Summers on Martha's Vineyard were all about fun. But, more than that, it was simple fun; the fun of swimming, catching minnows, fishing, playing tag and war, and countless other low-tech games. All of us were thin, scrawny kids, and not because we didn't eat. My nickname was, "The Disposal". And it wasn't like we ate nothing but health foods. Yes, candy did exist back in the "Dark Ages" of the 60's and 70's! While I never much cared for cotton candy - far too "goopy" for my tastes; I did like candy corn and pixie stix, candy dots and candy necklaces, and good, old-fashion candy bars. And not those little bite-sized ones they hock today. No, these were full-sized bars!
These days, we keep hearing stories about childhood obesity being rampant, and we actually wonder why that's the case. Kids are eating worse than ever, and are less active than ever. Between Playstation and computer games, they have little physical fun any more. School budget cutbacks mean less PE and recess. Add to that fears of lawsuits, and kids can't do any sort of physical activity without signing fifteen different release forms!
Back in our day, my friends and I raced all over the place, all summer. Our fun often ended in the occasional skinned knee or banged elbow, bruised behind or scraped knuckles. And, you know what? We all managed to live, and nobody's parents sued, or got sued. What a concept!
Out of all those summers, there was one that stood out as the worst for multiple injuries; it was the summer of three broken arms. No, they weren't mine - not all of them. Ben was one of the "older kids" - meaning he was (like) fifteen. Before the summer even started, he had a bad break to his right arm; he was in a cast from his hand to his shoulder, and he was going to be in it for about twelve weeks!
Then there was Lisa, my first girlfriend. She arrived on the island with her left forearm in a cast. Funny thing was, she was left-handed. She'd broken her wrist a few weeks before, and would have the cast for another couple.
A few weeks into the summer, I was happily engaged in a typical game of make-believe with my friends. As I recall, it was "underwater city". We were in the narrow alley (and I use that term loosely) between two of the cottages. When I say alley, I mean a walkway about three feet wide! Yeah, you rarely had secrets in the Campgrounds. Anyway, I was walking backwards, and didn't see a water valve sticking up out of the concrete walkway. Every cottage had one of those; it was how we turned our water on and off each summer. So, I tripped over it and went over backwards. Instinctively, I threw back my arms to brace my fall.
I landed, and felt a surge of fiery pain arc through my right wrist. Jumping to my feet, I cradled it in my left hand. Being a boy, and being only eight, I fought the urge to cry out. Well, that fight was over fairly quickly. The pain was too much, and I burst into tears. As any child would do, I immediately cried out for Mommy. Running down the street, I raced by "Happy Daze", the cottage of good, old "Uncle" Bert and "Aunt" May. Bert being the man he was, he was out of his rocking chair and at my side in an instant. And, as any mother can report, they know the sound of their child's cry. So, my Mother was out the front door of our cottage, and at my side a moment later.
They quickly saw that this was no mere sprain, and Bert offered to drive us to the hospital. That's just the sort of guy he was. My Mother declined, and she drove me there right away. I always hated needles (still do), but this was one instance where I didn't mind getting a shot for pain. For me, it was more the embarrassment. No, I didn't get it in the behind. But, I was so slight, so thin, that the nurse said it had to go in the front of my upper thigh. So, I had to lower my shorts. Now, that might seem like nothing much to you, but to a little boy, the idea of a non-family member seeing him in his underwear, especially a cute little lady nurse; why, such things just were not done!
After the shot, and an x-ray, the doctor said I had a fractured wrist. So, they wrapped some cotton gauze around it from my fingers to my elbow, and then covered it in plaster of Paris. He said I'd have to wear it for about six to eight weeks; nearly the entire summer! As I couldn't get it wet that meant nearly no swimming for me. Not the sort of thing I wanted to hear. But, it wasn't my choice to make.
We headed home, and it was late when we finally pulled into the backyard. As I recall, my friend Eddy was still awake, and saw us come home through his bedroom window. He was the first to see the cast, and then my Mom got me off to bed. I was still in a lot of pain, and I had to hold the cast up all night. So, she propped my arm up with pillows, and checked on me through the night, giving me pain pills according to the doctor's instruction.
The next day, I joined Ben and Lisa, and we made quite the set. It took a while, but I finally got back into the swing of things. The cast threw my center of gravity off a bit, so I tended to trip and fall a lot more. My Mom must have put a dozen Band-Aids on the skinned-knees I got that summer.
Eventually, Lisa got her cast off first; and Ben joked that we need to break her other arm to set things right. She and Ben, Dailis, Jimmy and Eddy, and everyone else signed my cast. My Dad even wrote on it: "Here lie the broken bones of Andy Robinson". He and my Mother thought it very funny, but I didn't get the joke.
Two weeks after Lisa was freed of her cocoon, so was I. I remember my arm looking so thin and pale, and I babied it for the rest of the summer; ever fearful that I might re-break it.
No summer before or after ever saw such injuries among our little gang of friends. And, the funny thing was, no one ever got sued or fined or blamed for them either. No, these were simple accidents of youth.
Somehow, I think tolerating a few more of these, and learning to lighten-up and let kids run and play would go a long way toward solving some of the problems kids today now face.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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