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Travels on my stomach.

If you've ever wondered whether it's true that your whole life passes before you at moments of grave (or near-grave) crises, I now have the answer. it's yes.

I don't mean to claim that at my age which is none of your business) I had time to run through my entire wall-to-wall life while I slid off a porch roof without benefit of ladder-which my dear wife had borrowed without my knowledge. But before arriving at the spirea bushes below, I had pretty well reviewed the mileage my body had racked up from similar escapades.

The flashback flashed back to the tender (and I do mean tender) age of I 1 and the girl upon whom I had already squandered five cents for a vanilla candy bar. And I was not about to see my investment go down the drain for lack of derring-do. I would impress her if it killed me. And it was close, real close.

At the first snowfall, I unhooked my sled from its peg in the granary and took it to school. When this little blonde beauty came outside during lunch hour, I carried my sled back about a mile and a half to get a running start and belly-flopped on it right in front of her. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to remove the summer's accumulation of rust from the runners. And I had selected for my landing spot a stretch of gravel only lightly covered with snow. The sled, of course, didn't go anywhere. But I did. Scraping across it and for another ten feet beyond, I was relieved of the outer layer of skin from my entire abdominal area. And I had to gather up my sled and slink around to the other side of the schoolhouse before I could scream.

Our porch roof being at least a dozen feet from starting place to drop-off point, I also had time on the way down for an instant replay of the bicycle episode that cost me still another layer of hide from my beleaguered frontal area.

Because I had no wheels of my own, getting a ride from one of the more fortunate required good old American cash-five cents from the top of the grade to the corner being the going rate. If you have never ridden down that grade north of Richfield Center (Michigan, that is), you won't appreciate why, with the wind in your hair and the open road before you, you are determined to get a little more bang for your buck-or mileage for your money, in this case-by whizzing right on past the bike owner waiting at the corner.

Considering the bang I got for my nickel, I was lucky not to have to pay a quarter. As I whizzed past, the owner ran out and grabbed the handlebar. This left me no alternative but to go sliding up th, gravel road on my ill-fated undercarriage, which, had it not been for the support of my elbows and knees, might well have shed its entire seven layers. (Or am I confusing this with a cow's seven stomachs?)

As I approached the eaves, there flashed across my mental screen the image of my high dive off the banks of the Flint River where it meanders past Puptown, just north of Richfield. Advice from veterans of the dive was to get a good running start, for the edge of the bank was some six or eight feet from the water, and to "dive down, not out," to avoid a painful belly flop. How far I went back to get a start I won't say, for fear of exaggeration. Far enough, anyway, that when I arrived at the leap-off point I was all in. This allowed me no choice but to follow instructions and dive down. Evidence of my belly flop through the underbrush along the riverbank may still be visible today. My head was the only part of me to reach the water.

It's really surprising how many scenes a mind can whip through during its final fling on earth. How far it is from our porch roof to the ground I'm not sure. As I was going over the edge, I pegged it at around 25 feet. It could be less. Whatever-it still allowed time for a replay of the Fourth of July when again I came up short of midriff, as well as lowriff, epidermis.

The town of Davison was combining a celebration of the Fourth with the dedication of its first paved block on Main Street. For the gala occasion I had tucked into the watch pocket of my corduroy pants several explosives, about the size of a quarter, only thicker, known as Devil's Chalk. Rubbed along a hard surface, they would spark and flame and smoke and jump around like crazy. So armed, I joined the rabble of kids stretching from curb to curb, in some places two deep, all eager to race toward the ribbon shimmering in the sunlight at the other end of the paved block. I heard the starter yell, "Ready ... set ... go!" and go I did. For maybe-oh, it must have been a couple of yards, before my legs and another pair of legs intertwined, and down I went. Whatever the distance I totaled on my stomach that day, it was enough to activate my entire inventory of Devil's Chalk.

As I jumped up, with smoke rising, sparks shooting, and the front of my pants beginning to disintegrate, Ray Richards, who owned the men's clothing store, sensing that something was wrong, ran out and began beating on me. By the time the smoking and the sparking and the jumping around was over, I had again lost a sizable section of abdominal hide. And I spent the rest of the gala in the back seat of the family Model T.

Had these incidents only flashed through my mind before I went up on the roof of our enclosed front porch, I might have left the tarring job to someone else. Provided she would do it, of course. Frankly, I didn't think the leak in the roof was worth bothering with. But you know how some women are when they are trying to knit while holding umbrellas over their heads. So you begin looking for the hole in the roof or you begin looking for another wife.

You've heard of the play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof ? The summer sun had been shining on this sucker for at least ten hours that day. And maybe you've been on a roof having a pitch so steep that you have had to lie flat out in order to stay up there. Because I had had to inch my way clear up from the house eaves to locate the place where a few nails had pulled out and the water had poured in, my belly was already done to a turn before I began tarring.

Crawling straight up from the ladder, I figured that if worse came to worst and on the way back down I began slipping, my feet would contact the ladder and I would stop. On the other hand, if worst came to terrible and I had attained enough momentum to cause the ladder to go over backwards, I could catch the lower branch of the locust tree directly behind it. From there I would have to formulate plans for reaching the ground in one piece.

As it was, as I began to slide, instinctively I grabbed for the bucket of tar. Luckily it tipped over, coating my entire right side and slowing my progress considerably. Upon again gathering speed, I looked around to make sure my feet and the ladder were in alignment. No ladder. As I lay there behind the spirea bushes, one ear plugged with tar, vaguely I heard my dear wife say, "Let me know when you want the ladder. I'm pulling ivy off the siding. " I should have thought of this earlier in life, but it's never too late, as the saying goes. The next time I'm in Spencer, I'm going to look for a catcher's chest protecter, X-Large. One that will come down to my knees. It may raise a few eyebrows, to be sure, and I may find it somewhat of an impediment when it comes to leaping into the air and clicking my heels. But on the brighter side, I'm not leaping and clicking all that much anymore.
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Title Annotation:fall from roof brings flashbacks of similar experiences in childhood
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1989
Previous Article:A street of bugles.
Next Article:We can't make it without religious values.

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