When I was seven years old, my father got a new job at the Bureau of Standards which required that we move from California to Colorado. His show-up date was one week from the time he was hired.
To this day I do not understand why my folks decided that there was some huge rush about this. Nowadays people with new jobs frequently go on ahead, scope out the scene, find a place for their families to reside while the other person gets the old house sold and packed up. Then they meet at the new place.
My folks did not do it this way. It seems impossible to contemplate in this housing market, but they got the house we were living in sold within three days. The movers (“Let Lyon Guard Your Goods”) came and packed all our worldly possessions while my mother was frantically cleaning. I’m not sure what we kids were doing; probably staying out of the way. Then the dog and cat and sundry other things that could not be packed were loaded into the camper and my father drove that vehicle whilst my mother drove our 1955 Ford Sedan, which was loaded with we four darling children. As was their usual custom, we camped our way across country, using the camper as a combination hotel/restaurant.
They had not acquired lodging in Boulder, where we were headed, but decided that they would simply live in a motel with kitchenette until a suitable rental house could be found. They were quite pleased on Saturday night when they had reached Colorado Springs. They decided to stop and feed the starving hordes of children, have a break from driving, and then push on to Boulder after the meal. Then they’d have all day Sunday to rest and reconnoiter before Daddy had to show up for work Monday morning.
Alas, it was not to be. During the period after we stopped and before Mamma had gotten the first batch of water for dinner boiled or the charcoal well started for grilling the meat, my little sister approached me.
“I want to get on top of that post,” she whined, indicating a large wooden corner post on the fence that edged the wide spot in the road which had become our dining room for the evening. ”I want to be up there,” she continued. ”Help, me, Ellie, pleeeeessse?” After a certain amount of demurral on my part, during which I indicated that she should try to climb up there by herself and she continued her whiny begging, I finally approached the post. I tried lifting her over my head, but I wasn’t really that big and the post was pretty tall. Eventually, I decided that if I had something to stand on, I would be able to lift her up there and then she would stop bugging me.
So I looked around for a suitable step stool, and lacking an actual ladder or step stool, my eyes lit on a nice metal bucket that was part of our camping accoutrements. I decided it would make an admirable step, and toted it over to the post. (My mother, busy with dinner preparations, did not notice this ill-conceived activity. I have no idea what my father was doing at the time.) Having turned it upside down and situated it next to the post, I decided that it was just the ticket for my needs. I climbed up on it, and turned to lift my three year old sister up to the top of the post.
Like many metal buckets of its ilk, this one had hemispherical tabs at either side which served as the attachment points for the bail. These made the bucket a little tippy, especially since the soil of late summer southern Colorado was more like concrete than actual dirt, and the bail tabs did not penetrate it. As I lifted my sister over my head while balanced precariously on the bucket, it tipped over and we both fell precipitously to the ground. As it happened, when we landed I was on top of my sister with my left arm between her and the ground, and when we arose from the scene of the tumble, my sister was already demanding another trial, sure that a second attempt would succeed in her aims.
My left arm, however, had suddenly developed a secondary elbow about halfway between the original elbow and the wrist, and was hanging off at a rather alarming angle. It also hurt like hell, although that was not a word that was firmly in my lexicon at the time. I left my sister complaining bitterly behind me, already looking for another elevator, and trotted off towards my unsuspecting mother, sort of waving my arm and crying “Mommy, it hurts!”
“I’ll bet it does,” was her composed reply when I got close enough to get her attention. She immediately turned the gas off under the water and hurried to the camper, where she acquired one of our down sleeping bags. My father rushed to assist her as they provided a soft splint for the obviously broken arm. The charcoal was poured out of the grill onto the ground, the almost hot water poured on top of it to put it out, and all the dinner preparations either left for the local coyotes or packed quickly back into the kitchen box, depending on whether they were partially cooked food items or cooking equipment.
They loaded us kids up, rounded up the dog, and headed into Colorado Springs in search of a hospital. Because they felt I might need a little more room than was available in the car, I was put into the cab of the truck, where my extremely stressed-out father proceeded to yell at me and lecture me all the way into town. I was stupid and irresponsible. I should have known better than to try such a bone-headed thing, especially since “I knew” my sister had been told that if she couldn’t make it up on that post by herself she shouldn’t be up there. (This latest instruction had been issued while I was at the other end of the road cut finding a private spot to pee, but no matter. I should have known this.) Etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum infinitum.
Our experience at the local hospital, once we found it, which was a non-profit organization run by the Catholic church, has not endeared such institutions to me. They treated my folks like migrant workers, and despite the fact that they did have Blue Cross, were adamantly refusing to provide any care to the little blonde ragamuffin slowly going into shock in their emergency room. There was some sort of nonsense about permanent address, proof of insurance, and I don’t know what all else. Eventually they decided that they could provide care, but not before that care had become complicated by the fact that now, in addition to having a broken arm, I had gone into deep shock.
I awoke from anaesthesia the following morning in an unfamiliar hospital room with my arm in a cast, unattended by staff, and quite thirsty. When I finally found and pushed the call button for the nurse, she entered the room after quite a delay. When I told her I was thirsty and hungry, she nastily informed me that I had missed breakfast, and there was water “Right there” (on the bedside table to my left). Having delivered this information, she exited the room immediately. I remained breakfastless and thirsty, since my left arm was in a cast and I couldn’t reach the pitcher, which was out of my reach anyway due to the safety rails that surrounded me.
I didn’t know where I was, and I figured that I had been left there for good because I was such a rotten no-good and completely inconvenient child. When my parents finally showed up to retrieve me and continue the journey to Boulder, I was mightily relieved despite still being thirsty and hungry. I was given some water to drink, but everyone had already had breakfast, so I was basically told to suck it up until we got to Boulder, when we would all be having lunch.
This is how I broke my arm. It is also how I was imprinted with the (false) impression that I was stupid and irresponsible and unloveable. However, I (mostly) got over that early imprinting due to the influence of college friends, two good husbands and an excellent therapist.
My arm healed also.