Conjunctions thrive. The past rears up. The media blossoms with brittle concussion stories. Echoes stir of peripatetic childhood days. Eight and a half of one’s first years adopting ways of living with different ranch\farm families. A young mother simultaneously experiencing divorce and giving birth. A young campesino rancher friend is wrecked by a mean-spirited gelding falling on him. A reader sends a concussion query, apologizing if that implies an intimate experience with that condition.
Actually he’s right. Though a kid’s first concussion adventure took an odd path. My first eight-and-a-half years were spent living with sliding depression echoes on ranch\farm families who “took me in” during a harsh stretch in my mother’s life. She was ahead of her time: a single mom, becoming a divorcee as she was giving birth. Her alcoholic husband, my father, swiftly disappeared. She was both emotionally and financially devastated during the Great Plains’ hard hangover of the 1930’s passing depression. Luckily in good health, she recovered quickly.
She found department store work in Lincoln, Nebraska. Rural young women were migrating to large cities as the economy began a stuttery recovery. One of these, fresh from a buffeted ranch, became a waitress at the same store. The ranch girl’s parents took me in. When I was barely walking I followed ranch folks in their daily chores. I climbed huge piles of kindling. Later I climbed up on a patient mare. I grabbed her tail, jumped on her hocks, pulled at the skirt strings of the saddle a hired wrangler cinched on her for me. It took me two weeks to get in the saddle. A lesson of failing, and starting over. Skinned up, some sniffling, some frustrated crying.
My mother remarried. The rural Great Plains economy – where my step-father found work at a local radio station – slowly recovered. Middle class and aspiring middle-class families sent their children to July-August “summer camps” as they, the parents, took conspicuous separate holidays. Such camps taught city kids activities I’d been performing at ranches\farms that had helped me in dire times.
My parents sent me to a “Boys Camp.” I soon became a “helper” for the wranglers who handled all the camp’s livestock. Both the wranglers and I found baby-sitting boring. When I was talking about the ranch work I’d been taught, an idea popped up: Stealthily organizing a “pick-up” rodeo with the crew of a near-by ranch. In the saddle-bronc event, I got a jerky black gelding that went straight up in the air but came down on his side. I was told. I only knew he went up. I never knew how he came down. It’s said he came down using me as a cushion. All I remember about the rest of the “ride” was that I briefly woke in back of a rattily Ford bouncing across the prairie. Someone tried to hold a wash basin steady as I threw up. Things went blank again for three days. I awoke in St. Mary’s Hospital of my family’s‘ home town. They sat nearby staring at me when I woke up, head throbbing. I’d been unconscious when brought to St. Mary’s. The local newspaper reported I’d gone overboard when “his horse accidentally stepped in a hole.” As a consequence, I suffered a “mild” concussion. The report didn’t say how long I’d been unconscious, that I wouldn’t be sent home for some time, would be prohibited from playing sports without the doctor’s permission. It omitted the fact that the hospital staff knew my thoughts zoomed so pitifully that I unsuccessfully tried not to mention them.
Years later, when my wife and I lived in Malibu, I inevitably taught horseback riding to an inland “summer camp” for teenagers, and surfing to whomever. Then I worked at Thomas Ramo Wooldridge’s Space Technology Laboratories, charting putting together the first lunar module. With my wife’s teacher’s pay and that income, we soon believed we had enough money to live a year in Mexico.