Growing up in Louisa – Tripping
Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn
I took time this spring to do something that adults seldom remember to do. It wasn’t as if I planned it or that some grand idea had entered into my increasingly feeble mind. It was more a matter of chance. I was putting in several small raised beds of potatoes, some peppers and tomatoes in the garden just next to the house, outback. As so often happens with us mature folk, I tripped over my own feet. On the way down to the ground I attempted to guide the direction of the fall so I might not demolish the structures I had just created. After all, building them had not been without some difficulty and my bulk was sufficient to destroy those simple structures. The trip wasn’t all that long, as it turned out. Omph! I had hit the ground sure enough but had luckily missed the sides of the raised beds. Whew, thank goodness. A broken rib isn’t fun and would make getting back up on my feet even more difficult if not impossible. Already light had returned after the black that came with the impact, so I knew life still was intact. I wondered when the pain of a broken limb would signal that all was not well, but so far, so good.
I turned slightly to face upward and found that my back was resting against a bale of straw left over from last fall’s decorations. You see, I had put it there to use to mulch the garden when it was finished. The tender new plants would love its shade and protection from the hot sun. As if foreseen, the hay now served a grander, if only temporary, purpose. It was giving me support I might not have otherwise enjoyed after the fall. How brilliant I must be to have set it just there! By a stroke of luck I was facing north so the afternoon sun was at my back rather than burning into my already wrinkled face. From this humbling position I decided to take a rare moment to relax. I exhaled and determined to enjoy what God had wrought. Ah, peace blanketed me as I allowed my thoughts to wander. Unlike many folks I know that rush about hardly noticing the wonders of the world, I was used to taking time to think thoughts that surprise even me. I’m sure there’s some medical term but I’ll continue to avoid boxing it up in hope of finding a cure. I prefer it left alone.
For example, I toyed with the question, “What good is a June bug if you have no thread?” What a waste, of an opportunity, but then again, tying a string successfully to those tiny legs requires certain control of the personal digits, which I have always lacked.
“Then what else?” I asked as my eyes surveyed the world from this uninvited perspective. “There!” I heard myself exclaim as I pointed to an area I had not yet worked. “There is a hole right here in my garden. Hummm, I noticed it was smaller than a rabbit hole, so Alice would not find a way to Wonderland through this portal. So what, pray, is it? Perhaps a hole for a voile, or a snake? When that thought flashed through my crackly mind, I considered it might be a time to rise since I am not especially fond of snakes. In particular, I dislike copperheads. One had been spotted nearby last summer. Also, I myself had seen a blacksnake only last year, but I know those as welcome friends since they clear the land of vermin, but I know of no good use for a copperhead.
The sun was warm on my back, but the ground that I had at first thought warm was turning to be a little on the damp side. My aching hip sent a routine message of rebellion, but I vowed to push that aside and take my time. I thought if I could remain yet a little longer in this habitat, I might still profit in some way from my fall. I shut my eyes and felt for any serious injury that my body had suffered. After all, at my age I could have come to real harm in the mishap, so wanted to know before it was too late. I mean stories abound of older folks falling only to die in short order, either from the fall or some side effect. If I was to die, I’d rather do it lying down, and since I was already in position, it was convenient to stay where I was to see any event that may happen.
Picturing the scene as if from above, I knew that there was a garden hoe and shovel within arm’s reach, and the straw bale, too, would provide the extra help I would need to pull myself upright whenever the need arose. So I relaxed again, rested, and turned my mind to another time as I had laid upon the ground.
When I was a youth I used to sit on the side of Town Hill, laying back to see the shapes of the clouds, or who would hang out laundry, or be out trying to find their kids. I would invent various fantasies that only a boy could dream. I fought Civil War battles and stayed off Indian attacks, sometimes rescuing damsels from a dreaded fate. I was young enough that I had no idea of what that meant, but as a chivalrous knight it was my duty to save her from the ogres of the world. I had tried running downhill to the grade school grounds but that usually was scary and painful. I would pick up such speed that I would not be able to keep up and would soon roll out of control until momentum stopped me, or some rock or tree.
My imaginings were diverse, but never lasting. It took only a new thought born from the sight of a rock, or a fresh movement of the wind, or even a fleeting noise, and new ideas would jump to the forefront. In my mind I imagined great symphonies of natural sounds and corresponding displays of color. Like the produce of the garden, I had canned these things in my memory. Now, here I was, sitting in the garden, and I remembered more.
I remember playing tag, and hide and seek behind the home of Doc McNabb midway down Lock Avenue. It was at dusk when I ran under a neighbor’s empty clothesline. I had hit a wire that my eyes had not seen. The pain across my poor, bare, neck raised alarm. I felt as if I was an arrow pulled taunt across the bow ready to release. Instinct grabbed at the offending wire as I pulled my head back to set me free, falling backwards to the ground. Mother Earth was there for me again. All I remember was that it was wet with an early evening dew and that my throat stung. Later that night I would see a line across my neck that told me how lucky I was that it wasn’t worse.
