B.R.A.T.S. Strong Benefits
While there were lots of sacrifices that had to be made living the brat life, I am talking about giving up a parent unexpectedly, sometimes for long periods, having to leave friends behind when posted, changing schools, adapting to new environments and climates, there were benefits too. One of them was the physical fitness facilities that every base had.
Having learned to swim while I was young, the swimming pool at CFB Kingston was a frequent destination. Open swims were often and there was no cost to attend. My brothers and I made the trek there several times per week for lessons and play.
Lessons were classed as Beginner, Intermediate, Seniors, Bronze Medallion, Bronze Cross. Each grade took a number of years to earn. Now-a-days it seems there are many more, each advancing by age, rather than ability. I liked the older way. It gave you something to strive for, not just live through.
As a young teen I was in Seniors and I could swim well. I was in the same class as my older brothers Mark and Rob, and we went together. Lessons always started the same way, 4 or 6 lengths each of breast stroke, side left, side right, front crawl, back crawl, back stroke, ten minutes tread water (sometimes legs or arms only and sometimes holding a rubber brick), ten minutes drown-proofing. During these exercises we would be instructed to improve our form, make our strokes more efficient, breath properly, and tumble turn at each end.
Following the lengths, we would delve into whatever lesson there was that day: rescue swimming, towing another swimmer, jumping or diving off the low board or high board, diving for objects tossed to the bottom of the pool. These exercises were always fun. It was amazing how the instructors used fun to help us develop valuable swimming skills.
During free swims it was general chaos. Kids everywhere, splashing, yelling, playing, showing off on the dive boards. We would hold competitions to see who could hold their breath the longest. We started with doing a width of the pool, then two widths. I eventually moved up to a full length in one breath.
And then there was fun that didn't involve water. Outside the locker room was a full-length, self-standing mirror. It was designed for the service men and women to check their uniforms before exiting the gymnasium. For us kids, it was entertainment.
We spent a lot of time playing at that mirror. One of us would stand with half our body reflected in the mirror and then move our arms and legs up and down which made watching the reflection look like we were suspended in mid air. By turning our body toward or away from the mirror, it would look like we were folding in on ourselves or erupting out. And the faces, somehow, when someone makes a silly face and it is mimicked in a mirror, it is more hilarious.
We were all quite adept at entertaining ourselves. In the gym was basketball, volleyball, badminton, tumbling, ropes to climb, walls to scale, chin-ups that needed uping, pommel horses that needed riders, and rings that needed muscle ups. Sometimes the karate classes were going on and they were always interesting to watch.
Outside the gym was the snack-bar with its tantalizing smells of french fries and hamburgers. Sometimes I would cough up a bit of the money I earned cutting grass, baby-sitting, or snow shoveling and would treat myself. Fries were perfect with some ketchup.
I don't think we ever really appreciated how much of a benefit this facility was. Those outside the base would never get something like that without extra cost. One of the benefits of being a base brat and one I never forgot.