Preparation fails opportunity


Kids are curious and adventurous and sometimes unprepared for the adventures they may undertake. One day my neighborhood friends and I had learned how to climb up to the top of my father’s garage. I must have been about eight years old and thought high places were always fun because it’s a whole different view of the everyday neighborhood. We all moved to the edge of the roof overlooking the driveway peering down at the great distance to the ground, maybe eight feet. One of us wondered, out loud, how it would be to jump off the roof. I thought I was tough enough to survive that trip, and win the adulation of my friends, so I said I would jump. With a few anticipatory nods, off I went. The force of gravity saw to it that I would hit the cement below with enough force to sprain my ankle. Fortunately it was only a sprained ankle for it could have been much more serious. I could have tumbled and hit a more fragile part of my self but it was just a sprained ankle. I don’t remember any flustering or blustering from mom or dad on that occasion, I could still walk without looking too damaged. My foot took several days to swell to the size of a large burrito, a burrito too big to fit into my shoe. By that time no one was worried about my survival and eventually everything got well. How did I get that wrong?

But my flying days weren’t over. I discovered another opportunity to attempt to defy gravity when my folks took the family to visit an uncle who lived on his farm in Missouri. What set me on a flight path that day was seeing my uncle’s barn which had a nice hey loft with the customary very high opening. Up at the top of the opening was a hoist system used to hoist hey into the loft so it could be stored for further use.

That top floor of the barn must have been ten or twelve feet off the ground, maybe fifteen feet. I was excited; I had envisioned myself floating out over the barn yard, floating far enough to get out over the cows and coming down to the ground with a, with a, well I don’t remember thinking about the landing. Just like when I jumped off the garage. But I excitedly climbed up into the loft with my homemade parachute and walked over to the loft door and peered out over the barn yard. This was going to be spectacular. This time I would jump, not for the adulation of friends, but for my own thrill of flight. I would float to the ground with a parachute that I had made of a large square cloth tied at the corners with a cord. I had learned earlier from the garage experience that falling to the ground resulted in a rather rapid descent ending in a very sudden, ankle spraining stop. My parachute would ease my drop and afford a nice soft, no sprained ankle, landing.

I straightened out my chute and made sure I had a good grasp of the cords attached to the corners of what must have been a small table cloth that I had smuggled out of the house. Looking down at the ground, I summoned my courage, threw the chute into the air and away I went. But I didn’t go away; I went down, very fast, with as much speed as I had when I jumped off the garage.

My home built parachute failed to capture any air. It streamed out above me, flapping wildly, like a distraught bird in distress as I plunged toward the ground. My parachute had absolutely no effect on slowing the speed of my descent and I solidly hit the ground with a hard muffled thud. Fortunately for me the thud was muffled by the very thick layer of cow manure which covered the barn yard, probably a foot or more in thickness.

I have no memory of anything else that happened that day after plunging into the manure. I don’t remember getting up. I don’t remember walking across the cow manure and leaving the barnyard. I don’t remember being thrilled to still be alive. I don’t remember being disappointed. I don’t even remember thinking about how I could improve my parachute. I think the sudden stop, when I hit that manure, must have jolted a large portion of common sense loose in my brain. And thinking about it now, I didn’t seem to have enough common sense, as a kid, to give adequate thought to parachute construction.

That day my life was saved by a pile of cow manure. My love of flying was violently buried in the cow manure of that barn yard in Missouri, never to be resuscitated. I learned that attempting to do something I had never done before required much more planning and study to insure success. I’ve heard it said that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The definition of luck has been described as when preparation meets opportunity. I had the opportunity but I failed to plan for it.  How did I get that wrong?

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One Response to “Preparation fails opportunity”

  1. Dorse, for a year or two we lived on Third Street off Joslyn Ave. One afternoon a friend and I thought we would play in the fresh dirt piled up in the back yard. We raced toward the pile and I slid over the top and into the fresh septic tank which seemed to be half way to my knees. Smelly and time for a bath. I think you probably had a bath after your landing also!

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