IN the Ravine

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We always knew someone in The Compound would fall in the ravine. Lord knows Dad tried. He decided in 2010 he would cut brush and clean up the vines on the bank; you know, “clear the land.” He devised the perfect way to enter and exit the big ditch. He routinely lowered a tall ladder (a really, really tall one) over the edge of the bank and propped it against a tree on the steep side of the ravine. Before descending, he’d throw all the tools he might need somewhere near the ladder. When he finished with a tool, he reared back and threw the tool onto level ground.

You haven’t really lived–or maybe come so close to dying–as feeling a hatchet whiz by your head while peacefully attending the weeds in the lower garden.

I yelled as soon as I heard the whoosh of the ax. “Dad! You almost got me!”

He shinnied up the ladder, and when he finally saw me, said, “But I didn’t.”

Dad stopped his forays into the ravine a few years ago. I admit I was a bit relieved. He  warned me, “Don’t get too close to that ravine. That ground is soft. You don’t want to fall in.”

The vines returned; Virginia Creeper, Japanese honeysuckle, wintercreeper, and a few muscadines. Brush re-established; same old non-native privet, pokeweed, winterberry, and thistles. We keep them controlled for about two feet off the back yard, what we can easily reach. We’ve also seen a fair assortment of plants whose roots or bulbs Dad tossed over the edge including Rose-of-Sharon, iris, cannas, and a couple berry briars.

This past May, I noticed a bunch of  one- to two-foot Royal Pawlonia sprouts in the area where we’d taken down the tree several years ago. We’ve watched the grounds carefully since the removal of the offender, so I was surprised to see the scary little crop with the pretty purple flowers. Royal Pawlonia, or Princess Tree, is wildly invasive and spews out millions–no, really, I mean millions–of seeds every year. If you want to find out how bad it really is, just look it up in your Wikipedia.

“Dave,” I said, “you’re going to have to spray those little purple trees or we’re going to have hundreds of them full-grown before we know it.”

He chose to fertilize the roses and eradicate the Pawlonia shoots on a Sunday about 1:30. I knew he was tending to roses, but I did not know he’d loaded up a sprayer to kill the tiny trees.

I put on what I call my painting clothes, dug weeds, and had just gone upstairs to Mom and Dad’s apartment to tend to some needs of our old folks when I heard the special tune on the phone.

“Hello, I know it’s you,” I said to Dave.

He answered, “Help, I’ve fallen into the ravine and I can’t get out.”

“What do you want?” I asked my usual first question when he starts with some (lame) humor.

“I want you to come get me out of the ravine.”

“So what are you doing in the ravine?” I chuckled a little.

“I was spraying those purple things.” He blew out hard.

“You’re joking, right?”

His voice gained decibels. “No, I’m not joking. You have to come help me.”

“Well, I’m not…” I started to tell him no way was I going to go in with him. “No, wait, are you hurt?”

“Yes, I’m hurt,” he said.

“I’ll be right there.” I stuck my phone in my pocket and called to Mom in the kitchen, “He’s not kidding. He fell in the ravine.”

I hurried down the steps of the apartment and ran over to the edge of our beloved big ditch. He was lying on the bank in a mostly-vertical position, the spectre enhanced by a bush with little white flowers wreathed around his head. I saw blood.

“Where are you hurt?” I called.

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think you’ve broken anything? A leg? Arm? Shoulder?” I asked.

“I don’t think so, but I can’t get up the bank.”

“Okay, let me just…” I tested three places on the ground above him. All were soft.

“I think we better call 911. I can’t get down there,” I said.

“No, don’t call them. Go get Don.”

I called our next-door neighbor, hoping he’d be home.

When he answered, I asked, “Don, are you at home?”

“Yeah.”

“Dave has fallen in the ravine. We need help.”

All the other times I call him, Dave is headed his way with soup or ham or pie. He could have been disappointed, but he was there in what seemed like two seconds.

