Janet Sheridan: I did it and I’m glad
Mom’s story: “As children, all of you were shy around strangers; you’d either hide behind me or disappear, which is why the incident with the Watkins man was so unbelievable. You were three, Bob five, and Carolyn seven. I was mopping the floor when he knocked; but I needed vanilla, so I invited him in. He was showing me new products when Carolyn approached, grabbed his tie, and yanked it viciously, which inspired Bob to tip over the mop water that you rolled in. The poor man fled so fast he forgot my vanilla.”
I had no trouble believing my unruly siblings created chaos, but my contribution to it dumbfounded me. My shy, hesitant personality usually vetoes risky and attention-getting behavior. However, rolling in mop water turned out to be just the first incident in a lifetime of surprising and delighting myself by overcoming my cautious nature.
I remember perching like a gangly turtle dove in a huge cottonwood tree with several siblings and cousins. Through a haze of green leaves, I studied the family horse, Easter, who stood at ease in the tree’s shade. Quietly, thoughtfully, and to no one in particular, I said, “I could jump onto Easter’s back.”
My cousin Jimmy snickered, “You’d never do that,” and I leaped. I landed, sidesaddle, on Easter’s back and thudded to the ground when he bolted. As I limped away to a chorus of cheers and jeers, I asked myself a question my mother soon echoed, “Why would you do such a thing?” But my remorse gave way to glee when my failed circus act made me the center of attention until another cousin, Carol, stole my thunder by saying she was homesick and then crying and gagging until she threw up.
During my first year of college, Chuck, an attractive boy in my Psych 101 class, asked if I wanted to sneak out of my dorm at midnight to spotlight and hunt rabbits with him. I stared at him in astonishment, thinking, “That’s a crazy idea for a first date! I’m a serious student and a rule-follower! What makes this guy think I’d sneak out of my patrolled, locked-down dorm to kill rabbits? If I got caught, I could lose my scholarship!” Then I blurted, “Tonight?”
Two months later, I quit thinking, “I can’t believe I did that,” and continued dating Chuck.
I was seventy-three when I saw the warnings posted on a bulletin board at the head of a path that descended a deep gorge and required a trek up a rock-laden river to the base of Cummins Falls near Nashville, Tennessee. My heart leaped and lodged in my sinuses as I read, “Cummins Falls is a natural area with inherent safety risks. Getting to the falls requires strenuous physical activity: vigorous hiking and long stretches of climbing over big rocks or wading on slippery rocks.”
“What am I doing here?” I thought, “I’m too old for this.” But my grandchildren wanted me to go; so I did. The downhill hike was manageable, the river wide, the water warm, and the rocks neither too high nor too slippery. Cummins Falls itself was a wondrous drop of seventy-five feet with a wide curtain of water at the top and lower ledges creating vertical rock gardens of moss and ferns.
As we prepared to leave, someone told Joel about a trail that would take more than an hour off the return hike. I filled with anxiety when I saw it: an unapproved short-cut of approximately sixty feet consisting of narrow, vertical, muddy zig-zags going straight up and offering few handholds. I knew which trail the others, descendants of my efficiency-minded husband, would want to take. As we debated, a young man slowly descended the trail. When asked, he assured us we could handle the climb. Then, looking at me, he added, “My grandmother climbs out on this trail all the time.” What choice did I have?
I’m still elated about my unbelievable climb out of Cummins Falls.