Tuesday, 22 January 2013
The Great Escape
[EDITORIAL NOTE: In going through the papers of my mother, who died at 95 on 26 December 2012, I found a wonderful story she wrote in 1999 and updated in 2004. With a few edits to meet The Elder Storytelling Place word limit, here it is. - Jane L. David]
By Ruth Parmet David
In my teens and twenties I was a modern dancer and had the good fortune to dance with Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman during summers at Bennington in the 1930s. As I moved into other careers, I tried to keep my body in shape through gentle exercises and t'ai chi. I had no idea how important this would be.
One cold February morning, I needed a can of paint that was out in my back yard in a shed. I took the key and dashed out without a coat, opened the lock and pushed the door wide open.
I saw the paint can on the bottom shelf and took a couple of steps to grab it. At that moment a sudden, strong gust of wind hit the shed door. Not as agile as I once was, I was a second too late to catch the door from slamming.
Wind gusts are common here in Oklahoma so I thought nothing of it until I tried to open the door. It didn't budge.
I had no idea of how dark it could be without a window or even a crack to let in a thread of light. I felt my way to the little red wagon that I knew was in the corner to sit down and ponder the problem.
I had the lock and key in my hand, so why wouldn't the door open? I realized that the force of the wind must have caused the latch on the outside to fall keeping the door shut.
Had I been outside I could have easily lifted the top piece but alas, I was inside.
Panic was creeping in but I tried to think calmly. I decided to remove the hinges. Slowly I felt around the door, and then my hope faded. The hinges were on the outside!
My 79-year-old body couldn't tolerate cold well. I was chilled to the bone. My resolve not to panic evaporated.
I wanted to scream but there was no point. I live alone. My elderly neighbors on each side of the house were too far away to hear me. Even if someone came, they would not think of looking in the closed shed.
With tears I couldn't keep back, I began to imagine the worst. Could I survive wrapped in the plastic garbage bags that were in the shed?
I couldn't give up. My children were planning to take me to Hawaii for my 80th birthday. The thought gave me a burst of energy to try again. But what could I do? My arms were not strong enough. What about my legs?
I decided to stand on my left leg and use my right leg to kick at the spot where the latch was. I kicked many times, but no luck. Then I began a rhythmic pattern. Six rapid kicks, a moment of rest, repeat. Still nothing.
My legs were giving out. I was about to give up when with one more kick I suddenly found myself looking at the lawn and sky. The door was open!
As I stood there in shock, I suddenly realized the door was slowly closing again. Quickly I stumbled out. Tears of relief overpowered me. I would be making it to my birthday party in Hawaii after all.
At 87, I agreed to perform with a college modern dance company in a cross-generational composition. The night of the first performance, after putting on my makeup and costume, I had just enough time to make a trip to the ladies room.
When I was ready to leave the stall, the lock was stuck. I tried one hand. I tried both hands. It would not move. Visions of my shed experience went through my head. This time I was immediately frantic for I had to be on stage right away. I banged on the stall door. I shouted. No one heard me. I had to act.
I saw that the space under the door was about a foot. Without thinking, I crouched, stretched out flat, and unceremoniously pulled myself under the door.
I stood up, dusted myself off and took a quick look in the mirror. Everything looked okay. I got back just in time to hear the stage manager call my group to take positions.
So take it from me, whether you dance, walk, exercise, do yoga or t'ai chi: try to stay active and limber because you never know when you might need to make your next great escape.
[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]