Accidents happen. To most people in most families, accidents are one of those things that randomly occur and you look back at the oddness of the situation and laugh at the uniqueness of the circumstances that led to the accident. In my family, however, I come from a long line of accident-prone people. Calamity just seems to follow us. Seldom is there anything unique about how or why we’re in the middle of an accident. Even the most mundane event can bring about a mishap. It’s pretty much what we do. It’s a family trademark.
Take my father for instance. When I was about ten, he was re-roofing the house with my younger brother (then about 8). Why they would still be roofing the house at 10:30 at night is a question for which I still don’t have an answer, but they were. Any sane person would’ve stopped roofing when the sun went down, but not my dad. And because my dad was out there, my younger brother – his shadow – was out there with him…when he fell off the house.
Yes, I said he (my father) “fell off the house.” At 10:30 at night. And, being my dad, it didn’t phase him that his foot – that should’ve been pointed forward – was turned at a 90° angle. He reached forward, grabbed ahold of his foot, and set it himself. That’s my dad.
Several weeks later – and with a cast still on his leg – he decided to take the tractor out to the far end of the horse pasture for reasons known only to him. Dad got to the far end of the pasture and – as if Karma was waving her magic wand – the tractor died, leaving Dad about ten acres in the back of a secluded field with a broken foot and no crutches. Just him and the horses. He’d left his crutches in the truck when he boarded the tractor, never imagining that Karma would rear her ugly head. Of course this was in the days long before the idea of cell phones, and he had no halter to use on the horses. He would have a long crawl back to the truck.
Then there was the time my dad was welding with my younger brother (same “shadow”). Again, it was late at night – probably around 10:30 at night. Somehow the red-hot iron rod they were working with got dropped…on my brother’s foot. The rod instantly burned through the shoe he was wearing and left a dime-sized burn on the top of his foot. In that moment of pain, my younger brother jumped backwards and straight into the open cellar door, falling about 20 feet straight to the bottom. The porch had been built around the cellar in such a way that, with the cellar door closed, it became part of the floor. With the door opened, there was a large, gaping hole in the floor about the same size as a standard door. Why the cellar door was open, I have no idea, but there you have it. My younger brother was lucky to escape with no broken bones and only a nasty scar and the trophy of his burned shoe to show for it. I think he still has that shoe. Nobody would believe this story otherwise.
As you can see, then, being accident-prone comes fairly naturally to me. Knowing this, I’ve spent the last 30 years trying to predict and circumvent potential accidents. You’d think, then, that I’d have thought twice about trying out that stair-stepper at the local Montgomery Ward store. Unfortunately, it would appear that I am my father’s daughter.
My husband and I were in our first year of marriage and were still in that stage of bending over backwards to please each other. Troy had been ill for several days with some sort of upper respiratory virus, and it’s a bit of a simplification to say that he “wasn’t feeling well.” But, we were newly married and he wanted to please me; so, when I asked him to go with me to the mall to pick out a stair stepper, he crawled out of his death bed to join me.
On this particular day, I was carrying my brand new leather purse that Troy had purchased for me only a few weeks prior. It was the most expensive daily-use item I think I’d ever owned up to that point. Wanting to please me, Troy hadn’t grumbled or batted an eye when I asked him if he’d buy me that beautiful Dooney and Bourke purse. At roughly $350, the price was ridiculous; but remember we were young (read: stupid) and newly married (read: in La-La Land) and he wanted to make me happy. At the time, buying that stupid purse would make me happy…as would pulling himself out of his death bed to take me to the mall to buy an exercise stair stepper.
We arrived at the mall and decided to window shop for a bit and then grab a quick lunch before settling down to investigating those stair steppers. As a result, I was still holding my drink from lunch when we arrived at the Montgomery Ward where there were several of those little stair stepping beauties on display.
In case you haven’t seen these original stair stepping machines, allow me to describe them to you. For starters, they’re small and and the whole unit consists of the little steps that move up and down and with the tension changed by the turning a knob on the bottom side to make the springs tighter or looser. The genius who developed these early models didn’t take into consideration that some type of bar or handle would be helpful for steadying yourself. It never occurred to him/her that the person using this contraption might not have any balance…or might be inherently accident-prone.
As I walked into the Montgomery Ward store, I had one of those Wayne’s World moments…you know the one: remember that scene in the movie when Wayne is at the dance club and sees the beautiful Tia Carrere on stage across the room? The moment he sees her, everything else in the room ceases to exist and all he can see is this beautiful woman on stage as the song Dreamweaver plays in his head. “Oh yes…she will be mine!” Yup…that’s pretty much what happened to me. I walked into the Montgomery Ward and spotted those beautiful exercise stair steppers across the room. The sunlight glinted off of the metallic parts and all I could think to myself was, “Oh yes…you will be mine!” I was a a driven women.
“This is it?” Troy asked, as we approached the machines.
“Yup!” I said. “This is it!”
“Okay, then…let’s get it.”
