Jumping off the Ladder


Mary and Tom Ford, transplants from California, lived on top of a sandy hill, amidst the pines and huckleberry bushes, high above the south bank of Pistol River. They lived in a nice split-level house on that sand dune. She and Tommy are gone now, buried in Pistol River Cemetery. I suppose they found something to love about the community because there aren’t many people buried there. And after all, they built a fancy, modern looking house there in Pistol River, in the sand dunes.

Even though it was years ago, every time I think of Mary Ford (not the one who married Les Paul… another Mary Ford), I think of sand.I remembered the parable in the Gospels about how “the foolish man built his house upon the sand.” Wise men… and we were all wiser than Californians, built our houses upon the rocks.

And I remember how she disliked children. She also had those weird huge owlish sunglasses that hid half her eyes with the top part being tinted. It felt like an angry glare even when it wasn’t. She was a small, compact dump truck of a woman. And Tommy was a stubby guy who looked like he needed a cigar to complete his look. Scary Californians who didn’t know their scripture. So when she hosted Sewing Club, which all our parents attended, the kids ran around outside, and weren’t allowed in the house. We drank from the garden hose if we got thirsty and stayed away from the scary woman with the owl eyes and the permanent disdain for us.

We messed around outside, running through the sand, and playing whatever games we could concoct–we were super heroes. Sometimes we were cowboys. Other times, we played “house” if the girls got to name the game. Just below her house I remember a white valley of sand, kind of a shallow bowl between four hills, protected on all sides by pine trees.  We would roll down the hillsides to the base of the bowl, and then run back up and do it again and again.

Once, when we were daring ourselves to do action stunts, I jumped off the highest rung of a ladder and tried to do a stunt roll.  Sand is a curious substance, both soft and hard at the same time. So, instead of landing in an awesome painless roll like Lee Majors, I wound up biting my lip, and breaking my two bottom teeth. I had them capped, or enameled, or some other dental treatment I don’t know the technical words for. They did my dental work down in Brookings, where all the dentists lived. It’s been years now and that treatment had worn off before I left Oregon for good. But even today, if you look closely at my lower teeth you can still see my stuntman handiwork from when I was in elementary school.

But that day I got to go inside the house. I was given a wash cloth with a couple ice cubes in it. She gave me just a bit of compassion that day, the little ogre woman with the giant eyes. The inside of her house was beautiful. The place was all white paint and windows nice furniture (the kind you should sit in with utmost care) and open air. But then, before long, I went out to play with my cousins again. For us Pistol River kids, nothing stopped playtime for long.

Anyhow, that’s how things go. Some people enter your life. And maybe they just don’t like you very much. And if you can’t do anything about it? Just let it go. Free up your soul. Roll down a hill in the sand. Enjoy the other parts of your life. Life is a big glorious snarl of a thing, sometimes complicated, and sometimes unrolling so easily that you can hardly believe your luck.

So put on your safety helmets, people, and jump off a ladder every now and again. You might land in an elegant stunt roll. Or you might bust your lip. Either way, if you don’t jump off the ladder, you’ll never really know your limits. And you’ll never, ever get to see the inside of Mary Ford’s house.

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