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The Calf and the Parachute

Lamar Snipes was my best friend when I was growing up in Morgan County, Ohio. Lamar lived at the bottom of a very steep hill and I lived on its top. The civilized way to get from my house to Lamar’s was to walk down the sidewalk and follow the streets and avenues. This route took about 45 minutes. The quick way to get there was to launch oneself off the top of the cliff that started in my neighbor’s back yard and ended in Lamar’s back yard. With a big assist from gravity this trip took about 45 seconds. Occasionally one would smack into some of the protruding trees and boulders. When this happened the trip might take up to 2 minutes, provided one didn’t get knocked unconscious. The first thing I usually did when I got to Lamar’s was to try to get the bleeding stopped. I was always bleeding somewhere.

Mr. Snipes had a cow that produced a calf every year. Lamar had read somewhere that if you lifted a calf starting on the day it was born and lifted it every day, you would be able to lift the critter even when it was full-grown. It sounded logical, so we tried it.

We cornered the calf between the barn and the fence and were faced with the big decision—who gets to lift first. I felt that since it was the Snipe’s calf that Lamar should go first. He thought that since I was a guest I should have the honor. The truth was that neither of us knew quite how to proceed. Should we try to put the calf on our shoulders and do a fireman’s carry kind of lift or should we gather him up in our arms and just stand up taking the calf with us? We decided on the latter. I was elected to be first. I proceeded to put my arms around the calf while Lamar stood close by to assist if necessary. I lifted. The calf objected mightily and expressed his objection in a singularly disgusting manner. He expelled the contents of his lower digestive tract with a force I would thought impossible for a calf so young. Lamar, who was bent over watching the proceedings with uncommon interest, had placed his face directly in the line of fire. Lamar immediately and expelled his partially digested lunch in a projectile format. It got me and I hurled too.

We hosed each other down and thought it best to abandon our calf lifting experiment. We decided that a somewhat more boring but saner pastime would simply be “Go to the picture show.” In our hometown of McConnelsville this meant going to the Opera House, our local theater, coughing up the princely sum of 14 cents and watching the Saturday matinee. On this particular Saturday The Longest Day was playing. A suspenseful, thrilling, movie that involved, among other things, many parachutes floating down from the sky.

After the movie, Lamar allowed as how neat it would be to have our own parachute. Although we didn’t have an airplane to jump out of, we could certainly expedite our trip from the barn roof to the ground with a parachute. Climbing through the hayloft and down the ladder suddenly seemed very mundane. Where could we get a parachute? The answer was easy. We would make one.

Although we had never made a parachute before, the concept didn’t seem hard. All it took was a large fabric canopy and some ropes. The ropes were readily available in the barn. Mr. Snipes surely wouldn’t mind if we cut his hay rope into smaller lengths. The canopy was a more of a problem. The best we could come up with on short notice was a bed sheet. Since most people in Morgan County were not rich, many had only one set of bed sheets one of which often doubled as a tablecloth on special occasions, like Sunday dinner. Mr. and Mrs. Snipes had the largest bed in the house so we selected the top sheet of that bed for our project. We didn’t want to damage the sheet so we couldn’t cut holes in it to attach the ropes. Not a problem. We’ll just tie the corners of the sheet to the ropes. After all we were both boy scouts and knew about tying knots. When the knots were tied, we stepped back to inspect our handiwork The canopy did not look quite as big nor the ropes as numerous as the parachutes in the movie, but it appeared adequate. Adequacy is actually a difficult judgment for preteen boys to make, as we would soon learn.

Lamar lost the usual argument about who would try it first. He climbed to the roof of the barn. Since the sides of the roof sloped pretty steeply, he perched himself on the top, the highest point of the roof and looked down with considerably less enthusiasm than we had both felt at the beginning of the project. He tied the loose ends of the ropes to the belt in his jeans and took a cautious step to the edge of the roof. He suddenly remembered that he had some very important unfinished homework that demanded his immediate attention. This was peculiar since it was the middle of summer. He started to back away from the edge just as a significant gust of wind came swooping down the hill behind the barn. Lamar leaned into the wind which quit blowing as suddenly as it started. Lamar then found himself leaning toward the edge of the barn with no offsetting force to balance him. The result was predictable. Lamar was taking the quick way down to his homework. He left the roof headfirst but quickly somersaulted to a feet first attitude. For a sickening moment the parachute didn’t open. Then it did. The resulting sudden jerk on Lamar’s jeans produced another sickening moment.

When it was all over and Lamar returned home after having his broken leg set, we promised Mr. Snipes that we would never do such a dumb again. I often have my fingers crossed when making such promises.