Winter is here — with a vengeance. On the coldest day of the year, you and I think of crackling fires and hot chocolate.
Meanwhile, a group of 90-something Westporters warm themselves with a video about braving the Burying Hill rocks to swim every day — most of the year — at high tide.
What makes this especially noteworthy is that “90-something” refers not to how many people join the High Tide Club. There are just a dozen or so.
Nope — it’s their age. Many are nearly a century old — and still swimming.
The group was recently immortalized in a video by Howard Friedman. I started watching with an “oh no” feeling. I ended with a heartfelt “oh yeah!”
I was inspired by the lively, energetic attitude of the High Tide Club. Their long lives have been filled with ups and downs. But the joy with which they approach each day at the beach made me want to join them as soon as I can.
Except I don’t think I’m worthy.
Vidal Clay is one of the swimmers. Now 91, she was widowed as a young World War II mother, with 2 babies. She remarried — but her 2nd husband died of a heart attack at 43.
Forced to raise his, her and their children — some were “birth control failures,” she laughs — she went back to school.
When she discovered Long Island Sound, she says, it was “heaven.”
Lucia White is also 91. She was a pioneering woman in the New York advertising world, then moved to Harper’s Bazaar. In 1952 she got sick of the city, and took her mother’s advice to start her own studio in Westport.
Through a series of coincidences, Lucia met Isabel Gordon. She’s now 98. Back then they’d walk along Burying Hill — to the onion farms nearby — and swim every day at high tide.
Rita Adams learned to swim in her native Bavaria. She became a showgirl in New York and Las Vegas. When she and her new husband, Dick, were ready to settle down, they came to Westport.
After decades here — and years in the High Tide Club — she feels like “a fish or a mermaid.” One of the highlights of the video shows her slowly making her way into the Sound — then casting aside her walker, to float buoyantly in the water.
Those women — along with others, like Micki Magidson — invited Mari Meehan to join them in 1992. She, and other relative youngsters like Gesa Taranko, form their summer (and spring and fall) days around the high tides.
They schedule doctor’s appointments at low tide. “This is our medicine,” one says.
They celebrate birthdays together. They hold impromptu picnics. They support each other through illnesses, deaths of loved ones and everything else that happens in life when you’re 70, 80, 91 or 98 years old.
Mortality rates are stacked against us men, but there are a few guys in the club. Malcolm Watson notes that some of the women’s spouses were not swimmers, “and they’re not here today.”
The women (and few men) in the High Tide Club won’t live forever either.
But they’re already looking ahead to the first nice day of spring.
(Hat tip to Patty McQuone)