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Desloge woman earns admiration at the pool

DESLOGE – They cheer for Norma Lane when she swims laps at the pool. Ah, she’s heard it before.

In 1938, she swam in the Water Carnival in Desloge. She was 15 then and won three of four first-place ribbons. Now, she’s 82. No one gives her ribbons anymore, but the women who join her for water aerobics are still impressed with her prowess in the pool.

“I just brought my ribbons in from the carnival to show my friend Marilyn (Bannister),” said Lane. “She said I ought to show them to our teacher Janet (Jenkins) and she showed them to everybody else.”

The blue of the ribbons has faded in these 67 years, but the memories haven’t.

“Back then, me and my friend Chris Lane (now Hughes) would come to the pool every day if Mama would let me,” she said. “I just loved the water. I took some lessons, but mostly I just learned to swim on my own.”

She was good at it and so, it was only natural when she heard about the carnival, she entered the contests. They were held in the pool built back then by the federal government program, WPA. It was at the very same spot where the Desloge city pool is today.

Wearing a white, terry cloth suit she says was outfitted with her “Junior Life Saver” patch, Lane – who was Norma Brown then – swam her heart out in the carnival competition.

She won the back stroke, then the breast stroke and the free style.

“The only one I didn’t win was the butterfly,” she said.

All these years, those ribbons and the patch from her swimsuit have been carefully tucked away in Lane’s memory book. After she brought them out for her friends, she put them in a frame to protect them as she carries them around.

“I don’t know why I kept them,” she said. “I guess I knew it was something I wouldn’t get to do anymore. I’m glad I can get the ribbons out again and just know I did that once.”

She doesn’t know if there ever was another water carnival in Desloge, but she’s been wild about the water ever since.

“We used to go to the ‘bonehole’ to swim,” she said. “We would walk to Big River by the swinging bridge. We took our lunch.”

All these years later, Mrs. Lane doesn’t get the chance to swim too much anymore. The water aerobics class has given her the chance to display her winning form once again.

“We thought it was great she had those ribbons!” said Jenkins. “And the fact that she can still swim so well at her age is just wonderful.”

In her black swimsuit with brightly colored flowers, Lane uses a cane to carefully walk to the pool. At the stairs, she takes the silver rail to steady herself and lays the cane aside. She walks to the other side of the pool to join her friends in class. They beg her to swim. She takes off her glasses and pushes herself off from the side of the pool and stroke by stroke, she sails upon the water. Her watchful audience shows their admiration with applause and cheers.

And for a moment or two perhaps, it is 1938 all over again.

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