Broken Ankles Run in the Family (Part One)

In 1972, Mom broke her ankle. For the umpteenth time, we were told. Previous skiing accidents were hell on her ankles. Or so we were told. I do not have any reason to believe she made up the broken bone part of the story, but she may have invented the earlier causes. Why do I heartlessly accuse my sainted mother of lying, fibbing, making up wild-ass stories? Because I know how she smashed her ankle in 1972, no matter what she told others. It was my fault.

I was merrily riding my unicycle around the cul-de-sac. We lived at the top of a hill in Tiburon, CA. The home had great views of Mt. Tamalpais and San Francisco and the Bay. I wish I could afford that place now. There was a dirt path on our side of the fence line on the right side of the property. It was a sloping path, ending at the top of some wooden stairs that emptied out to the street. The same street upon which we lived, but a definite short cut. To walk / drive / bike / ride a unicycle up or down the street from the place that the steps ended was a circular, long route. It was far better to take the steps.

One of the neighborhood boys built me my very own mountain bike. We’d even gone to the dump together to pick out bike parts. I sure hope this guy was the one who started Marin bikes – he was a genius and I hope he is richer than Croesus now. The bike was blue and heavy and perfect for riding off the beaten path. Across the way was the area we called “the Plateau.” It was a large, mesa-shaped, undeveloped tract of land. Bike builder (I think his name was Mike) had made some gnarly dirt trails and obstacles. Tomboy Mari was in heaven, riding her own bike with the guys on the Plateau. Since the halcyon days of my youth, the Plateau has been covered in over-priced homes. Back in the day, it was one of my favorite places to play.

One could get to the Plateau by riding ALL THE WAY down the street, turning left down another hilly street and then racing as fast as possible across the straight-a-way to get the momentum to speed up to the top of the Plateau. Or, one could take the steps. Yes, take the steps with the bike. It was a heavy, before-its-time mountain bike. The boys did it. So did I. Boy, I wish helmets had been more prevalent back then (and remind me to come back to the concussion story).

Anyway, I’d been growing bored of riding my unicycle in lazy circles in the cul-de-sac. I’d ridden it down not only our front steps, but used the neighbors’ front steps for practice. I’d even ridden it down the street. The long, curvy, hilly street, where I would stop at the bottom of the steps and carry the unicycle back up to the cul-de-sac. Riding uphill was less thrilling and much more arduous than riding downhill. I had an “aha” moment. I would ride my unicycle down the dirt path and down the wooden steps. What could possibly go wrong?

Pre-teen Mari did not know what fear was. Her dictionary skipped over that word, and all its variations. I didn’t even need to be double-dog-dared to do something rash. I would jump, feet first, into any challenge. The more cockamamie the better. How else can I explain my unstellar idea of riding a damn unicycle down a set of wooden steps?

Mom was in charge of worrying. She has passed that baton to me, but in 1972, the word “worry” was also missing from my dictionary. Apparently, so was the word “intelligent.” Mom always tried to temper my hare-brained schemes. Mom, despite magnificent effort, was rarely successful. I do not believe I was foolish enough to cut mom in on my “watch this” plans regarding navigating a wooden staircase on one wheel. More likely was that she was an observant woman who (rightly) didn’t trust her tomboy daughter to possess any restraint. Here’s why: by 1972, we had joined Kaiser Medical. Why? Because, apparently, it was far, far more expensive to cart Tomboy Mari to the Ross General Hospital, Marin General Hospital, Novato General Hospital (and others) emergency rooms than it was to pay the monthly fee to Kaiser. Back in the day, the ER co-pay was $5 or less. I still cost my Mom and her vile second husband, Fulldemerde, a lot of moolah.

Mom had spidey sense. I really hated that, especially as I got older. I could not deceive that woman for the life of me. Not that I tried overly hard to do that. It just wasn’t worth the effort, because it wouldn’t work anyway. On this day in knucklehead history, Mom’s spidey sense must have pegged the old worry-o-meter (not for the first or last time).

I recall screwing up my courage to do my one-wheeled Evel Knievel impression. A few more laps around the cul-de-sac and *WHEEEEEEEE* – off I went. Unbeknownst to me, Mom was watching. Mom was panicking. Mom was so eat up with fear that her daughter would finally succeed in paralyzing herself that she couldn’t even scream. Believe me, that woman could pierce armor when she hollered. I would have heard her and stopped in my tracks. But she did not scream. Her vocal cords just stopped working. Only temporarily…

Down the dirt path I went. Not at any breakneck speed…I could (sort of) moderate my speed. I may have been reckless, but I wasn’t suicidal. I was confident. Mom, too, was confident. She was confident that she’d have to call an ambulance.

An ambulance was called. Not for me. For Mom. I bet you thought I’d regale you with a laundry list of injuries that I sustained that day. Hah! You were wrong. But, don’t worry…I have many more to relate at a later time.

I had a successful journey to the bottom of the stairs. Mom did not. She was eat up with angst as she chased me down the path. I navigated the steps, got off the unicycle, picked it up and carried it back up the stairs. Where I found Mom writhing in pain. She was probably swearing at me, too, but I don’t remember that. She twisted her ankle as she was trotting down the dirt path. She didn’t even make it to the top of the steps to witness my moment of unicycle greatness. Mom was neither amused by her plight, nor impressed by my accomplishment. Mom was in pain and irked.

Finally, someone else in the family got to take advantage of the wonderful Kaiser Medical plan and the reasonable ER co-pay.

It did not take long for Mom to realize that “tripping on something while racing down a dirt path” was an inglorious explanation for breaking one’s ankle. She was also too wonderful (after a few days) to place blame on her daughter’s head. Therefore, she made up a variety of stories, each more grandiose than the last, to describe the cause of her injuries. She was driving a Formula One car and ran off the track. She popped a wheelie while riding a friend’s motorcycle, but landed under it instead. She was skiing in the Andes, and had to be carted to the nearest town by llamas or alpacas. She finally tried skydiving and had a hard landing. To punish me for making her come up with these outlandish tales, she required me to keep track of which stories she told to which people, so she wouldn’t be busted for lying. She had the cutest look on her face and gleam in her eye when she’d make up the next whopper story. Mom really was as beautiful as she was imaginative.

She didn’t get a chance to use all the amazing stories she fabricated. Well, not at that time. As I said, broken ankles run in the family, so Mom and I had many occasions after 1972 to indulge in a bit of hyperbole.

20 June 2015

2 thoughts on “Broken Ankles Run in the Family (Part One)”

  • Great rendition of your very sane escapades. I can just hear Zelda now. How many torture stories did she relate that you had to keep track of. Too bad you didn’t run over the wicked step father!

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