Mom, George, Chris, Jerry, Dad and me. Not picuted: The clothesline.
Climbing was my thing. Ask anyone. My climbing ability was legendary. My experiences, many and varied. Many's the time my mom would sprint up the old machinery hill to save her tiny daughter from the jaws of certain death. Or at least from a very unpleasant fall to the bottom of the 100 foot TV tower. My father, too, was no stranger to my favorite activity. During a visit with the manager of the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton, Alberta, the new chandelier in the great room was being discussed. "It's magnificent," Dad said, gazing up into the rafters 50 feet above them. "Yeah, we really like it," the manager said, following his gaze. "The only thing I'm concerned about is how we're going to clean it." "Clean it?!" Dad said. "Well, I have a daughter who will climb it!" Together, my parents plucked me off the top of horses, bulls, pigs, haystacks, combines, tractors, trees, fences, shed roofs, barn roofs, garage roofs, car roofs, water towers, windmills, and even the occasional propane tank. Admittedly, a fall from many of them probably wouldn't have been fatal. Just . . . uncomfortable. But no amount of lecturing or lurid stories illustrating the dangers of such activities could discourage me. I just had to climb. And then that fateful day . . . Isn't it odd that fateful days never, ever seem to start out any different from any other day? I mean, sullen, red skies would be entirely appropriate. With phenomena. That way, you'd know that something momentous was about to happen. But I digress . . . I had discovered a wonderful new activity. It included Mom's clothesline and the picnic table. And climbing. For some reason, the table had been shoved close to the clothesline. Close enough that someone daring - me - could make a run along the table and launch oneself - also me - onto the clothesline. Now I should point out here that Mom's clothesline wasn't one of those boring long stretches of wire so useless to an enterprising youngster. No. It was a new-fangled round one. That spun when pushed. And if you leapt and caught the wires just right, you could spin all the way around and back to the table. Which I did. Several times. In fact, I was the neighborhood champion. Again and again I would perform for my audience to appreciative oohs and aahs.
Several of the kids tried it, but no one could go quite as far or as fast as I could, although some were getting close. I decided it was time to up the ante. Slightly. I was going to try for a double axel. It had never been done. Never even been attempted. But I was going to do it. My audience was assembled. I dusted my hands together and poised at the back edge of the picnic table. The crowd grew hushed. I took a deep breath and launched myself along the table. Perfect. I flew gracefully across the intervening space. Even more perfect.I reached out for the wires. And for the first time in my life, missed. Missed? I reached again, frantically, then looked up at the wires, as they slowly moved further and further from me. How could this be? With a heavy thump, I hit the ground, driving every square millimeter of air from my lungs. My friends stared at me, frozen. Then there was a collective scream and they all rushed forward. "Diane! Diane! Are you all right?" I just stared at them and tried to catch my breath. Then a horrified, "Diane, you're bleeding!" I looked down. They were right. Blood was spattered on my shirt and shorts. I looked at my arms. My legs. Nothing. Then I tried to talk. And realized where the blood was coming from. My mouth. Shocked, I put a hand over it. "Mrs. Stringam! Mrs. Stringam!" several voices began shouting.\ My Mom came on the run. "Oh, my!" She knelt beside me and put a towel to my chin. "Open your mouth, Honey." I tried to obey, but my mouth didn't want to. It had suddenly begun to hurt. It wanted to stay shut. I felt the tears begin. "It's okay, Honey, just open your mouth." Finally, I was able to open it. A little. Mom gasped, and put the towel over my mouth. "Come on, Dear, let's get you into the house." "Mrs. Strin-gam? Will Diane be all right?" I vaguely recognized Laurie's voice. "She'll be fine, Dear. I'll just take her into the house and get her cleaned up." Mom half-led, half-carried me into the cool, quiet house and sat me down on the cupboard in the kitchen. Then she sponged the blood off my face and neck. "Let me have another look, Honey," she said. Obligingly, though I really didn't want to, I opened my mouth for her. "Okay, well, you've cut your tongue, Honey. It's probably going to hurt quite a bit. But it'll be all right." So she kept saying. Why didn't I believe her? "Here. Hold this while I call Doctor Clemente." I took the towel she was pressing to my face while she went to the phone. "Yes, Doctor." I could hear her in the hallway. "Yes. Okay." She hung up the phone. Then she was back beside me. "Here, Honey, let me take it." She gently swabbed at my mouth again. Mom could make anything feel better. Almost Later, after I had refused supper, a new thing for me, I overheard her talking to Dad. "Yes, I think it's bitten at least half-way through. It's still attached, but barely. The doctor thinks it will heal just fine, but it'll be a while, and it'll be painful." A while? That is parent code for 'forever'. Sigh. It did heal. And quite quickly, too, in 'Parent' time. During that time, I was the focus of all of the neighborhood kids. Everyone would come up to me and ask me to stick out my tongue. Then ooh and ah delightedly. I was a celebrity. It was almost enough to get me climbing again. Almost.
Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .