Grandma’s Swans (Day 360)

When Kevin and I were first dating, his mom, Kathleen, started writing me letters. She’d tell me about herself, about Kevin, about her day. I’d look forward to those envelopes with her loopy handwriting; to sitting in my San Francisco attic apartment and reading them, a cup of coffee in hand; getting out my best stationery to compose a response. For nearly a year, we kept up a lively correspondence before I finally came to England and we got to meet face to face. Kathleen was just as warm and interesting in person as she was in her letters and she quickly became one of my favorite people.

Kathleen on her 80th birthday

When Eliza and Hazel came along, they felt the same way. Trips to England to visit Little Grandma were highlights of our years and they always included a walk along the Stour River estuary to see the swans.

Eliza and Kevin on Eliza’s first trip to see the swans, 2002

Kathleen lived in Mistley then, a little village just down the river from Manningtree. Mistley is famous for its hundreds of swans who have reportedly been swimming along this bit of water, delighting generations of visitors, since the 17th century. When Little Grandma died, we scattered her ashes here and my kids firmly believed (maybe they still do) that their Little Grandma became a swan that day. On every visit to England, we always make a stop to see Grandma’s swans. 

Eliza and Hazel visiting the swans in 2007

It’s a very special place and so I was excited to learn that there is a group called the “Manningtree Mermaids” that swim in the river here each day. I wasn’t sure where or when though and I couldn’t find anything online, so today, Kevin, Eliza, Hazel, and our niece, Tanny, went down to see the swans and find a spot for me to jump in. 

After spending some time with the swans, we walked down to the sailing club where Sandra thought she’d seen people swim. There wasn’t anyone swimming at the moment, but there was a little beach and it seemed as good a place as any to jump in.

I always feel a little wary going in a brand new place; like at any moment, someone is going to run over and yell at me to get out, to tell me I’m crazy. After nearly a year of swimming, though, it has gotten easier to ignore the looks from passersby and stop wondering what they are thinking. I stripped down and waded in.

The water was very cold, but I still don’t have a thermometer, so I can’t say how cold. My best embodied guess is less than 6. I didn’t spend too much time wading because I didn’t know what was underfoot. I breathed deeply and glided in.

It felt great. I pottered around the bay, admiring the birds (the swans were downriver a bit), the sun on the banks of the estuary. 

As I got out, I met up with a swimmer who was just getting in and learned that they pretty much go every day there at high tide. I was glad to know for the future and also glad I was swimming in the right place today. I got dressed and we went across the street to the pub to warm up, which turns out to be a very good thing to do post-swim! 

2 thoughts on “Grandma’s Swans (Day 360)

  1. Oh my goodness do I enjoy today’s photos…and the opportunity to meet Kevin’s mom, “little grandma”. So warm…this piece…thanks, Jenny.


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