Friday night came with a side order of snow...nine inches of it which is an impressive winter feat for these parts...here in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, two or three inches will usually do the trick to put every one in a tizzy. Nine inches just paralyzes the place. Its Monday now and out here in the woods the roar of the nearby I85/I40 exchange, all six lanes of it, is only just beginning to return. Its a din that I am most accustomed to here, along with the sound of the distant train, but they have been silenced by this polar magic trick. And me? I’m in a sensory heaven, because snow, especially snow of this quality, commands me to become a time traveler.
Last week, The New Yorker teaser page, you know that thing that is stapled to the outside cover to tempt prospective readers with goings on inside that week’s issue...something that if I hadn’t let my subscription run out last year I wouldn’t have to deal with, but I did, and so when I pick The New Yorker up at the market, there it is, that teaser page, obscuring the cover art which is what I am most interested in and whether or not there is a cartoon by George Booth on the inside, because Mr. Booth is sublime and speaks to the very heart of my inner laughing place, but ANYway, there I go digressing...last week’s teaser asked a question that made me think and immediately answer under my breath, right there in the grocery store line, What did your childhood smell like? It took me exactly one second to answer that question and make the woman standing in front of me turn over her shoulder and eye me with some nervousness “Tincture of green...” I uttered to myself and when I saw the woman look at me as though she might call for security, I coughed...I haven’t told you but I have also been suffering from what Pop used to call The Epizudic and I am certain that I caught it from someone in the grocery store, so why not pass it on to this woman, who thinks that people like me, people who talk to themselves in the grocery store line, are, well, to be looked at in such a way that they are made to feel as though they shouldn’t talk to themselves. Does that make any sense?
But I have thought about it throughout the weekend, this question, and the snow storm couldn’t have made it clearer to me, the answer that is, that my childhood smelled like Tincture of Green. I could say that it smelled like horses, like molasses on oats in that bin that had the tin lining in the barn, like the cabinet that my grandmother kept onions in, like Pop’s glass of whiskey that sat on the bench in the den while he was watching the television, like the little drawer in the telephone table that smelled of pencils and Pop's bag of pipe tobacco, like the books on the shelves in my room...it was a white bookshelf that served as my bedside table and on it sat a white porcelain lamp and within it were all the books that I loved -- books that came on Christmas mornings and books that came on my birthday, and best of all, the books that I found in the den and brought upstairs and claimed as my own. I could say that my childhood smelled like my grandmother’s perfume...4711, an eau de cologne that was for men, but Mom wore it and it was so light and slightly alcoholic and it meant her hand on my head, telling me all sorts of good things to make me feel as though I were the only good child in the world...but these things are not the things that rose up immediately, while I was standing there in the grocery with a supply of things to get me through this snow storm.
I was declared Accident Prone when I eight or nine years old. This label was in direct correlation to some of my other childhood foibles...short attention span, hyperactivity, a tendency toward long bouts of asthmatic bronchitis, a real inclination for getting beat up by other children, and an overactive imagination. Unfortunately, it has just occurred to me I haven’t really grown out of any of these traits, except for the inclination for getting beat up by children...perhaps that woman giving me the evil eye in the grocery store would have liked to have knocked me to the floor though, but being an adult, she restrained herself.
Today, I suppose, they would have just handed my grandmother a prescription for Ritalin and that would have been that -- I would have been more or less safer. But, as it were, my grandparents did the only thing they knew how, which was to let me be. I know that sounds like too simple of a solution, and frankly I don’t think there was any plan to it, no family meeting to speak of -- no I think Mom and Pop just accepted me for the Wild Child that I was. Of course, they had the best possible elixir for my troubles just down the hill from our house: a barn full of horses. And I was given absolute freedom, they just didn’t sweat the small stuff with me. I don’t think they knew where I was or what I was doing half the time, but I always showed back up for dinner, so this gave them confidence that it would continue on like that.
Accident Prone is defined as “Having or susceptible to having a greater than average number of accidents or mishaps...” This definition conjures visions of physical mishaps, ones that end in injury, but really, a strong tendency toward mishaps can be much more inclusive...think about it, think about the world of trouble a child can get into without getting hurt and that my friends, brings you to the real heart of what being Accident Prone is, to what I was and, to some degree, what I still am today.
I certainly had my share of accidents that put me in the hands of doctors...for instance, I tried to fly at the age of five -- I had been planning the flight for some time. I had a long conversation with my friend and confidante Indian Girl, who happened to live in the tree outside my bedroom window. She and I conspired to my act of flying for some time. My first attempt was rather uneventful, I climbed the Japanese Maple in our front yard, Indian Girl by my side, and I just stood there in the crook of the tree with my arms out, waiting for the spring wind to take me. Of course, nothing happened. But it was my second attempt that was, shall we say, a show stopper. I stood on the arm of a terrifically old wing back chair in the living room and took flight for just a moment over the fireplace hearth, landing with a terrible thud on the bricks. Six stitches in my chin and a lovely pink turtleneck ruined with blood stains. I still have the scar to prove it, to prove that I was unable to fly, even though I wanted it desperately, almost as desperately as that elephant, the elephant that I wanted to keep in the barn with my pony, the one I would ride to school.
