dugan lives in Denver, Colorado, and writes everything from newspaper and magazine articles to ad copy, marketing brochures and radio scripts, as well as fiction, essays, and poetry. Her short fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry has appeared in literary magazines including eclectica, JMWW, Carve, Amarillo Bay, The Saint Ann's Review, RiverSedge, The River Oak Review, The Esthetic Apostle, Sad Girls Club, and House Journal.

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