Don’t Let Your Children Wear Water Wings by
(25 Stories)

Prompted By First Memory

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This won’t be a long story. Most of the Images from my earliest years are spotty. I do remember standing in my crib in my sunny bedroom. I’m pretty sure I don’t remember peeling wallpaper off the wall while standing in said crib — a story related to me later. But I absolutely do remember being held prisoner in a playpen in the kitchen, intently watching the figure of my mother washing dishes. She was wearing a dark grey shirtwaist dress and an apron. Oh, and also the red and gray wallpaper (again with the wallpaper) in the kitchen.

Fateful things can happen to a four-year-old

Then there are the scattered images from the time before I left the house for kindergarten. Miss Frances, of course; a puppy I terrorized and chased under the couch; battles with my brothers over whether we would watch Flash Gordon or Howdy Doody. Small stuff.

The summer when I was four, however, is crazy with memories—probably because I almost drowned. Memories of traumatic events have a way of sticking around.

We were vacationing in Falmouth at a pretty cottage near the beach. My brothers and I spent our days at the ocean under my mother’s watchful eye. Sand in my red and white polka dot swimsuit and bedtime stories read by our dad to us in our pajamas in the pine-panelled beach house: I still have the pictures.

Before The Fateful Day, aka the mother of all memories, I had had a dress rehearsal of danger to come. I had climbed up an exterior wood ladder, again in my red and white polka dot swimsuit (my uniform that summer), to the cottage’s roof. Once up there I was pretty scared. Dad had to come up and carry me me down.

Some day after this I was dogging my brothers as usual, this time into the ocean. I was wearing a set of water wings to keep me afloat. The boys kept venturing farther out, I kept following them. I distinctly recall the moment I felt my feet not touching the bottom. The next moment I remember being a bit confused and at the same time enchanted, looking down at the most beautiful light rippling in ribbons in the water around me. Time was still.

The water wings had done their job, but they had flipped me over. I am told that my mother was temporarily distracted, chatting with a woman on the beach, and that a man who was scanning the shoreline bolted from his beach towel, ran into the water and pulled me out.

Sometimes I think about that man. He probably was a dad; we never knew his name. He likely is gone by now. Perhaps he was an angel; he certainly was my angel that morning, the hero of my first movie-like memory. Will I meet him someday? Was I saved for a purpose, or because I was a little girl just starting life?  Qui sait? That’s the mystery of first memories.


In my thirties I was in Falmouth one day and was walking the beach at Saconesset. I hadn’t been back since that long-ago summer, and I didn’t know the town at all. Suddenly I stopped. Something compelled me to walk over a dune. There it was, hidden in the brush, the charming white cottage of my memory with its wooden roof ladder still attached.








Profile photo of Susan Bennet Susan Bennet
I'm so happy to have joined the gracious Retro family. The basics:
I have a background in marketing and museums.
I come alive when the leaves turn red.
I regret every tech mistake I have made or will ever make on this site.
I want a dog.

Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Susan, I love the feeling of this story, the way you give us a preview of things to come. First, you refer to yourself as “being held prisoner” in your playpen, watching your mother wash dishes. I have never heard anyone else refer to a playpen in that way. I suspect you were not the only child to scrape away wall paper above her crib. It must have be an intriguing thing to do for idle, bored fingers.

    Your description of your days at the cottage in Falmouth seem typical. Romping on the sand, bedtime stories in a wooden cottage. But your description of following your brothers into the ocean while wearing your water wings as your only protection is hypnotic and mesmerizing. The glint of the sun on the water, being flipped, time standing still. I think I stopped breathing. Obviously, we know the outcome because you are here to tell the story, but not how you survived that day. Even climbing that dangerous ladder is the “dress rehearsal”.

    Wonderful to ponder about the man who rescued you – is he an angel? Were you saved to do big things? Who can ever know? But you are here and the perfect way to end by coming full circle and returning to Falmouth as an adult and seeing that cottage, ladder and all, once again.

  2. Wonderful story Susan, and beautifully crafted.

    I love the memories of both your parents – your mother doing the dishes as you watched from your playpen, and your dad reading you bedtime stories.

    Keep those sweet memories , much more important than the scary one!

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    Wow, what a story, and so beautifully told. I can picture the polka dot swimsuit. The trauma of the event is curiously countered by the lovely description of the sun rippling in the water—made me think of stories of near-death experiences associated with a sense of peace. It has been a unique part of your life, as childhood memories are, and maybe even has brought comfort in a way. Remarkable to come across the exact house later on! Thanks for sharing the story.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    I love this story, Susan. So many of your early memories resonated with me. That playpen that was an important part of our childhoods. Of course, Miss Frances and Howdy Doody. Having survived a similar swimming incident (sans water wings) when I stepped into a hole in the ocean and suddenly found myself over my head and unable to swim. I think an older kid pulled me out. Like yours, my mother was “watching”/talking to relatives. Your description of your water wing episode was beautiful.

  5. Suzy says:

    As a parent who thought her children were safe when they were wearing water wings, this story is chilling! Imagine if that unknown man on the beach hadn’t spotted you and dashed into the water to rescue you. As the other commenters have said, your story is beautifully written and a pleasure to read, but also terrifying because of the “what if” factor. Quite a first memory!

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    Very evocative; I could see the story as I read it.

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