“See that stump?” I asked. “He’s just to this side of the stump.”

Don called down to Dave to check his condition. I whispered, “I think he landed on his face. There’s a lot of blood on his face.”

“Have you got a long pole?” he asked.  I don’t know what I gave him, but he told Dave he was lowering the pole. “You grab on and I’ll pull you out.”

Dave struggled to hold to the pole, and when he finally got it in two hands, his feet gave way to the slippery slope.

Don turned to me. “I’m going down.”

“No, don’t do that,” I said. “Then I’d just have two of you down there. Dad used to go up and down on a tall ladder. Maybe we should try that.”

“That’s right. Where’s the ladder?” he asked.

“Propped against the side of the garage over there.” I pointed. “I’ll help you.”

“I don’t need any help. I can get it,” Don said, but I still followed a few steps behind him. He picked up the ladder. We stopped at the edge and looked down. “I don’t see anything to prop it against.”

“What’s wrong with that stump he just face-planted?” I asked.

“Dave, I’m lowering the ladder right next to you. Do you think you can get on it if I prop it on that stump?” Don asked.

“Maybe,” Dave answered.

After two unsuccessful attempts Don said, “He can’t get his feet on the ladder.”

“I’ll go down on the ladder and pull him onto it,” I said.

Don was quick to stop me. “No, then I’d just have the two of YOU down there. I’ll go down.”

“I’m on the ladder,” Dave yelled.

“Did you get on it? Can you climb it?” Don asked.

At the top of the ravine, Don grabbed Dave and pulled him up.

“Thanks, Don.  Dave, honey, come on, get in the van. We’re headed for the ER.”

He staggered after me in the garage. I threw a towel in the passenger seat for him to sit on.

Southern Hills Hospital is a mile and a half from us. We were there bloody, muddy, and generally nasty but triaged and in a bay in no time.

I looked at my watch. 4:30. My friend Peggy and I had a Lyft scheduled at 6:00 to take us to Schermerhorn Symphony Center to see PostModern Jukebox. This was the second time I’d bought tickets to PMJ. The first time I was ill and, even though I tried, no one used the tickets. The current set of tickets was a birthday gift to my friend and I had already reneged on another trip (another story) so I was determined. (I’m trying to pre-explain why I did what I did later.)

I messaged Peggy. Dave is in the ER. Fell in ravine.

Peggy:  Is he hurt?

Me: I don’t think it’s too bad. I mean, he’s bloody and all that, but the doctor ordered x-rays and CT. They just came and took him to x-ray. He’s got a big gash on his face.

She asked more questions about his condition and then finished with No way we can get to the Schermerhorn on time. 

I was quick. We’re going to see PostModern Jukebox.

Peggy:  I’m dressed. I’ll wait until you tell me to leave home. The drive from Readyville to our house is about forty-five minutes.

After the CT scan, I was relieved to know that all Dave needed was a few stitches across one side of his face–the side that hit the stump. (He’d already started planning a story about how he got the scar in a bar, his favorite tale, something about defending my honor.)

I messaged Peggy. We’re going to go to the concert.

Peggy: But you’re not dressed. Didn’t you say you had to get in the shower?

Me: I can make do. I’ll hurry. I’m going to call Darrin (Dave’s son–mine, too). I should have already called him. 

I messaged the whole story to Darrin and Dana, ending with, “So can you come and pick up Dave and take him home? They’re about to sew up his face and I’ve got tickets to PMJ.” I knew Darrin the Drummer would understand.

I turned to Dave.  “Honey, do you think it would be okay for me to go home, get dressed, and go to the concert?”

“Sure,” he said, “but you’ll need to bring me a vehicle so I can drive home. Maybe Peggy could bring me the van while you get dressed.” He really hadn’t thought that she’d need to get back to our house somehow.

Peggy answered my earlier text. I don’t see how.

Me: Come on, we’ll figure it out. 

