Saturday, June 16, 2012

I'll Tell You What I Was Thinking

          "What were you thinking?"
          Any former child can tell you that this is a dangerous question when uttered by any adult, especially a parental one. It is a question that can only get you in more trouble than you are already, obviously, in.
          Because all the possible answers, which run the gamut from, "I was wondering just exactly how many cherry bombs it takes to explode a mailbox," to "Umm…nothing?" are absolutely guaranteed to make an adult's head explode, thus increasing the decibel level of the lecture you're already getting, and assuring that you won't be able to escape with just a lecture. Punishment will follow, as surely as the night follows the day.
          My own solution, honed over years of hearing this particular question, usually shouted by my father as he surveyed the damage, was to draw out the "Umm" until the lecture started. Thus I appeared to answer him without getting myself in worse trouble by revealing the extent to which I was not thinking at all.
          "Think, Nancy," was another favorite of Dad's, usually hissed at me just before I accidentally punctured the wall with the cordless drill because I was paying more attention to that most danceable song on the radio than to keeping my finger off the On switch until I was ready to drill the marked hole.
          It's a wonder the man let me in the same room with power tools, and it is highly to his credit that not only did he, but he also taught me how to use them properly. It is even more to his credit that I have never been injured while using a piece of machinery.

Dad, in a rare lapse of safety vigilance. Where are our steel-toed baby Redwings?
Our tiny leather gloves? Our child-sized safety glasses? What was he thinking?
©Dorothy Banks

          Dad was—is—his own OSHA office. He worked in a service station and on highway and construction crews as a kid, he uses all kinds of machinery in his work, and he lives in the rural west, so he's seen his share of workplace injuries—fingers or limbs lost because somebody wasn't paying attention or didn't power off the equipment before reaching into its innards to fix something and now they call him Stubby.
          That was the first thing he taught me: turn it off and unplug it. Disconnect the spark plugs. Think.
          The second thing he taught me was pay attention, also a concept that didn't come naturally to me. Pay attention to how it works. Pay attention to where you are. Pay attention to what you're doing. Think.
          The third thing he taught me was consider possible outcomes. Before you jack a car up to change the tire, consider the terrain. Look for someplace flat, to minimize the possibility of the car sliding off the jack. Never kneel to change a tire; always squat—you can get out of the way faster if the jack gives or the car tips off it. Think.
          I am exceedingly fortunate that not only did he tell me these three things, he told them to me over and over and over and over and over and over, until they finally lodged in my head.
          Because my dad saved my life. In an annoying and highly parental way, involving no drama, no adventure, no swashbuckling, no death rays expertly wielded against aliens, no defusing a ticking time bomb. He wasn't even there when he did it.
          K and I were driving the Chief Joseph highway in Wyoming. We'd pulled into a scenic overlook, and a couple in a motor home pulled in just behind us and parked, leaving the motor running. The overlook slanted slightly downhill, and both cars were facing downhill. I was still on the passenger side of our car when the driver of the motor home got out and started chatting with K. Turns out he was related to old friends of mine, so I moved around the car to join the conversation, stopping between the two cars, because there wasn't a lot of room where K and the other driver were standing.
          As we talked, these thoughts itched in the back my mind: "That motor home is still running. We're on a decline. You're standing between two cars, looking for all the world like a Nancy sandwich. Pay attention. Consider possible outcomes. Think."
          I thought, "Well, it never hurts to be cautious," so I stepped from between the cars and crowded next to K. A few minutes later, while our new friend was catching me up on the news about his nieces, whom I'd gone to school with, the motor home's engine cut out with a cough and it jumped out of gear, smacking into the back of our car.
          Where I'd been standing not very long ago.
          Thanks, Dad.

No comments:

Post a Comment