Tag Archives: stories

Watch for Falling Rock

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It was an ordinary road sign; A warning of caution for the possibility of ‘Falling rockRock’. For me, it was memory triggered—a story from long ago that resonates with the little girl I once was. It was a time when my heart was curious, untainted and not yet scarred cynical by the jarring of life’s potholes.

Before I was old enough to attend school and many summers of my youth, my grandparents took me camping. We would wind through the foothills and mountains of the Ozarks to lakes with names such as Wappapello, Bull Shoals, and Table Rock. We would ride in the cab of my Grandpa’s yellow Chevy pickup truck down the endless twists, turns, and hills of the two-lane highways. The windows would always be down and there was a worn spot in the floorboard where I could see the highway passing beneath us. There was always a pouch of Red Man tobacco in the side pocket of the door and a tin can just beneath Grandpa’s seat, which he used as a spittoon. The smell of the tobacco in the foil pouch is something so ingrained into my childhood that just typing the words creates an olfactory memory so strong it makes my heart ache. For me, getting there was a huge part of the adventure.

My grandparents, however, probably remember it a little differently. In fact, here are some endearing things I remember my grandma saying during our ‘adventures’: “You move around more than a worm in hot ashes.”

“If you don’t sit still, I am going to sit you out on the side of the road and I might not even pick you up on our way back through.”

And the number one thing that my dear sweet grandma liked to say to me is:

“You are worse than black chicken $hit. Has anyone ever told you that, because it’s true!” (Why yes, Grandma. I believe you told me that at mile-marker one-thirty-two. Right before you threatened to put me on the side of the road).

 

Evidently, I liked to chatter. Evidently, I chattered a great deal.   Grandpa would also eventually tire of my endless prattle and intervene right before grandma traded me to a band of gypsies for a one eared billy goat (her idea not mine). Grandpa’s most genius and long-standing method of stifling me on a road trip was telling me the legend of ‘Falling Rock.”

 

Grandpa: Poncho, can you read? (Grandpa called me poncho because I always wore a little blue poncho. It was the seventies.)

Me: Grandpa, I am five years old. Of course I can read.

Grandpa: Well, tell me what this sign says up here.gpa

Me: It says, “Watch for Falling Rock”

Grandpa: Do you know why that sign is there?

Me: I don’t know. Because rocks might fall out of the sky and land on us.

Grandpa: Don’t tell me you have never heard the story of Falling Rock.

Me: Tell me.

Grandpa: Are you sure you have never heard it? I thought everyone knew about Falling Rock.

Me: No! I haven’t! Tell me, Grandpa. Please!

Grandpa: Many years ago, there was a brave Indian Chief. He had a large tribe. He never had a son. He only had one daughter. He named her Falling Rock and she was the Indian Princess and was loved and adored by the entire tribe. The Indian chief loved her more than he loved anything in the whole wide world. Falling Rock loved to explore the streams and caves around her village, but one day when she was about….how old are you, Poncho.

Me: Grandpa, I am five years old.

Grandpa: Yes, she was just about your age. Five years old, maybe six at the time…well she wandered too far from camp and she got lost. The Indian Chief and the tribe and even other tribes in the land searched high and low for Falling Rock, but she was nowhere to be found. The Indian Chief spent the rest of his life searching for her and he put up these signs along the road to remind people to keep an eye out for his lost Indian princess.

Me: He is still looking for her?

Grandpa: Well, the chief died of a broken heart, but his tribe is still around here and they promised they would never quit looking for her. Do you think you could keep an eye out for her while we drive??

Me: Yes!!! I will watch for her.

Grandpa: You have to watch very closely and pay attention. She could be anywhere along here.

 

And so it was…I dutifully scanned the tree lines, the ditches, and passing barns for the little Indian Princess. This was our routine and we continued this way as we would wind down the Missouri highways. I held onto this notion of a lost Indian princess long past the point my logical mind knew better. It was something I believed in longer than Santa or the Easter Bunny. It was time and space and sights and smells that I longed to keep alive. Maybe that’s why I kept searching for her for so long. It wasn’t about finding the lost Indian girl, it was about preserving something fleeting that I knew was eventually going to pass.

It was an ordinary road sign.   Sometimes the ordinary things fill in the spaces of my heart in extraordinary ways.

