My Mom was always able to tell when one of us kids was in trouble. But she wasn’t the kind of Mom that tried to catch you doing wrong. She didn’t need to. I believe her theory was that one way or another, sooner or later, whether it was her or my dad that found you out, or it was just the final come-uppance that you could count on from God, you could always be sure your sins would find you out!
And yet, I still tried to pull off the monkey-shines. There’s something in the teenage genome that made me believe I was invincible, impregnable, impervious to the consequences – and just a little too tricky for my parents to catch me. Armored by those teenage “defenses” and a really thick skull, I rode out to do battle against my parents’ wits, only to keep losing and being found out. I never seemed to learn. It never occurred to me that teenagers since the time of Cain & Abel have been trying to fool their parents, and there is little evidence that I should be more adept at this lost cause than any of my predecessors. I wonder if it isn’t true that half the fun of shenanigans comes from the fear of getting caught.
I skipped my last year of high school because my college of choice had a program where you could get in just by having enough (and the right kind of) credits. I did OK grade-wise in high school, but I kept getting kicked out (the Academy had some pretty strict rules, but the shenanigans were nobody’s fault but mine – I knew the rules.) So, I thought I would do well to by-pass the drama of getting kicked out in my senior year. In retrospect, I realize that I could have forgone the drama by just behaving myself. But that didn’t occur to me then, which proves that I probably wasn’t really ready for college as I was just too busy having fun. In fact, I was having a lot more fun than I was having study time. I did have a part-time job doing some sort of paperwork for the music department, but it was a breeze. Classes were pretty easy – I took almost exclusively music classes and didn’t even type my own papers. I left that chore to this cute blonde farmer’s daughter I had met for the first time the year before at Band Camp. (No, seriously! And then a couple years later we were married and talking about kids.)
When it came time for Thanksgiving break that first year, I told my folks that I was going to stay in Lincoln and work at school instead of coming home. I knew that if I came home for break, I’d be working for my old man with no time left over for fun and games – and that’s just not fair; not when you’re 17. So, once again, I tried to pull a fast one on Mom and Dad.
I didn’t work at my music job at college that week. Instead, four of us piled into Jack’s VW van and headed to Colorado to ski. The van was just barely reliable enough to make the trip with a lot of crossed fingers, and was sorely deficient in the heater department. It was freezing cold as we drove all night to get to Colorado. I remember that Dan and Suzie (the names might have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent) spent almost the entire trip to Boulder in a sleeping bag in the back of the van trying to stay warm. It must have worked because the van’s windows fogged up very badly. Jack & I stomped our feet and wished we had a couple sleeping bags in the front seats too so we could stay warm. Suzie offered to share theirs, but there wasn’t really room for three people in it and I could tell by the look in Dan’s eye that he wasn’t going anywhere.
As I recall, it was mostly a miserable trip, but we didn’t care – we were off on a fabulous adventure. Just a quartet of kinda-hippies living wild at the thought of having no one to tell us what to do. We got to Boulder on Tuesday and headed up to the Lake Eldora Ski area. Cheap, close and not so high in the mountains that we couldn’t survive a night or two in the drafty, cold van. My brand new, perfectly fitted skis were at home in my closet. Since I was not supposed to be within 500 miles of home, I rented skis that first day. Bet you can’t guess what happened next…
Second run; feeling good; high on life and skiing as fast and recklessly as you might expect from a kid with no one to tell him what to do. I low-bottomed a dip in the moguls and went flying through the air to land in a damaged heap amongst some rocks and logs. Though it was a jarring, twisting landing, my rented too-tight skis hadn’t come off. After a moment of being stunned, I reached down to unbuckle my skis and that’s when I noticed something amiss. Oh yeah, that’s it: my foot is pointing the wrong way! I’ll just take off this ski and turn my foot around to the front. There, that’s bett…oh holy $%*#($. And then I think I went into shock.
Boot-top fracture, both bones, non-compound, but seriously messed up. Lake Eldora in 1971 didn’t have anything in the way of a medical unit. In fact, they could not even get me an aspirin for the pain. They DID duct-tape my shattered leg onto a folded piece of cardboard and took me down the mountain on the stretcher of shame. I climbed into the back of the van as I pondered my options. Finally, I figured that since my parents would eventually find out my nefarious scheme and I would have to ultimately take my lumps, I might as well head on home to Loveland to the hospital there. So, we headed down Boulder Canyon to catch the Diagonal to Longmont and then home.
The VW POS Mini-van broke down on the Diagonal.
No cell phones in those days, so we hitch-hiked with a mother and teen-age girl to the hospital in Longmont, where a welcome shot of morphine came none too soon, and a humble call to my Mom happened way too soon. Besides being in a lot of pain, I think I finally realized just how selfish I had been and how pulling one over on the old folks wasn’t as cool as it had seemed just the day before. I was pretty doped up for the next few days, but I’m still pretty sure that Mom never said anything. I was in a constant state of foggy horror at the thought of being confronted by her about my lie. I think she may have sensed that the pain I was going through might actually slap me into having a clue.
I was in a hip-to-toe cast for 6 months; on crutches for 6 weeks. My leg itched so bad I had a specially bent clothes-hanger that left gaping holes in my bleached-white skin from my constant, aggressive scratching. I had only 2 pairs of pants that would fit over my cast: a pair of overalls (shucks, garsh, I’m just a country boy) and a pair of Red, WHITE and Blue jeans (what a radical, eh?). When I finally got out of that cast, my leg was the size of a baseball bat handle. I’ve been overeating ever since trying to fill that leg up to its original size! Well, I exaggerate a little, but that puny leg looked more like a T-Rex appendage than anything else, and actually has affected me the rest of my life. Wearing the walking cast for so many months caused my pelvis to tip sideways, which, in turn, caused my spine to twist, which eventually paid off the school loans of more than one chiropractor.
But, no, Mom never chastised me for my lie. I know she was disappointed in me, but more, I think, she was hurt. Hurt I’d lied to her, then hurt because she knew I was going to be hurt by my own actions. And great moms hate more than anything to see their kids get hurt.
Mom, it’s your birthday in a couple of days. I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate the way you handled this epic adventure in one of the time periods when I was most trying to you and Dad. I appreciate your love too, through it all, and I know that’s why you’ve done so much for me; it’s all about the love. And I love you more than words can ever say.
Oh, and thanks too Mom, for teaching me words that I not only believe but am quick to use to admonish others not as lucky as I was to have a phrase that, once taught, didn’t have to be overused in order to be effective: Be Sure Your Sins Will Find You Out.
Happy Birthday, Mom!