Another time when I was playing, perhaps chasing others, I tripped and fell forward on the grass. This time was also at dusk. I lay on my belly in the tall grass that was well past ripe for cutting. When time allowed me to focus, I saw this little bug crawling up one of the blades. There was no urgency for me to move so I stayed to watch the little beetle climb toward the top of this piece of vegetation. When the bug got there he (or she) opened its wings and flew away. My eyes followed the creature in the dimness when lo, it lit up! I should have recognized its orange head and known at once it was a lightning bug. Suddenly, as if this bug’s actions had caused a global reaction, the whole of the yard was lit with more of the insects, creating a wonderland of twinkles. I was accustomed to grabbing a canning jar to capture them, but I didn’t want to break up the display. I was also a little older than those days when canning them was my practice. This time I left them alone to light the darkness and make their magic.
This got me to thinking about how that fairylike thing works. How do they illuminate the surroundings with short bursts of light? Was this an electrical impulse, perhaps AC or DC, or was this an early version of LCD’s? Silly, I know, but there’s really no limit to the questions that a boy can pose. In most cases even if the answer were known it would still be worth the asking. What’s more important was that it happened and this big giant saw into that smaller universe. It made me wonder about the many things I didn’t see.
For example, the other day my wife had to ask if I noticed her haircut. Err, how about the color of the dress she wore the last time we went out to dinner. I’ve seen lots of times when it would have been handy to know. Alas, I’m but a man and I’m guilty of rarely noticing anything beyond what’s right in front of my nose, and noticing those details would save me and her feelings, too.
So how many times have I fallen? Countless times, I’m sure. My feet have never cooperated as they should. Dancing was a problem for me until I was an adult, and by then it really didn’t matter. The sports I played always took me to the ground, as if it were a second home. Is that what the preacher means when he proclaims ‘dust to dust?’ I think my destiny is clear.
Back in the day life was a time of exploration and amazement for many of us kids. Whether it was the sound of a stringed instrument, or a woodwind, or the bronze bell ringing, it was all wonderful. The sound of a Model T chugging down Franklin, or the ‘ooooga’ of its horn, a train rumbling through town bellowing smoke and blanketing porches with cinders, or the oozing of an oil slick into a stream, it was all about life. I wasn’t about focusing long on anything, in case you can’t guess. I was about sensing and seeing and understanding life. I observed people and their reactions, some good, some not so good, but reactions that said more than met the eye.
The light suddenly went on! If Susan were to look out and see me lying in the garden she would surely panic, knowing that my time might arrive most any time. Well, I did not want to cause her undue alarm, so I pushed on the ground, turned my hulky frame over and with a struggle pulled myself to my feet. Once accomplished, I decided to retreat into the house as a respite from the sun. Air conditioning and a breeze from a ceiling fan would comfort me while I sipped some iced water. Sitting in my chair I realized I had enjoyed my self-made seat in the garden, but a child’s imagination and memories of another time would not dominate here. I turned my attention to the women’s College Softball World Series. That provided sufficient noise to drown out chance encounters with independent thought. There were few mysteries and absolutely no bugs to watch.
The lesson? Sometimes we allow life to be so busy that we miss the most basic elements that teach us Who is in control, and how beautiful His creation. Whether a June bug, a lightning bug, a snake hole, or a game we remember on a cool summer’s evening. In a way I miss the days when much of my time was up on town hill, or on a porch relaxing and swinging gently. I remember checker games at the barber shop and reading a new comic book at Ed Land’s while I sucked on a straw. Whether a milk shake or an Orange Crush, in those days all seemed well. A lot of it seemed magical. We now fill our time with ‘things’ and have busied ourselves with a level of communication we could not have envisioned. We text, we phone, we email and post every thought, but we often don’t see or hear the music of nature. We take it for granted.
Today, we have more stuff, and have more activities than were possible in our youth, but are we happy? The simpler times of one-room schools, of playgrounds, of shooting marbles, or cutting out paper dolls, or fishing, tossing a ball, and playing hide-and-seek. This was our life then and it was all we needed. There was no need to text or read email, we didn’t care about the prime-minister of some foreign nation, and certainly weren’t about talking about sex in mixed company. TV was funny, but it was slap-stick, not shocking.
Maybe my fall was a wakeup call. Today, I am an extremely busy person, working, writing, painting, gardening, and trying to bring some culture into the lives of my grandchildren. Maybe a visit into the past would be beneficial to us all and help us remember those little things that count. It’s the quiet times we spend together, or even alone that help us understand our place in the world. Knowing that brings true peace. So trip over something for goodness sake, but pad your landing. It may it be a sweet moment for you, too.
To add a little more to the story, a few days ago when picking the now grown tomatoes and holding a basket full of the fruit, I tripped again, but this time I was trying to catch my balance. As I had fallen downhill and was running down a slight slope. My speed was picking up as I was attempting to break. My choice was to lower a shoulder and roll, or to keep trying to get my feet in place and gain control. I looked ahead and saw a fence maybe fifty feet ahead and knew it was likely I’d destroy either it or me. Finally, maybe ten feet shy of the fence I was able to stop. I know I was a sight running with all those tomatoes, trying not to spill them. If it had been filmed we would have seen the fear in my eyes as the fence drew nearer. Afterward, when I told Suzie, she laughed. She actually seemed delighted at the word picture I had painted. I got no respect, but plenty of sore muscles from the unwelcomed exercise. It was hard to move over the next few days. I had forgotten I had those muscles.