Phantom Pain

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agpaThere are some tragedies which start out slowly, festering and lingering. However, there are those tragedies that lie in wait, disguised as any other ordinary day; springing up without warning with enough force the reverberations are palpable for every moment that follows. August 26, 1966 was an ordinary day for my grandparents, until suddenly it wasn’t.

Some stories that have passed down through the generations are diluted over the years and since this occurred before I was born, I will retell the events as they have been told to me by my parents, both who played integral roles in the day’s events.
It was late summer in Missouri and I know without anyone saying so that it was hot and humid. It was four-thirty in the afternoon and my dad was bush-hogging at my grandparent’s house. Bush-hogging consists of clearing away tall grass and brush from a field by pulling a ‘bush-hog’ behind a tractor. My grandpa had walked out to the field to warn Dad of a large hole that was obscured by the tall grass. Grandpa was about 100 yards away from where my dad was clearing when the blade from the bush-hog came loose. The blade rocketed through the tall grass just as my grandpa took a step right into its trajectory. As if his leg were made of warm butter, the blade sliced through-shattering flesh, muscle, tendon and bone. In an instant, his right leg was clinging to the rest of him by a narrow piece of flesh and a scrap of his pants.
Unbeknownst to my dad, who was unaware my grandpa was in trouble, Grandpa yelled out for help as his life blood gushed into the earth around him. My mom was in the house and heard Grandpa’s cries for help. She looked out and saw him lying on the ground. She ran to him and found him struggling to get his belt off so he could make a tourniquet. She flipped completely out as each time his heart would beat his severed femoral artery would spray them both with his blood. He grabbed her and told her to calm down. He needed her help. He told her to run to the garage and get him a rope. She ran.
When she returned with the rope, my dad was at Grandpa’s side. The missing blade had eventually caused the bush-hog to rattle and shake. After stopping the tractor, he realized that something was wrong. Dad found a piece of binder twine (thin tough rope used to secure hay bales together) and he made a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. In order to get it to stop, Dad had to ratchet it up tightly…very tightly. My mom remembers, “When your dad cinched it up, I will never forget the sound your Grandpa made. It haunts me, that sound. But it stopped. The blood stopped. Your dad saved his life.”
The neighbors called the ambulance and it took Grandpa to a local hospital. My Grandma had about a dozen bouts of hysteria and in the end Grandpa lost his right leg above his knee. He spent 14 days in the hospital. During his hospital stay, a wheelchair ramp was built for him to access his house. Upon his discharge, he was given a set of crutches and a short lesson on how to use them. That was the extent of his physical and occupational therapy. He used the wheelchair ramp a total of one time on the day he came home from the hospital. He used his crutches and eventually a prosthetic wooden leg. Two years after his accident, he returned to work at the lead mines. He wasn’t allowed to go down into the mines with his wooden leg, but he worked topside.
I never knew my grandpa as a two-legged man and it never occurred to me that his wooden leg was anything but normal. Grandpa only completed the sixth grade in school. But he was gentle, humble, wise and tough as nails. He taught me more about history than I ever learned in a classroom and wove outrageous tales that swallowed hook line and sinker. He made me laugh. I made him laugh. He was a World War II hero, but he never told anyone. We found out after he passed through the Veterans Administration. He had an abundance of humility, which is a sign of a true hero.
The part of the story that pains me the most are the months immediately following his accident. It was the phantom pain–the excruciating nerve pain experienced in an amputated body part. The man who fought valiantly for his country, attempted to make a tourniquet for his severed leg, walked away from his wheelchair ramp, and returned to work after his tragic accident—suffering from a pain so intense that it left him writhing in the floor.
I often wondered about this mysterious pain inflicting such torment through a piece of a person that is no longer there. As my parents relayed the details of this tragic day and memories spilled into more memories, it became evident that Grandpa was a part of all of us. His legacy lives through us. Although the memory of his grit, wisdom and integrity live on in our hearts, he is still a physically missing piece of our lives. Although time dulls the sharpness of the pain the dull ache of loss lingers. I guess we all experience a kind of phantom pain when the physical presence of those we love is severed. Sometimes I wonder what pieces of me will linger in the hearts of those I love when I am no longer here.

Some tragedies linger and fester. Some tragedies blow up in your face without warning. But there are those tragedies, like that hot day in August 1966, which are something entirely different… an interlude to life well-lived; just a small piece of a beautiful soul.