Growing up, Homeade parachutes, Comics
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It’s a miracle some kids reach adulthood. When I was ten years old, my yearning to fly like Superman almost nipped me in the bud.
At that age, I idolized comic book characters — Batman and Robin, Spider Man, Plastic Man, and Wonder Woman, but my number-one hero was Superman. I marveled at his feats of strength, his X-ray vision, and the way women fell all over him. But his flying skills fascinated me most.
What must it be like, I daydreamed, to zoom through the air at supersonic speeds, to alight wherever you wanted? I had to find out. With a child’s fearless, innocent faith, I decided to parachute off the hay barn. I fantasized that at least for a few moments I would know how it feels to break earth’s surly bonds.
Making the parachute was easy. I stole one of Mama’s bed sheets and tied equal lengths of manila hay rope to the corners. I then fastened the other ends of the rope to my blue jeans’ belt loops. Now I would climb to the top of the barn, fling myself outward, throw out the sheet and float to terra firma.
With the parachute under one arm, I climbed the ladder at the back of the barn and scooted along the apex toward the front, where the roof projected outward and supported the hoist used to move hay from the loft.
After checking my knots once more, I prepared to jump. Looking down from my lofty perch, I saw a diminutive form waving his arms and gaping up at me in absolute horror. It was Jaybird, my boyhood mentor and best friend.
“Boy, you come down from there right this minute!” the old black man screamed, his face ashen and eyes bulging. “Don’t you dare jump!”
“But Jaybird, I’m wearing a parachute,” I shouted. “Wait right there — I’ll float down to you.” I hurled myself into space.
Three ropes deployed, but the fourth tangled, causing my accelerating descent to deviate from vertical into a swooping spiral. For a few fleeting seconds, I glimpsed a blur of white sheet, blue sky, and a looming wall of cypress siding.
Then, with a sickening thud, I smacked into the barn, ricocheted off, and plummeted straight down. Just before impact, Mama’s sheet snagged a set of deer antlers nailed to the wall, slowing me slightly before ripping loose and fluttering down to cover my crumpled, unconscious body.
When I came to at the hospital, a ring of frowning adults, including the doctor, nurses, Mama, my father, and Jaybird, were staring down at me. Every square inch of my body was bruised, abraded, bandaged or splinted, and the slightest move caused me to groan in agony.
In time I recovered, and gave up all notions of flying like Superman, but my poor mama was never the same. For years afterward, she shuddered at the memory of that fateful day when Jaybird stormed on the porch, pointed toward the barn and shouted, “Junior’s dead!”