I’ll always remember that evening, like it was yesterday.
It was the early evening, about supper time, and I was headed home on my bike. I’d enjoyed a great time with my best friend, Kenny, and was looking forward to eating dinner.
The bicycle I had was my good and reliable companion. Sort of like a good horse to a cowboy. It took me verywhere in town and ventured out into the country on occasion.
I’ll never forget the day I got that bike.
Mom and dad had promised me a new bike for my 7th birthday. When the day came, mom said its out front waiting for you. I gleefully ran through the house and out the front door.
I couldn’t help, but see the bike because it stood out. There it was leaning against the porch, because it lacked a kickstand. It was orange with a long Banana seat. AND………it was a girls bike.
I tried to protest that this was a girls bike and I wouldn’t be able to endure the shame and ridicule. I’d be sporting this ride in front of my friends and, worse yet, other girls.
Mom pretended that she didn’t know that there was any difference between a boys and girls bike. I just stood there and pointed to the missing center frame between the seat base and handlebars.
Instead, the center dipped down to the pedals,….. so my skirt wouldn’t fly up while riding…..
Mom, however, stuck to her story and continued to deny that it was a girls bike. I knew that I was stuck with this bike, regardless of how much I protested. It was a used bike that they got a good deal on. I was stuck for the duration.
Over the years I grew to love the bike. It took me everywhere and would go through mud and the creek, in addition to city streets. It also survived jumping on homemade ramps, so it turned out to be pretty reliable.
We’d stack bricks with boards as ramps. It wasn’t so much about who jumped the farthest, but who was brave enough to try the highest jump. We all knew that as the ramp got higher, it got more unstable. This meant that a crash was inevitable. Now don’t get me wrong. Everyone knew a spetacular crash was sometimes more valuable than jumping higher or faster.
Skinned knees, a cut across the brow or if you were really lucky, a broken arm. That way you got to sport a cast around town and recount the crash details.
These were examples of young boys acting their age. We knew the possible outcomes, but didn’t pay much attention to them. We thought we were invincible. At that age I thought my parents were also invincible. They’d always been there, so I had no reason to suspect they’d ever get injured. After all, it wasn’t like they were jumping ramps and creek banks on their bikes or jumping off roofs. They were grown-ups. They were always there.
…….Back to the story I started earlier,…. I was pulling up to the parsonage on my bike. The church was next door and there were a lot of cars parked around the block. This indicated there was a major event taking place at the church.
Normally, unless Mom was at home, we had to wait to eat until they got back. I was eager to see if I could eat supper now or would need to wait.
As I pulled into the front yard I realized that there was an ambulance parked in the drive between the parsonage and church. This was exciting! I’d never seen an ambulance at the church before. Wow!…..I wonder what calamity had befallen some member of the congregation?
I began looking in the ambulance windows at the cool equipment. I played with my hot wheels and matchbox cars all the time, but this was the first time I’d gotten an upclose look at an ambulance. I wasn’t worried about what happened to some unknown person. The ambulance was there. They’d be alright.
After several minutes the people began to come out of the church basement door. They were all chattering at once and seemed pretty excited about what had happened. One of the church ladies came over and put her arm around me and told me to “stay calm, everything would be ok”.
What did you say????……I was calm until you told me to stay calm! What was going on? I was just interested in the cool ambulance parked next to my house. Now you’ve got me beginning to think there is something I should be concerned about.
The crowd came out of the church and sort of gathered around the ambulance. The ambulance emt’s carefully carried the stretcher up the stairs. As they placed the person into the back of the ambulance, I got a view of my mothers face. She was moaning and obviously in pain. They had a blanket over her, so I had no idea what had happened.
I didn’t freak out or get excited. What I remember is being shocked. I’d never seen my mother as vulnerable. I’d never seen her as a casualty. She was the Rock. She was the one who saved us and bandaged our wounds.
I had no idea what to file this under. It was a suddeen shock. I got quiet and just stood there taking in the scene. There were already enough people acting excited and milling about as they chattered about what had happened.
As one of the kids, I didn’t get to go to the hospital. Dad jumped in the station wagon and followed the ambulance across town to the hospital emergency room.
My little sister, Von, and I waited at the house. One of our older sisters was there to watch us. As she was the sister who would break my collar bone several years later, you can imagine that we didn’t have much of a supportive and loving relationship. For her, the rule was, if I can physically catch you, you’re toast. So I spent a lot of time on the run or looking around corners.
So, needless to say, I kept to myself all evening as I waited for either some news or dad to come home. I went to bed at my regular time and waited in bed for any noise or activity. I anylized every little sound and every car I heard drive by. Could it be momma or daddy?
Finally, after several hours and late at night, there was a racket at the front door. I hopped out of bed and ran to the front room. I was just in time to see mom awkwardly entering the front door on crutches.
She was in a good deal of pain and had wraps on her burns as well as her ankle. They had apparently given her pain meds, so she was pretty groggy. She was in no condition or mood for a homecoming.
Daddy quickly led her to their bedroom to get her as comfortable as possible in bed. We were herded back to our own beds and told not to bother momma for a while.
This wasn’t a problem for me because the shock of seeing momma in this painful and vulnerable condition was still hitting me hard.
I didn’t cry or get outwardly emotional. It just seemed to pull the rug out from under me. My assumptions about life and the invulnerability of momma had been rocked.
I lived in a world where we had no permanent home. We moved every few years. Mom and dad were the only parts of my life that didn’t change, but now that was in doubt. It was a difficult lesson to contemplate and deal with over the ensuing years.
I suppose it could be a chapter in some child psychology textbook. All I knew was that this worried me at a very basic level. It touched the core of my being. The problem was that I didn’t know how to express it coherently, so I just stuffed it inside and tried to hide it.
The next day, we were allowed to go in and see momma. It was then that I finally got the full story.
She wasn’t dying or ever close to dying. It was good to hear, but I still had that worry in the back of my head that she might not always be there.
I was happy to have her home and got to hear the discussion about everything which had happened.
Mom was working in the church kitchen because they were having a large church dinner. She had turned with a large platter with dishes on it and began to walk across the large kitchen. Another lady tipped over and spilled one of those huge electric coffee brewers that held gallons at a time.
The boiling hot coffee spilled across the slick tile floor as mom turned to walk to the counter. She took two steps on the hot coffee and then slipped and fell. She said her ankle hurt quite a bit, but the immediate problem was that she was now laying in boiling hot coffee. She said she tried to hold her back and rear end up out of the hot substance, but her ankle would hurt and her hands began to burn in the coffee.
Dad was there, but in a different part of the church. No one bothered to find him right away and tell him what had happened.
It took several minutes for the mayhem and chaos to settle down before someone realized that momma was burning in the hot coffee. A couple people finally grabbed her and drug her out of the searing liquid.
On that day I passed through one of those events in life that changes your outlook forever. My momma was still a rock after that. Believe me she could still grab me by the arm and deliver a spanking while on crutches.
But, after that, I always knew that mom was mortal. That, she too, could get hurt. I had been forced to grow up just a little bit and come to terms with the idea that mom could get hurt like the rest of us.
I will admit, though, that my growing up was just a “little bit” because I was still the same ornery pain in the rear child that I’d always been. I guess this was the beginning of my realization that life is precious and that those we hold dearest and closest can be snatched from us in the blink of an eye. And they can be pulled from us over the most mundane of reasons.