Falling In—Two Tales from Chesapeake Bay (or thereabouts)

I’ve written before about spring vacations our family took when our kids were small—how I struggled to find a church in which to celebrate Easter and how I had to hide the Easter candy from my children. One memorable trip over Easter was a week in Virginia when the children were in grade school. We started in Norfolk, flying there on Good Friday to spend the Easter weekend, before traveling on to Williamsburg and Roanoke.

My husband’s friend from his U.S. Naval Academy days was assuming command of a submarine based at Norfolk, and on the Saturday after we arrived, we attended the change of command ceremony. When I’d packed for the trip, I’d been thinking southern and spring. I’d been thinking warmth. But such was not the case. That Saturday was cold and blustery. It had rained or was raining—I can’t remember which—but the ground was wet. My daughter and I wore our Easter finery—spring dresses and fancy shoes. We had only light spring sweaters to break the wind.

USS Montpelier prepares to moor at-Naval Station Norfolk (U.S. Navy photo)

Among the events available on base to celebrate the occasion was a tour of the submarine shortly after the ceremonial reading of orders. So after eating our punch and cookies, we stood in line on the dock alongside the submarine, shivering as we waited our turn to board. Finally, it was time to step onto the top of the submarine. My daughter’s shiny new patent leather shoes slipped, despite the non-skid surface. She almost tumbled into the harbor waters of Chesapeake Bay.

My husband caught her arm and hauled her to safety.

But that was the end of her interest in a submarine tour. She wanted no further part in the ceremony, at least not in any part that took place outside. So she and I went to sit in the cold rental car (at least it was out of the wind), while my husband and son walked through the submarine.

My son came back raving ecstatically about everything he’d seen—bulkheads and warheads and mess halls and bunks. My daughter didn’t care. She just wanted to go back to the hotel and put on her jeans. I have to say, I agreed with her.

Rowing on the Potomac, though not in a pair

By a strange twist of fate, about a decade later my daughter rowed crew for Georgetown University. At some point during her freshman year, she was assigned to row a pair with a teammate. A pair is a boat with only two rowers, each using only one oar. So there is only one oar on each side of the boat—an inherently unstable proposition when practiced by beginners.

The two Georgetown rowers promptly fell into the Potomac River—the northern arm of that same body of water that my daughter had narrowly escaped in Norfolk. They were soaked in cold, not-too-clean water.

But now grown to college-age, she laughed as she told us the story. And I don’t think that was her only dowsing in the Potomac in the four years she rowed for Georgetown.

I guess she developed better coping skills in the ten year period after her Norfolk experience.

What near catastrophes do you remember from childhood vacations?

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  1. I’ve always loved the Chesapeake Bay area. Once, while vacationing in Nags Head, NC, I was dying to try out my new raft. I ended up getting pummeled by a huge wave. As soon as I went under, I didn’t know which end was up. After swallowing a lot of water and sand, the years that followed were spent in the hotel swimming pool.

  2. Funny, I never think of the Chesapeake in Virginia, but of course that’s where it meets ocean. The Chesapeake I know, is, of course, in Maryland, both Baltimore and in Southern Maryland. Thanks, Theresa, for reminding me! Funny, too, how we learn to “own” a piece of water, which of course, is not grounded anywhere. Lol.

    • Janet,

      I’m not sure if the Norfolk harbor and the Potomac are technically part of the Chesapeake, but it’s all connected.

      I’ve never thought of owning water, though I do think of some water locations as home. Coeur d’Alene Lake in Idaho. Monterey Bay in California.

      Thanks for commenting. Theresa

  3. While at Grandmother’s for the summer I rode bareback on a horse called Ginger. She should have been named Vinegar, because she was full of it. Out past the corral we were going a pretty good clip when a pig let out a squeal and ran from beneath a feeding trough. Ginger jumped sideways and I fell off flat to my back. When I opened my eyes, her two front hooves slammed down on either side of my head as she headed for the back 40.

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