Wednesday, May 19, 2010


(Dale Evans and Buttermilk)

A story my mother often told began with her saying she didn't know the yard I was going to play in would have no adult supervision, and since she was gardening in our backyard, she thought I was in line of sight anyhow.

I was four and we were recently back from India, 1959, returned to the small house my parents owned on the edge of Lafayatte, Louisiana. That subdivision was brand new, and not all the treeless backyards looking onto each other had fences yet. My family's chain link fence had only just been installed. Behind us and two or three houses to the right was the yard I went to play in, without any fences in between.

That yard had a new swingset, which was the draw. I don't remember actually knowing the kids I tagged along behind, and they all seemed vastly older than me, certainly much more coordinated. I felt small and alone but not afraid. Not yet. The father who had been outside when Mama waved her okay went back inside while Mama was bent over a flowerbed. Mama would always put this in the recounting with a defensive tone.

The new slide was higher than any I had been on. In my memory, it was towering, which might mean it was twice my height. In that memory, I am not yet afraid of heights. My last memory without acrophobia.

There was a line of us to use the slide, including children standing behind each other on the ladder itself. Someone ahead of us had dared to go down the slide backwards, and now everyone was doing it, but since I was on the ladder I could not see the technique clearly. I got to the top and was determined to do what the big kids were doing. I wasn't sure how to get myself reversed, however. I remember perching on the top and the kid behind me yelling to hurry up, and I even remember leaning far to the side so I could maybe swing my body around in the air.

Mama said I landed on my head. I'm not sure how she could have known that, since neither she nor the father of that house was watching. He only came out when one of his children ran in the sliding glass door, shouting. He was a short, muscled Cajun man in his 30s. He picked me up, unconscious, and began walking hurriedly toward my house.

Mama had straightened up because Peggy from next door had come over to chat. Peggy was Irish and had a pair of Boston terriers named Pat and Mike who were not friendly dogs. Mama said she saw the man coming from the corner of her eye and turned to look, seeing me lying apparently lifeless across his arms. She said it was one of the worst moments of her life.

Daddy of course was not home, and my little brother was a newborn. She said she lay me in the front seat of the car but she had to leave Bill with somebody and Peggy had gone into gibbering hysterics, declaring me dead. The father had gone back home because he still had a yard full of kids. Mama said she slapped Peggy to make her shut up and listen, handing Bill off to her before driving me to the hospital.

I didn't regain consciousness for 45 minutes. Mama was very specific about the lapse of time and I believe her. They said it was a severe concussion. I actually remember the x-rays because they wouldn't give me a pillow for my aching head and instead insisted I lean back against a hard green triangle of wood, which I found very unfair. I was put in a private room and Mama was told to keep me still but not allow me to go to sleep.

She was inventive and spent most of the next three days there with me. I remember clearly that she brought me a Dale Evans paper doll set, hoping that quiet play would keep me absorbed. I took the time to watch Mama cut out one outfit before declaring it boring and refusing to touch it any more. The paper tabs which had to be bent to hold on the clothes were inadequate and everything slipped off. Mama wound up cutting out the entire book of ensembles on her own and arranging them for hours on my bedside tray, muttering to herself between admonishing me to lie still.

I never cared for paper dolls since, they reminded me of captivity. And I can't look out from a height without becoming dizzy with terror. I've worked on the latter, many times. It's kept me from being able to stand up on a chair to change a lightbulb. At this point, given my other physical limits, it's a phobia I'm willing to die with. During movie scenes shot on a precipice, I simply close my eyes.

And not caring for dressing up dolls has been a smart choice, not a phobia at all.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.

No comments: