Family Calamities

I was once asked to give a pep talk to a Red Cross meeting. Before I spoke they gave a report on the goodly works they had performed that year. Among the rescues, humanitarian efforts and community services, they mentioned a considerable number of what they titled “Single Family Disasters.” In my opening remarks I said, “Thank you for giving me the proper title for Single Family Disasters. We have been calling ours “Family Home Evening.” I didn’t mention The Red Cross had not assisted us in these little bumps in our road to eternal familyhood; didn’t even offer a Band Aid.

For the uninitiated, Family Home Evening is a Mormon practice where we gather our families on Monday evening for instruction, activities, and a treat. It has been described as an evening of argument that begins and ends with prayer. We have our share of differing opinions, but they are usually handled amicably, and a good treat at the end supersedes all problems.

Every family experiences challenges, even the families who sit shiny and spiffed up on the church benches and those who send you those Christmas letters filled with glowing accounts of their successes the past year and those with bumper stickers extolling their children’s accomplishments— (Our Christmas letter was usually a post card, “Survived another year.”)

Like most parents, we faced stiffer crises than controlling the wiggles, pokes and jokes for an hour until the weekly treat rode over the hill like the U.S. Cavalry to save us.

I remember the larger crises best by the tag lines with which they were brought to my attention:

“Let me tell you first that we are all still alive”

“You can still shut the door if you use both hands.”

“I wondered why they weren’t eating as much.”

The first of the above lines was spoken to me by one of our sons when he and a few other siblings joined us a bit late for a family gathering. It was a festive occasion, so he opened with the good news. Since I generally assume our family members are all alive unless I hear differently, my fatherly sense told me there might be more to the story.

There was. Our barn is up a hill from behind our house. The truck hauling hay up to the barn was spinning its wheels on the grade so our son hooked the tractor to the truck’s front bumper. His younger brother was the designated driver of the truck. Older son jumped on to the tractor seat, revved engine and popped the clutch. The tractor leaped forward. Chained to the truck it couldn’t go forward, so it rotated on its back wheels like a rearing horse, launched its nose into the air and performed a back flip on to the hood of the truck.

Cat-like reflexes he didn’t even know he had launched older son off the rising tractor seat safely to the ground. Younger son froze in fright as the somersaulting tractor crashed down inches from the windshield. Younger son flipped open the unsafety belt holding him to the seat and flew out the door to join his brother on the ground.

And speaking of car doors, they are not the best tools for knocking down trees. Diane, my first wife, discovered that while backing up near a tree. She was looking over her right shoulder out the back window with the driver’s side door partly open, then totally open, then partly folded between the tree and the front fender. Her opening line to me was, “You can still close it using both hands.” A rump bump also helps we found later. Full disclosure, I did something similar to the right rear view mirror of another car a few years later.

Egg production was slipping day by day in the hen house. I went to check. One possible reason was the chicken bones I found littering the coop. Some varmint (we’re suspecting a badger) dug up out of the ground every morning, enjoyed a chicken breakfast, and went back down his hole until the next day.

I asked a busy and oft distracted son whose chore was caring for the chickens about this. He answered, “I wondered why they weren’t eating as much.” (The chickens I assumed, not the badger.)

Family calamities; some tragic, some funny; often the difference is how long ago they happened.