Mary Job is a tall, leggy, striking, rather loose-jointed and ingenuous-looking woman, a high school phys-ed teacher and former Catholic church organist (her final labor pains with Brenda began while she was playing a hymn during the Collect), with strong features, a nice tan and a fresh smile. Mary's mother, the Job kids' grandmother, urged Mary to develop her voice, because she had herself wanted badly to be an opera singer—had in fact won a contract offer from the Met, but her father wouldn't let her accept it. Instead of following her mother's wishes, Mary developed an enthusiasm for swimming. "I envied Florence Chadwick," recalls Mary. "I envied that woman so much. I could swim all day, and I just knew I could swim the English Channel. But my father was a doctor during the Depression and nobody paid him, so I couldn't afford to go to England." Indeed, she had to find her own rides to nearby AAU meets and never got any encouragement from home.
Today, as it happens, Mary's firstborn, Stephen, his swimming days at an end, would like to make it as a singer. Having withdrawn from Yale, where he swam the free-style leg on the national record-breaking 400-meter medley-relay team, Stephen has taken an automobile-plant job while living at home and waiting to see whether he will be drafted. Two nights a week he sings and plays folk guitar in a coffee house in nearby Warren. "I loved to swim for Yale," says Stephen. "That's the highest I've been. And swimming was good discipline; it has helped me with other things, with the guitar, which I love, because it game me a sense of myself, of how I learn things—how I'll go along and reach a plateau and have to stick with it, and can stick with it, until I get across and start improving again. But I don't miss swimming. I miss the competition, but you can set up other challenges for yourself. Music is my thing. It's what I want to do."
Swimming was what Mary wanted the kids to do. As she remembers it, she got the idea of family swim workouts one evening when Stephen was about 9, after she proposed that the whole family do some standard calisthenics on the rug and it turned out that one of the kids didn't even know what a squat-thrust was. Appalled at the evidently low state of phys ed in the local parochial school, Mary resolved to condition the kids herself in the lake out back. All Stephen remembers, though, is that "I asked my mother if she would teach me to swim and she went a little overboard."
It wasn't long before Stephen and Brian were entering local meets, and their times, Mary noticed when she looked up the national records for their age groups, were very fast. "I couldn't believe my children were that good," she says, and that was when she really started in on them.
Pretty soon all four young Jobs were noted in Ohio swimming circles. Lisa learned to swim at the age of 1 and entered her first meet at 5; on her way back home in the car she said, "I want to retire." Other young swimmers came to work out in the lake, where Mary was glad to supervise them. But by and large, says Mary, "They were like fish out of water." Sometimes these visitors could hardly finish one of the wave-tossed laps from the Jobs' dock to a neighbor's breakwater and back, roughly 200 yards. By contrast, the Job kids were doing as many as 13. The visitors went back to their pools, which were unavailable in Cortland, and the Jobs continued to plow through the waves.
"I hated it with a passion," says Brian today. "I hated swimming, I hated that whole scene. It got to the point that we were crying while we were doing our laps. Whenever anyone would mention laps, or lap times, you'd just feel sick. I wouldn't want to wake up in the morning, because I knew I'd have to do laps. And then after the morning laps you'd spend the whole day dreading the laps in the evening. You'd just live from one workout to the next, dreading them.
"It wasn't like some of the stories that got around, that we were being beaten to a pulp," adds Brian. "But my Mom had a belt—if we'd rebel against doing any more laps she'd yell, 'Allright, that's a belt.' Every year we'd have a meeting and Mom would tell us how many laps we had to do. Every year it would be more. She'd say, 'Brian, 12 laps,' or something, and I'd say, 'But I'm only 10 years old!' "
Occasionally Mary would relent and allow them to do push-ups instead of laps. "Push-ups," says Brian, "would be a great vacation—1,000 push-ups. In groups of 100, and we'd count for each other, '1, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 20....' We'd cheat, and when she wasn't on the deck to count our laps we'd play around, have a great time in the water."
But Mary had ways of checking up. Once she took Lisa aside and said, "Stephen tells me you've been lying, that you haven't been doing your laps." "Well, he hasn't been doing them either!" cried Lisa, and the next day Mary was back on the dock.
Swimming wasn't all the kids had to do. They had to sleep a lot. "Until I was 13 I never went to bed later than 7:30," says Stephen, "That's pretty gross. Twenty-two laps, practicing the piano and in bed by 7:30. And we had to take naps, too! Had to stay in bed and not gel up, and not play. I'd get up and get a toy, and I'd get my finger stuck in it. I'd try to pull it out, pull it out as quietly as I could, and it would still be stuck. I'd have to go to my mother and ask her to get it out for me, and then she'd know I'd been up. Sometimes Brian and I would take naps together, and then it would be who could hate the other the quietest."