When I was 4-and-a-half years old, my Dad took me sled riding. We lived in Massachusetts at the time, and it was one of those winters when the snow was taller than me. Of course, at that age, everything was taller and bigger than me — including the hill on the golf course he’d selected for my first lesson.
My sister was only a baby then, and she and my Mom waited in the warm and idling car at the bottom of the hill. I waved to them with both arms over my head, as if I was on stage and about to perform some magnificent feat — ta-dah!
At the top of the hill, my dad coached me as he often did.
“These are the handles,” he explained of the Flexible Flyer’s top crossbar.
“Push this side, you go left,” he said, demonstrating. “And this side, you go right.”
Unbeknownst to either of us, I wouldn’t quite get the hang of left and right until well past kindergarten, but I played along.
“Ya got that?” I remember him asking and me nodding. There was too much excitement in that cold, winter air to do otherwise.
“OK, see that tree? You want to steer to the left of the tree and down the hill. Are you ready?” my Dad asked, and I nodded again.
With a kiss on my woolen-hat head, he pushed me off, reminding “Don’t forget to steer left!”
As clear as day, I still remember seeing a tree off to my right and looking at the steering bar of that sled wondering: Is this side left? Or is that?
The next thing I remember are green ceiling tiles rushing past me overhead and a sharp pin-prick in my forehead.
What I do not remember is my sled hitting the tree and its blade flipping backwards, gashing my head eight stitches worth of gash.
Sometime that spring, my Dad took me for one of our car rides. We did that often, driving around rather aimlessly, listening to the radio and talking. On this day, he took me back to the golf course, and we sat at the bottom of the hill.
“Open the glove compartment,” he suggested with a nod of his head, and I did, hoping I might find a bag of the sticky pink nougats he liked to eat. But instead of candy, there was a waded up brownish-red ball of rag.
“That’s from when you hit the tree,” he told me.
“Ewww, Dad!” I said, pushing it back inside and shutting the door quickly.
“I wanted you to see it so you would remember what happened, and know that you’re OK now.”
I don’t know for sure if he word-for-word said “when you fall off the horse you get right back on” — but that was the message. Something bad happened, but you’re OK so there’s no need to be afraid to do it again.
It was something he would tell me over and over — when I was that little, when I was bigger; when I was in school and at work; when I was in love, when I was in pain. It’s a lesson I remember to this day. Almost every day.
I love you and I miss you, Dad.
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©2012, Jen Payne