“Wait. Let me just try it out first to make sure I like it as well as I’m sure I will,” I responded.
Famous last words.
With my soda in one hand, and my beautiful new handbag slung over my arm and held tightly with my other hand, I excitedly stepped onto that gorgeous machine. I can’t tell you what happened next as it’s somewhat of a blur. It all happened so quickly, and yet it felt like it was in slow motion. I had stepped onto the machine with one foot, then lifted my second foot to join the first, and the next thing I see is the industrial tile floor racing toward me.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!” I screamed, reaching out for the handrail that wasn’t there.
I landed with about as much grace as a grizzly bear being shot out of a tree with a tranquilizer dart. Only there was no net or trampoline to catch me. With arms flailing and the floor rushing toward me, the only thought flying through my head was “My purse!!!!” You see, with my soda in one hand and my beautiful new handbag in the other, my first and only concern was not that I was falling and potentially about to die. Rather, it was that I had this brand new, ridiculously expensive purse that I must protect at all costs from the certain damage that would be caused by the carbonated beverage in my hand. A girl’s gotta have priorities, ya know!
Unfortunately, Poor Troy with his illness-addled brain, was moving in slow motion as well. By the time his brain had caught up to the fact that I was falling, I was already on the floor. And then, before his brain could catch up with his mouth and offer to help me up, he said, “Honey…you spilled your drink on your purse.”
At that moment, the only thing I could do was to think to myself, Really? Thanks, Honey! Do you think you could help me up? There’s a crowd growing.
And there was a crowd growing. Within moments, there must’ve been 50 people standing around me in a circle. Where in the world did that swarm of people come from, when only moments ago we were practically the only two people in the store? Seriously?
“Excuse me! Pardon me! Let me through! Stand back, people, and let her have some air!” said the store manager as he finally made it over to my side as I’m pulling myself off the floor.
“I’m good! I’m fine!” I said in a chipper voice, doing my best Mary Catherine Gallagher imitation.
“Are you okay? Should we call an ambulance? Maybe you should see a doctor!” the store manager said all in one breath as he reached my side.
“No, no! I’m good!” I said as I quickly tried to back myself out of the store. I don’t embarrass easily, but I was beyond mortified. I was covered in Dr. Pepper and the only thing I wanted to do was get out before another person happened upon the scene. But the crowd was too thick and they weren’t allowing me a graceful exit.
“Ma’am” said the manager, “I’m going to need you to fill out some paperwork for insurance purposes before you leave.”
Are you kidding me?? I’ve just made an absolute fool of my self in front of dozens of people, and now I have to stick around to tell everybody what happened? No way!
I tried to extricate myself from the crowd of people and escape the manager, but he wasn’t having any of it. In spite of my many protestations that I was “fine”, he absolutely refused to allow me to leave until I’d filled out his paperwork and explained in detail how I’d managed to land on his floor. There was no hope for it; I had to give in or I’d be stuck there all day.
After about 20 minutes of answering questions (both verbal and on paper), I was able to get cleaned up and we were on our way again.
Besides a flair for “falling with style,” there’s a second thing I inherited from my father: hard-headed determination. You see, I had decided I was going to buy that exercise stair-stepper that day, and I’ll be danged if I was going to leave the mall without it. I just wasn’t going to buy it at Montgomery Ward. I’d already endured enough indignity at that store for one day, and there was no way I was going to stay there another second and have them laugh at me while they rang up my purchase. But I was determined to have that stair-stepper and so off we went, this time to Sears where I knew they also had these same devil contraptions that I was still determined to call my own. Troy seemed a bit surprised that I was still determined to have one, but he’s a good guy and just decided to “go with the flow.”
We arrived at the Sears store and there they were in all their (somewhat tarnished) glory. I guess the sunlight was different in this store because they no longer had that same sparkle and gleam as they’d had in the Montgomery Ward store, but I had made my decision: I needed one of those Spawn of Satan machines and by goodness I would take one home with me before the day was out.
“Here it is,” Troy said, as we approached the machine.
“Yup,” I said. “Here it is.”
We stood there looking down at the machine on the floor, neither of us making a move. “Well,” I said, “will you pick it up for me so we can pay for it?”
Troy looked at me with a confused expression on his face and asked with complete sincerity, “Don’t you want to try it out first?”
Seriously????? Had he completely forgotten the last half hour? Had he taken out an insurance policy on my life and was hoping to cash in? Did he really think I was going to get back up on that thing…in front of people??
There were so many nasty comments flying through my brain at that moment, but I held my tongue and assured him that I was certain this was the right one and that I’d be happy with it.
And I have been happy with it. I found a great home for it in my utility closet where it has been put to great use these last twenty years holding up stacks of boxes and other storage items. We brought it home where we took it out of the box and set it up. Unfortunately, I’m still a little afraid the maniac machine may get a wild hair and throw me off again. Throw me once, shame on you…throw me a second time, shame on me.
The third thing I inherited from my father: The common sense to know when to stop tempting fate.
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