“Life is short. Break the Rules. Forgive quickly. Kiss slowly. Love truly. Laugh uncontrollably. And never regret anything that makes you smile. “
— Mark Twain
My last birthday was notable because as my 80th it marks the beginning of my ninth decade. Please indulge me as I add drama to my life by exaggerating frightening experiences that stand out in my mind decade by decade.
During decade one I managed to survive my first near death experience.
It was the unusually hot August of 1946. Mom and I rode in Grandma’s Buick to pick up Grandpa after work. It was hot. We were in the back seat, and did I mention it was hot? I felt sleepy and leaned on Mom. My next recollection is looking up at the sky from the cool grass in the median next to the car. My breathing had become shallow as my body went limp. We went to see the doctor. I had rheumatic fever. Someone used the phrase “heart attack,” perhaps the doctor. It all started a few weeks earlier when I had strep throat. Penicillin was in short supply, and without antibiotic intervention, streptococcus often migrates from the throat to the heart. The treatment at that time was a course of antibodies followed by prolonged bed rest. So I spent second grade at home. Mrs.Boyer was my tutor and my all time favorite teacher. She said I was uncanny and who doesn’t like to hear that?
Early in my second decade I encountered my next near death experience.
I was standing at the top of a bank. Down below a neighbor kid that I knew but not very well suddenly raised his bow and sent an arrow in my direction. It whistled past my ear a few inches from my left eye. I heard him scream an expletive. Then watched in amazement as he charged up the bank jumping on me, knocking me down and raining blows on my head. I found this behavior strange coming from someone that I hardly knew. Somehow the incident ended and a few minutes later we were friends. You want someone that fierce on your side. As time went by, I was able to piece together an explanation for his behavior. He lived with his grandparents and his grandfather was notorious for spending his afternoons in the tavern. One evening a couple of weeks before the bow and arrow incident, the grandfather swerved into Mom’s brand new Rocket 88 Oldsmobile parked in front of our house. Mom turned him in, so we were the bad guys to his family.
I lived on Monterey Bay in California at the beginning of the next decade.
One morning in August I got up early to visit a friend who lived about three hours away. It was hot and the Yuba River where we swam was cold. When I got in my MG-TD to leave, I didn’t consider the energy drain that accompanies rising early then alternating between sitting in the hot sun and swimming in the cold river. The sun went down as I was driving through the Santa Cruz Mountains. Suddenly my eyes opened, and I was on the wrong side of the road peering over the radiator cap at a bottomless abyss. Somehow I managed to swerve back into my lane. I stopped at a diner and got a cup of coffee.
In my fifth decade I was set to fly from Houston to San Francisco to do some advance work with a client.
Several colleagues were to follow the next day. Shortly after takeoff the pilot informed us with a reassuring voice that the Boeing 727’s instruments indicated that the nose gear hadn’t retracted. The likely explanation was a faulty indicator. The solution, out of an abundance of caution, was to circle the area until the fuel was nearly spent then land. So we landed with no problem into a mountain of foam. Our pilot didn’t mention the foam or the army of first responders that awaited us until just before we landed. I got a seat on the next flight to San Francisco, but it was canceled because of equipment failure. After three hours of circling and two hours waiting for the canceled flight, it was time to go home and sleep in my own bed, but not before I got to see our landing on the local news. Next morning my colleagues were surprised to see me at the airport. When I told them what happened, one of the guys, who had to have three martinis before he could fly, said, “I don’t know how you can get back on a plane after that!”
I call these incidents brushes with life because each renewed my appreciation for life.
Edmond Overbey lives in Oneonta.