I had been passively listening to my mother’s rant. Something about working at a hospital and stupid kids and snowmobiles, I believe. I do recall her leaving for work at the hospital after saying something to the effect of, “So wear that helmet.”
What would I need a helmet for? Mom puzzled me at times.
As Mom’s car disappeared down the driveway, I wrapped and pulled the starter rope. My snowmobile fired on the first pull.
The old Johnson Skee-Horse was like that – full of surprises. I was pleased. I got tired of wrapping the rope around the emergency starting sheave.
The recoil mechanism had long since failed and I had removed a shroud that covered a notched pulley and taken to starting the machine with a knotted rope.
The notch caused a heightened awareness in me as I rode. The pulley spun in very close proximity to my left knee when I was astride the snowmobile’s seat.
Perhaps the notch explains the tendency I developed to ride with my knees atop the seat.
Anyway, as I took off on the sea-foam green and orange machine, I was on my knees.
Though I fancied the ancient snowmobile and would vigorously defend it when someone implied that it might not be the fleetest machine on the trail, I was perfectly aware of its shortcomings in the speed department. Thus, I was a bit surprised at what happened shortly into my ride that day.
I approached the small lake near my home, anxious for the unobstructed expanse its frozen surface presented – an opportunity to fully accelerate.
The old Johnson lacked a functioning brake and needed some slow-down room. Forty yards shy of the lake, I punched the throttle.
I crested a small rise in the terrain and my snowmobile went airborne – yes, airborne.
Positioned as I was on the seat, my head was above the windshield, so when the snowmobile made its less than graceful return to earth the top of said windshield struck me right between the eyes. Or, rather, my right-between-the-eyes struck the top or the windshield.
I continued onto the lake, impressed with the jump but smarting from the blow. I rubbed my forehead with my buckskin glove. There was blood – and no small amount of it. I turned the snowmobile around and streaked (ok, puttered) for home.
As I walked in the door I saw my sister Ann’s face turn white. She said, “I’ve gotta go,” and put down the phone (no easy feat for Ann at that age).
“What happened?” she wondered.
“I accidentally shot myself,” I joked.
Rather than chuckling, Ann got a horrified look on her face. No sense of humor, I guess.
“We have to call mom!” Ann was right back to the phone.
“I didn’t shoot myself,” I assured her. “I, uh, fell. I fell on my snowmobile.”
Nonetheless, we did have to call mom. My skin was split wide between my eyes and Mom was going to notice it anyway. I figured she might as well find out about it right away.
“Ma, uh, I fell on my snowmobile and I’m bleeding pretty good,” I said, deftlty covering my dare-devilness of moments ago.
My mother left her post at the hospital and returned there with me in tow. Along the way she blathered about snowmobiles and stupid kids and hospitals and helmets and somebody’s vague, evasive explanation of events.
Very little of it concerned me as far as I could tell.
The doctor secured my wound with numerous thin butterfly stitches. I preferred the butterfly stitches to the stitches that involve actual sewing, but was not exactly impressed with the look. As a 15-year-old I did not want to draw unnecessary attention to myself – especially attention of the pointing and laughing variety.
The next morning, I was the earliest to board the school bus and did so under the comforting cloak of darkness.
Others boarded and noticed me not, but by the time the bus arrived at one of my so-called friend’s house daylight had begun to emerge. He was usually quiet and crabby in the morning, but when he spotted me his face broke into a grin. He pointed at me and laughed. How nice that I could brighten his day.
“What the hell happened to your face?” he wondered.
“I jumped my snowmobile and when I came down my face hit the top of the windshield,” I explained.
“That old Johnson? You mean you were jumping over it, right?” Pretty jovial for a crabby guy.
Then another friend got on the bus. “Ha!” was his response. It was accompanied by pointing and laughing.
With people looking now, I revealed how the injury came to be. Some more pointing, laughing and insults directed at my snowmobile ensued. It was a pattern that was to recur throughout my day.
At school my friend Brad greeted me with a smile. I had filled him in the night before and he was aglow with anticipation. He was to tell my story as often as I that day and with far more delight.
“How’d that happen?” one kid enquired, his finger indicating my obvious disfigurement.
“I was jumping my snowmobile and my face came down on the windshield.”
“What kind of sled you got?”
“He’s got a Johnson Skee-Horse,” Brad interjected.
“You hurt yourself on a Johnson?”
And thus it went. Insult after insult was added to my injury. My poor old sled took a verbal beating, with Brad’s words often fueling the fire.
Yes, I had hurt myself on a Johnson Skee-Horse. Yes, it’s sea-foam green and orange. Twenty-five horse power. Yes, I did get air under it. No, I did not lose a race to a kid on a tiny three-wheeler last week. Yes, I start it with a knotted rope. No, Brad did not outrun it on foot once – the foot-path was shorter. Yes, I guess he did beat me back to the house.
I got home that night and looked at my poor old snowmobile. Round headlights stared blankly back at me from its sea-foam face.
My ego was a little bruised but I still loved the decrepit machine. And I didn’t feel like walking with my ice fishing stuff.
I figured I might as well get back on the horse (or Skee-Horse). I found myself looking around the garage.
“Now where did I put that helmet?”
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org