I used to think that my status of Accident Prone had something to do with the fact that I rode horses, and while I had my share of of broken bones and concussions due to hanging about the equine world, I think I would have gotten into just as many wrecks with a bicycle, or a pogo stick for that matter.
The broken bones list is impressive though. By the time I reached the age of fifteen, I had broken both collar bones, several ribs, my right arm, my coccyx (Thank you Tanya and Twanya) and a shin bone. Some of these broken bones were accompanied by a concussion, and some concussions came all on their own with no broken bones. But except for the coccyx bone, these were not the most amusing of my mishaps. Really, they were just straight forward coming out of the saddle and landing badly.
Then there were the mishaps I was witness to -- like Edward cracking his skull. Edward was my neighbor, Edward Hitz. Edward was a year younger than me and he moved in to the house across the street with his mother and father when I was nine. The Hitzes had moved to the country from Yorktown Heights. They were nice people, Mr. and Mrs. Hitz. They were the first people I ever knew to keep clear plastic covers on all their furniture. And they had similar plastic carpet protectors throughout the house. Mrs. Hitz insisted that Edward and I never walk on the carpet in her house, only the plastic runners. Edward had a Big Wheel and a hell of a hill for a driveway. I had a pony, which was of no interest to Edward whatsoever, but that Big Wheel was magnetic to me. Edward was a dangerous kid really. He liked to light fires in the woods and he liked to build these enormous “jumps” to run the Big Wheel down to and like Evil Knievel, he would take flight somewhere around the rear end of his father’s Pontiac and then come to a crash landing in the grass beyond his garage. I partook of this activity, but mainly Edward requested that I watch him -- it was important that he had an audience.
Mrs. Hitz was adamant that we not do dangerous things, but somehow she never prevented us from doing anything we wanted to. She was just this very thin being that seemed to haunt the kitchen of their home and when supper time came, she would come out on the the front porch of the Hitz Home and yell “EDWAHD! EDWAHD! EDWAHD!” and you could hear her all the way down Bayberry Lane, she was like a siren. And Edward would look at me and say, “I gotta go” and we’d stamp out the fire he'd set or I’d help him carry his Big Wheel up to the house.
But Edward did go for a ride on my pony once, just once, and that was enough to end his foray into the equine world. You are probably thinking he fell off my pony and cracked his skull, right? But he didn’t fall off. I took him for a bareback ride in the woods. I was in front and Edward sat behind me, his pale freckled arms around my waist and we rode way into the woods and down to the creek behind the Pabst’s barn. Then I took him to my favorite look out, this rocky cliff that looked down over a little valley that I always imagined myself to be an indian lookout on. It was here that Edward decided he was afraid and didn’t want to ride anymore, he wanted to get down and walk. So I said, fine, suit yourself, and Edward slid off my pony and we began our trek home. Me up front walking on my pony and Edward, the boy from Yorktown Heights trudging behind me. What happened next is so simple its ludicrous...Edward tripped on a rock and fell and hit his head on another rock, a sharp one. He sat up bleeding, I mean like a stuck boar, and me, being a tough kid, I said something like, “Geez Edward, get up, you’re fine. Let’s go back to my house, I know how to fix you up.” And so I rode my pony and Edward stumbled behind me looking like something out of a horror film and when we get back to my house, nobody is home. I made Edward wait in the yard, yes, I made him hold my pony, and I went in the house, ran upstairs to my grandmother’s bathroom where, in a cabinet, she kept a large brown glass bottle with a small label...the label had only three words typed on it, yes typed, by a pharmacist, Tincture of Green.
I ran back out in the yard and found my pony nuzzling a dazed and bleeding Edward. I opened the bottle and told Edward to sit down. “Okay, my grandmother puts this on all my cuts and bruises, and sometimes, she washes my hands with it. It stings, but...okay, here goes!” and I poured the Tincture of Green on Edward’s bloody head and Edward let out a scream that came from the bottom of his boy soul. I stood back and sort of laughed...I wasn’t expecting such a noise to come from Edward, but considering his mother’s vocal talent, it wasn’t that surprising. I was hoping the Tincture of Green would stop the bleeding. But it didn’t. So I put my pony away and wrapped Edward’s head in a rub rag...yes a rub rag, that’s a towel kept in the barn to rub the horses down with. And I took Edward’s hand and led him back home. I knocked on the Hitz’s front door and Mrs. Hitz appeared in the hallway. When she saw me standing at the door with Edward teetering by my side in a bloody turbin, she went completely haywire. She exploded through the storm door and got down on her knees in front of Edward and started screaming ”Jeeezus, Mary, and Joseph, Jeeezus, Mary, and Joseph, JEEEZUS, MARY, AND JOSEPH!!!!“ She wrenched him into the house and I went home. That night my grandmother got a call from Mrs. Hitz -- Edward had received several stitches in his head and I was banned from playing with him anymore. It was all for the best really, I believed that sooner or later Edward was going to do something REALLY bad and I was going to get blamed for it.
Part Two? Winter Sports...