When I was in high school, I was not the rabble-rouser sort of teen. No fast-and-furious hot rod for me nor getting drunk on weekends. That’s not to say I had a halo around my head, for there might have been a time or two that my friend, Bob, and I went to town on an errand during school for a teacher and we somehow got lost and found ourselves at the Northside Drive-In (a memory-making diner) eating one of their delicious hamburgers. And it seems like I mighthave been sick the morning of opening day of dove season but made a miraculous recovery that enabled me to go hunting at noon.
No doubt my teen years were tempered by my brushes (yes, that’s plural) with death when I was a pre-teen during the 1960’s because of two men— Johnny Weissmuller and Roy Rogers.
My Saturday mornings involved an hour or two of being mesmerized by reruns of Tarzan movies, starring the famous Johnny Weissmuller. I could hardly believe my eyes as he sailed through the jungle while swinging from one vine to another or by grabbing a limb and flipping to another.
Enter my vivid imagination. One place we lived had a field with deep ravine in it, cut through by a creek and rain runoff. To cross it, I normally climbed down one side and up the other. However, one Saturday, I noticed a tree that leaned out over the ravine. I spied a limb hanging just about halfway across, and an idea sprang up. Yes, I would be Tarzan by taking a running leap, grabbing the limb and flipping to the other side.
My heart pounded as I leaned over into a three-point racers stance, thirty feet from the edge, my eyes glued on that one limb. This was my chance to make history (at least in my mind). I told that tiny voice in my head that was saying, This might not be such a good idea, to shut up and leave me alone. I was on the verge of greatness!
I sprang forward, legs and arms pumping in perfect rhythm. Just as my foot touched the edge of the ravine, and I was about to launch myself toward the limb, I looked down. (You know, they tell you not to look down, and there’s a good reason for that.) I let out what I hoped sounded like a Tarzan yell as I flew through the air. The truth, though, was that it was a scream of sheer terror.
I stretched my arm as far as I could, but my hand closed around thin air inches from the limb. I plummeted toward the yawning ravine. Up until that moment in my life I had no idea that the human body could bounce like a tennis ball. I ricocheted from one side to the other. Sharp rocks fileted my flesh and shredded my clothes until I splashed into the creek. The Death Angel circled overhead, laughing.
Miraculously, I was able to drag my broken body and bruised ego up the side of the ravine and crawl back home.
One would think that that experience would lessen a boy’s imagination. One would think that.
A few weeks later, I was watching a rerun of a Roy Rogers’ movie. Mounted banditos were in hot pursuit of him as he urged his horse, Trigger (the most beautiful horse ever created), raced across the plain. As he rounded a large rock, there was a tree up ahead. Instead of going around it, he went under it, grabbed a long-hanging limb and pulled himself into the tree’s canopy as Trigger continued running, drawing the banditos after him.
Undeterred by my Tarzan escapade, I went out and caught my steed (who may or may not have been swaybacked and may or may not have had vision problems in one eye). I quickly saddled her and headed to the pasture in search of the perfect tree for my adventure.
And there it was—a sassafras tree, standing like a sentinel in the middle of the field, its low hanging branches beckoning me. Immediately, I kicked my trusty horse in the flank, and she sprang forward, nearly throwing me off her back. But I recovered quickly and leaned forward. Her mane flapped in my face as we raced toward the tree. Her ears were laid back and the wind whistled in mine. Neither she nor I had ever gone that fast. It was like she was doing her best imitation of Trigger. (Or perhaps she knew what was going to happen and couldn’t wait to have a good laugh on me.)
I timed it all perfectly, which is not the same as saying I planned it perfectly. Either my horse was taller than I remembered, or the limb was lower than I calculated, because as I sat up to grab the limb, it struck me right across the chest, dislodging me from the saddle. I hung in mid-air for a split second before crashing to the ground and landing flat on my back, after which, everything went black.
How long I lay there, suspended between life and death, I do not know. It might have been days. But the next thing I knew, I was awakened by my horse nudging me with her nose and doing her best to stifle a laugh.
I won’t bore you with what happened after I watched runners doing the high hurdles in the 1964 Olympics, and I decided jump a barbed-wire fence. Suffice it to say, I nearly made it. Nearly.
Now you understand why my teenage years were rather sedate in comparison to my peers.