My dad never learned how to swim. As a kid, it always made me nervous because he had to drive over a bridge to get to work. What if he drove into the lake? Or what if he pulled over near the on-ramp to do a bit of fishing, and then slipped on a mossy rock? What then? He’d sink to the bottom and I’d never see him again and then maybe I’d have to work at the truck factory instead of him. It was foolish for a man to live so close to the water and not be a good swimmer. I couldn’t believe it. I had to find out why.
When I asked him, he told me about a river that ran behind his childhood home in Saskatchewan. The river was where all the families threw their onion peels, garlic skins, and that sort of thing. It’s just what the river was for. So why would he ever bother swimming, when all he’d get was a mouthful of floppy cabbage leaves and sour milk in his eye? The only people who ever swam were poor and didn’t get enough to eat. “Why’s Albert swimming in the river,” he’d ask his mom. “Because his father’s a good-for-nothing drunk!” Then she’d walk outside with a handful of baby potatoes and plop them along the bank so they’d float downriver to her young neighbour with the refined breaststroke. It wasn’t his fault his dad liked gambling and loose women.
Dakota Mantyka is an electrician who lives by the airport in Richmond, BC.