I received a return message from Dana. Darrin is on a plane. (He travels for work.) Do you think it would be okay for me to bring Evan with me? Evan is their very active three-year-old.

I wouldn’t, I answered. What if you just came and picked him up? He can call you when he’s ready.

“Is that okay, honey?” I asked Dave.

“Sure,” he said.

She called. “I can pick him up. Tell him to call me and Evan and I will come and get him. I’ll stay with him for a while to make sure he’s okay.”

I told her I needed to leave like, right now, and to text me when she got Dave home. She told me to go on and have a good time.

At home, I threw off my filthy pants and shirt, washed my face and reapplied deodorant, sprayed some dry-cleaner on my hair followed by a some fluffing, and found some clothes decent enough to wear. At least I think they were decent enough.

Peggy yelled “I’m here” when she came in the door.

I was still in the bathroom. “You have to take Dave’s wallet to him.” I rushed to the bureau where he kept his wallet.

“To the emergency room?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, handing it to her.

While she was gone, I had plenty of time to smear some makeup around and grab earrings. It wasn’t my regular routine, but I declared it finished.

In the Lyft vehicle, I looked down to see that my feet looked like they were still in the dirt. I had two wipes in my purse and used both of them. My feet weren’t perfect but they were “better than they were,” one of Dave’s favorite sayings.

***

We arrived at the Schermerhorn just in time.

I checked messages every few minutes. No word from Dana. Finally, I texted her to ask how things went. She thought she had already messaged me. She said things went fine except… Oh my god Diana he looked like an ax murderer.

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What a show, what a show! PMJ was all I thought they should be and more. At one point, I gave thanks for Dad’s ravine trips up and down the ladder, for Dave’s willingness  to allow me to abandon him in his hour of need (he really wasn’t that bad off, okay?), for Dana’s pickup and delivery, but especially for my man’s survival with less-than-could-have-been injuries.

So, maybe the thanksgiving was after the concert when I got home to see him sitting in his recliner watching one of his favorite shows.

“I got all but about two of those little purple things,” he said.

I love that man.

***

 

Goodbye, Wichita Lineman

Glen Campbell died on my birthday.

Driving home after birthday greetings, giggles, jokes, and toasts with my writing tribe, I thought how there was never a time I didn’t like Glen. He wasn’t anything like a heartthrob; he was just the consummate performer and he, or somebody working for him, knew how to pick a song.

When I heard Wichita Lineman for the first time, I had just finished my first year at San Jose State and decided to set out my sophomore year in Lewistown, Montana. The California college system had decided I was an out-of-state student, even though I hadn’t left California when Dad took a church and teaching position in Montana during my senior year at Pittsburg High School. I had to pay out-of-state tuition–in arrears–before they’d give me my grades.

I’d broken an engagement. I was emotionally adrift in a place as foreign to me as the moon. Mom and Dad did their best to take care of me. Dad and I decided to drive to California in his brown Dodge station wagon to move my “things.”

I don’t recall what we moved but I remember the car was full from the rear door to the front seats. We drove straight through Nevada, with only occasional stops for meals and a few naps.

We stopped for breakfast in the little town of Blackfoot, Idaho. We’d been on the road for about twelve hours, just about two-thirds of the way home. I know it was Blackfoot because we started talking about the Blackfoot Native American tribe before we hit the city limits. Mom and Dad had taken three little boys from Great Falls as foster children at Christmas time and they were “half-American Indian and half Chinese.” At that time, there was no information about their tribal heritage; we could only speculate.

“Is it possible the boys might be Blackfoot?” I asked.

“I suppose so,” Dad said. “Your guess is as good as mine. I’ve heard Cree, Creek, Blackfoot, Lakota. I don’t think anybody really knows.”

