Family Ties

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 9, 2000

Mary Ann Fitzmorris / L’Observateur / December 9, 2000

Last week, at the birthday party for a 9-year-old, I was reminded that I, too, complete another year of life this very week. I am not as delighted about thisspecial day as the 9-year-old. Maybe it’s because I won’t be 9, or 29, or…uh, forgetit.

My plan is to pretend it is a day like any other, if the friends and family will allow it.

Very unlike the celebration I was attending, which was at a roller rink.

One of the guests at the party and I got into a conversation about skating as we watched our daughters rollerblade together. She enumerated her thoughts on thesport, which, in one way or another, all amounted to fear.

This lady was surprised to learn that I was a regular skater until I fell two years ago and cracked some ribs. After explaining all the practical reasons why I stoppedrolling around, I had to admit to the truly compelling reasons, which, in one way or another, all amounted to fear.

We both agreed that insidious fright was one of the sure signs of aging, a distressing realization on the eve of my post 29th birthday. The commiseratingbegan.

I confessed an embarrassing experience that happened only a month ago. Thefamily was on a Cub Scout camp-out in an unfamiliar place and we noticed that our air mattress had no cap. The host of the event gave me careful instructions to thenearest town, but I listened only halfway, as is my usual custom. “I can always callif I feel lost,” I thought to myself.

As it turned out, I didn’t get underway until after dark. The first discovery as I gotinto the car was that my cell phone was dead. This threw me into a near panic. Ibriefly though about asking someone to drive with me, but that would have been caving into fear. And it would have removed all sense of adventure, since surelyher cell phone was charged.

The fact that I was still interested in adventure was mildly comforting. Driving inthe darkness, all alone, gave me the opportunity to assess what the passage of time has done to me. I remembered riding long stretches of Arizona deserthighway in a bread delivery truck. I remembered riding on a rickety bus full ofstrangers in North Carolina to a square dance with real jug-blowing hillbillies. Iremembered scaling the dormitory wall in college after curfew. I rememberedtrying to talk my spouse into a driving trip to Nicaragua when he suggested Big Bend.

Twenty years later I felt completely vexed by the challenge of finding the local K- Mart five miles from the campsite. What scared me more than anything was thedarkness. It’s a good thing the clock in my car was working. Betweenintrospections I kept checking the time and was relieved to see that it was only 5:30 p.m. That made me laugh, breaking the tension.When I got to the part about the time confusion, the woman to whom I was relating this story could really identify with my paranoia about it being later than it was. Weblamed our uncertainty on the daylight time switch. That part is normal. It’s thisother fear thing that bothers me.

I told my friend that more than once I contemplated turning around without completing the mission. That was absolutely out of the question. It was more thana silly little quest for an air mattress cap. I was fighting for my future. I don’t havethe urge to scale mountains anymore, but I will occasionally need to get a gallon of milk after dark.

Eventually I arrived at the K-Mart, where some jubilant shoppers in the parking lot greeted me with the news that the store had just marked everything down to 25 cents. I looked past them at the huge going out of business banner.There would be no mattress cap there, but it was unimportant. I had proven thatit will still be a few more years before I’ll have to carry my cell phone to stay in touch with my husband as I take out the garbage.

Good thing, too. It probably wouldn’t be charged anyway.

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