San Luis Obispo, California – A restful night in something called La Cuesta Inn. Just after sunrise I went out onto our small fourth floor balcony. The green hills and nearby pines captured the yellow morning light and held it up against a perfect Pacific sky. A good omen, I thought. The Apple Farm café and motel across the street from us is our breakfast destination. Niece Gretchen, who grew up here but lives in Colorado, said it’s the best place around.
Gretchen is one of my favorite relatives. Not just because she always seems to have her head screwed on straight, but because she’s motivated less by convention than intention. I’ve always liked that about her, and the fact that when I broke my leg in 2004, she sent me a large bag of horse feed to cure it. She’s studying veterinary medicine. “Take it with a little yogurt,” she said. The box contained enough for a horse. Must’ve cost 50 bucks to send it. I was sitting in a comfortable dining room chair with my leg up, working on my laptop and looking out the large bank of windows to observe the alley, which is mostly populated by squirrels and cable guys repairing the cable after the squirrels eat it. I’m for the squirrels.
The horse feed was not a joke, Gretchen said, so I ate it over a period of about two weeks. I hate yogurt but ate that too. “Works for horses,” she told me. Sure enough, six weeks later my leg healed, right when the doctor said it would.
This was the first time I’d broken any major bones. The odd hand and foot pinky, but nothing major had befallen me though I spent a lifetime jumping into the ocean, scuba diving, and shooting large marine animals. And I wasn’t a particularly good shot, only lucky.
It was late February and my mother was dying in a nursing home. The family gathered; even Matthew was released by the U.S. Army in Germany to fly home. She died peacefully on the 29th. Leap year. Two days later, when Camille and Christy, our oldest daughter, decided to grill steaks and spend an evening relaxing, I took the leftover steak bones to the dog, Snoose. It was melting earlier and a thin stream of water had hardened as we ate. I slipped, fell on the concrete and broke my leg in three places just above the ankle. The China plate and steak bones, I saved in a miraculous feat of kicking, twisting and arm flailing. But luckily it all happened near the patio, directly in front of the large dining room windows, beyond which Camille and Christy were washing dishes.
Some twenty minutes later they were still washing dishes, talking, laughing, never wondering what had happened to me. Nor did they hear the countless screams of “Help me! Help me!” It was cold. I hadn’t bothered to bring a jacket on such a short jaunt. So, lying there on my back, I realized that if I didn’t want to become an ice sculpture on my own driveway, I needed to somehow rescue myself. I lifted my left leg. The foot dangled free like a rubber ball on the end of a string. I struggled to me feet, figuring what the hell; it couldn’t get any more broken or more painful. This proved wrong on both counts but I made it across the patio, up the step to the side door of the house and pounded against it with what remained of my strength, still carrying the plate.
Camille opened the door. “Why are you pounding? We aren’t deaf, you know.”
I didn’t want to disagree with her at that moment and just said, “I broke my leg.”
“Oh, I doubt that,” she said. She’s a nurse.
I held it up, swinging in the porch light.
“Okay,” she said. “Let’s head for the ER.”
Luckily for me, it’s less than a block away, and she didn’t make me walk.
My mother’s funeral was two days away. The ER doctor wasn’t hopeful that I could attend. After some discussion we decided to go with a temporary inflatable air splint and large bottles of mind-blowing narcotics to quell the pain. In this fog of suffering, sorrow and stupefaction I selected my mother’s coffin and made many of the funeral decisions, not to mention talking endlessly with family, bringing the news.
By the day of the funeral I was an addict. I had the sunken cheeks, sagging affect and slurred speech. Someone stuck me in one of those wheel chairs with the raised leg. A leg looming like a swollen apparition; mine, or maybe another of my frequent hallucinations. I was rolling along the center aisle of a church I barely remembered, people were staring, somebody was pushing me along directly behind my mother’s coffin. I examined it, sighting across my inflated toes, and it was pink. I was sending my mother to her eternal rest in a pink coffin. Numerous sharp intakes of breath accompanied our progress down the aisle. My mother had been a popular school teacher there for decades. I was laughing senselessly, riding along behind the pink coffin. I was laughing because I knew my mother, and if her spirit was still hovering nearby, she was laughing loudest of all. She loved nothing better than the social faux pas. Not only could she laugh at herself, but her laughter was infectious. The sight of her only son, blitzed on drugs, riding behind his mother’s pink casket with his leg up at a 45-degree angle, would have been the perfect send off.
At the cemetery they couldn’t get me out of the car so rolled the window down part way so I could hear the service. The gravesite was some distance from the car, so after every few words, the preacher turned his head, glanced my way, raised his voice, and shouted “dust to…” and “…forever…” and “…in the name of…” and finally, “Amen.”
Days later, after my bones were set and the narcotics wore off, and I could laugh less hysterically, I knew that somehow my mother had arranged this funeral herself. How she did it, I don’t know. Maybe, I thought much later, to save her only son from sorrow. She would’ve done that, and more, if she could.
And here in SLO, the wedding was a success and today we plan a lazy brunch, shopping and other lazy activities. It’s a vacation after all.