When Dad pulled in the gravel parking lot a little before 6:00 o’clock, we noted on the sign outside that the place was open from 6:00 a.m. one day until 3:00 a.m. the next. Our waitress, also one of the owners, brought coffee to the table before we sat down. She said their long hours gave them the after-bar business, and it was the only early-morning breakfast spot within a good radius. She and her husband took turns sleeping for more than the three-hour break, allowing for one of them to always be onsite. She seemed happy–and proud.

“Whatcha gonna eat this morning?” she asked.

Dad sighed. “Whatever you want to cook. I’m more interested in this coffee.”

“How about some bacon and eggs–or would you rather have ham–our ham is good–or I’ve got some good kielbasa, and how do you want those eggs?”

I answered this time. “Bacon and eggs, scrambled, and toast.”

“I’ll try some of that kielbasa,” Dad said. He didn’t say how he wanted his eggs and she didn’t ask.

“I’m gonna bring you a pot of coffee,” she said, on her way to the kitchen window.  She didn’t hang her order on the clothes pin line, just handed it through the window to her husband and whispered.

She turned toward the jukebox against the front wall of windows and fished some coins from her apron. “We need some music. I won’t play anything too rowdy.” Then she picked up a pitcher thermos from behind the counter and set it on our table.

“I like him,” she said. “Glen Campbell. By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”

I nodded. “I like him, too.”

“He can sure play that guitar,” Dad said.

When she left, I said, “Funny how he sings traveling songs.”

“All of them?” Dad asked.

“Well, Gentle On My Mind is about a guy jumping trains. And this one is he’s on his way to Phoenix.”

“Hadn’t thought about that.”

By the time the steaming plates arrived, we’d all moved on from Glen Campbell. I don’t remember what else played. The man stepped out of the kitchen, reached behind the jukebox, and turned the volume down.

While we were eating, the place filled up with working men and two more waitresses tied on aprons over white polyester dresses. There were no other women except for me. I felt obligated as the new target of ogling and sat up straight in my chair. A new waitress removed our dishes and we poured the last of the coffee.

“Are we rested enough to get on the road?” I asked. “I’ll drive.”

“Yeah. Let me finish this cup of coffee. We better hit the restrooms before we leave.”

About that time, a burly bald-headed guy at a table yelled, “Hey, Jack, turn that up.”

“Jack” stepped out of the kitchen again, wiping his hands. “I’m busy back here,” he said. But he turned up the music and we heard, “And the Wichita lineman is still on the line.”

“Make it play over,” Mr. Burly said. “That song’s about me.”

Somebody across the room said, “This ain’t Wichita,” but Jack pulled the plug on the machine. “Somebody needs to get over here and feed it some dimes. I’m busy back there.”

Our waitress sat her coffee pot on the top of the jukebox and fished out some more coins. “Alright, I’m paying,” she said, “but somebody needs to get over here and pick out.”

Burly obliged, pulling up his Duckheads as he punched numbers.

Dad reached in his pocket and laid some bills on the table. “We better get going.”

“Shhhh, shhhh,” I said, “that’s Glen Campbell. That’s his new song.”

Go ahead. Play Wichita Lineman.

I got up and headed for the ladies’ room when I heard, “…and I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time.” I didn’t cry until I got in a stall.

I feel the same way about Glen Campbell that I remember feeling when John Denver died. I didn’t know how much I’d miss him until he was gone. Wichita Lineman ranks right up there with the best songs ever written and, without doubt, Jimmy Webb, its penman, in the top ten songwriters, maybe five. He lucked out, or maybe he was just smart, when he chose Glen Campbell to interpret his songs.

Trish Yearwood sings a Hugh Prestwood song called The Song Remembers When. The song testifies to the way that music can instantly–and intensely–give rise a memory that hasn’t shown itself in years. Funny, the woman in the lyrics says she was “standing at the counter, waiting for some change” when it happened:

Still I guess some things we bury
Are just bound to rise again
For even if the whole world has forgotten
The song remembers when
Yeah, and even if the whole world has forgotten
The song remembers when.

I know what she means.