One of the many visitors we had while living in Hebo was our old friend Clinton. Clinton is the juggler who had lived in our backyard in Portland and who became a good friend. After his year off traveling by thumb around the country, he went back to Yale to finish his degree in Geology. We had kept in touch and knew we would see him again eventually, probably that summer. However, with nomads, you could never really count on anything. He showed up on one of the most terrible days, a day full of surprises.
That day, I had taken the kids to the little school playground less than a block away from our house. We went there often, having no play structures in our own yard. There were even woods behind the school where we would often gather wild foods for our meals. The playground was usually empty but not that day. This time, we were sharing it with an older man and his granddaughter. As I’ve said before, Justin was a daredevil. There was no holding him back, and he loved slides. This playground had a rather tall metal slide, so I would always go up the ladder behind him, making sure he was safely seated at the top then go around to the front and catch him as he slid down. We’d been doing this successfully for weeks, and he always waited for me to say “Go!”
This time, he waited for me then started down the slide putting his sneakered feet out to the sides to slow himself down when suddenly, he flipped over the side, still near the top, landing on his head on the blacktop below. I lunged for him and managed to grab the tip of his sneaker as he hit with a loud crack. I was horrified and wanted to scoop him up immediately, however my mother was an RN, and I knew that I shouldn’t move him. I knelt down next to him checking to see if he was conscious and trying to assess how hurt he was. He wasn’t crying, which scared me. Meanwhile, the only other adult at the playground, the grandfather, came running over and started screaming at me. “What kind of a mother are you? Why don’t you pick your child up?” I managed to block out everything except my son and kept whispering to him as he started focusing on me. Eventually, he moved of his own accord and started sitting up, still dazed. Once he sat up, I did scoop him up, grabbed Jessie’s hand and started running for home. As we entered the driveway, Justin threw up all over me. I knew we had to take him to the hospital.
Paul came running out and, when he saw Justin bleeding and vomiting, also started yelling at me. He wanted to know what I had done to our son. Once again, I bit my tongue and ignored him, walking into the house to clean up and grab the car keys. I was greeted by Clinton and an old friend of his from their home state of New Jersey. My first thought was, “what a bad time for a visit.” Then I realized that they could stay home with Jessie while Paul and I made the trip to Tillamook to the closest hospital. Luckily, when Clinton saw what was happening, he took Paul aside and talked him down then sat with Justin while I changed into clean clothes. Within minutes we were on the road, headed to the Emergency Room.
The hospital was a rinky-dink little facility that didn’t really instill much confidence in me, but we had no other choice. They checked us in fairly quickly and led us to the X-ray room. Once there, they had me lay Justin down on the table and handed me a lead vest to wear so I could stay in the room with him. When I asked where Justin’s protection was, they answered that they didn’t have any child-sized vests and actually only had that one. After freaking out at them for their incompetence, I promptly took it off and draped it over my small child. They didn’t like it, but I guess they knew enough not to argue with a mama bear. It was all starting to hit me now and, with everything that had happened so far, including being screamed at by two different men earlier, I was not to be trifled with. Miraculously, there was no fracture, but he did have a concussion. They wanted to keep him overnight, but I refused. I didn’t trust this place to keep him safe, and it was at least a half hour away. They gave me directions to wake him every hour and ask him simple questions to be sure he was okay. He was already very drowsy and would probably sleep in between.
We finally got home well after dark to find dinner waiting for us. Thank-you, Clinton. Jessie was all ready for bed but had insisted on waiting up for us. I settled Justin, set an alarm for an hour, put Jessie to bed and ate some dinner. An hour had gone by already, and it was time to wake Justin. He barely woke up but did answer everything falling back into a deep sleep immediately. I set another alarm and exhausted, sunk into our recliner hoping to nap, when I suddenly heard a distressed meowing from behind my chair. Our cat was struggling with having her kittens and needed assistance. Everyone else had gone to bed already, so I stayed up all night long delivering kittens and waking Justin hourly. Justin recovered quickly and was back to his old self of climbing high things, trying to escape whenever he could and taking ridiculous risks. The ironic thing about this accident was that it wasn’t really a risky thing or shouldn’t have been. I realized later that the rubber on the side of his sneaker had stuck to the side of that metal slide and had flipped him over. Ever since then, I have cautioned parents at various playgrounds about that danger. I even saw it almost happen again with another kid years later. Luckily, that child pulled his foot back in before actually going over the edge.
The next day, I got a formal introduction to Vernon, the friend that Clinton had brought with him. Vernon was even more shy than me, which was saying a lot. As a child, I was so shy that I would be doubled over with stomach cramps if I ran into a schoolmate at the grocery store. I battled waves of nausea when called on by teachers in school. I never looked anyone in the eye, not even family members, so I understood what he was going through. However, Clinton was outgoing and had been on the road the previous year. Vernon's shyness was too much for Clinton. He felt like he was carrying a lead weight. He asked if he could leave him with us for the summer. Paul was not excited about having him stay. He had been with us for three days and hadn’t said a word except a whispered hello with downcast eyes. On the other hand, I was always glad to have more people around, and the kids had taken a shine to him. I also understood shyness and liked this quiet man. Poor Vernon wasn’t thrilled at being dumped by his friend either, but he also wasn’t happy about the idea of constantly meeting new people on the road. We all finally agreed to the arrangement. Vernon ended up being one of our best friends. Once he adjusted to this new situation, he opened up and became a member of the family. We were all incredibly sad to see him go when Clinton returned to get him to hitchhike back to New Jersey together.
Clinton had gone north to Washington State and hung out with the Flying Karamazov Brothers, a world-renowned hippie collective of jugglers. He came back with all kinds of new tricks. He learned how to eat fire, which he told me was not really a trick. You actually burn the inside of your mouth. It wasn’t something he wanted to continue with, and I didn’t blame him. He also started juggling any three things that were handed to him. So, of course, Jessie handed him a dollhouse, a super ball and a cup. If he dropped anything, you got to pie him in the face with shaving cream. He’d started out doing whipped cream, but it got rancid pretty fast all stuck in his beard, so he switched to a non-food item. He always managed to drop something because being pied in the face was an important part of the show. He stood out on our front lawn, right on Highway 101, juggling everything including flaming torches. We were acquiring quite a reputation in town by this time, but luckily, we weren’t the only hippies in this very rural area. The locals were adjusting quickly to this new community.