My Right Leg Always Had Bad Karma

A Front Porch Perspective

My Right Leg Has

Always Had Bad Karma

Jim Atwell

I’ve been on the porch this afternoon, enjoying one of the last days of sitting out there. A windy Halloween’s just past, and Delaware Street is full of fresh-fallen leaves spinning in whirlwind gusts of chill air from the northwest. Above me are repeated flights of honking geese, hell bent for the South and warmer climes.

My right leg’s propped on a second chair. Right foot and calf are still encased in a heavy leather boot fastened shut with a half-dozen Velcro straps.

That leg, now 81, has had a history of mishaps that eclipses the sum of those that have smote all the rest of me.

Not counting the number of times that right ankle has been twisted, topped by a killer sprain incurred in a Fly Creek volleyball game. And the right femur got its turn when a heifer kicked sideways and knocked me clear across the barn. That broken bone had me laid up for weeks on the sofa, and that inactivity nearly cost me my gall bladder.

Inaction, you see, caused agonizing adhesions in my back – every drawn breath felt like a dagger’s stab. At the emergency room, a brand-new resident with more zeal than experience decided that I had a diseased gall bladder and lined me up for next-morning surgery. Thank goodness, he was reined in by an older doctor who ambled into the ER, glanced at my X-rays, and sent the resident to the showers.

I wish good luck to that resident but hope he’s back home now, maybe selling insurance in Cincinnati.

During my lay about sofa days, lots of kind souls stopped by to wish me well. Invariably they’d ask, “Where’s the break?”

At that, my Anne would always say, “I can show you!” She’d head for the kitchen and return with a big dog biscuit shaped (you guessed it) like a bone. She’d hold this up before the guests (and before the dog, who’d understandably followed her) and say dramatically, “This is Jim’s femur.” Then she’d snap off one of its top two lobes, adding, “And this is the break.”

Snap! Anne would break off the lobe. Guests always laughed warmly, but it did make me wince a bit every time, especially if my Anne then tossed the piece to the happy dog.

But the chain of events after the heifer’s kick had a denouement, poignant in its own way. The heifer hadn’t been mine. I was only giving it temporary barn room after hauling it to Fly Creek from the Unadilla livestock auction, this for a neighbor who lived about a mile away.

Some months after the ninja heifer’s kick broke my femur, someone knocked on our back door. There stood the heifer’s owner, holding a bundle wrapped in white butcher’s paper. It contained, he said, a 10-pound rump roast from the now-late heifer, trimmed out of the top of the very leg that had broken mine.

With a weak smile, the neighbor said, “God knows you earned this! Hope you and Anne enjoy it.”

I know that I did. I asked Anne to let me do the roasting, and when it came to slicing and plating, I really took my time, recalling our last close encounter.

That was shameful of me, I know – what old morals texts called “morose delectation.” Psychologists redubbed it “sadistic pleasure.”

OK, I feel guilty. But not exactly repentant.

I am convinced, though, that all the negative karma that has dogged my right leg originated 65 years ago. Back then, a scrawny teen was sitting on a shaky table in the hall just outside his high-school gym. It was halftime, and he was there to sell candy to the crowd that would pour out of the humid gym
to gulp some fresh air. (We were selling candy, you see, to raise money for new uniforms.)

Well, here came the crowd, deferring to a young nun, my homeroom teacher, who ended up pressed backward, right against my table – and right against my bony right knee. Horrified, I kicked backward and collapsed the table’s right table leg. The table and I pitched forward, knocking down the nun on her face in the crowd. And I, oh, I fell after her, landing, scrawny butt first, right on her considerably softer one.

This took place in the 1950s, when for a boy to offer a nun his hand as she stepped up onto the school bus was a bold act, something that smacked of sacrilege. It would certainly set kids already on the bus to tittering.

That, of course, was just a kind of mild mishandling. Never mind knocking a nun down and then sitting on her!

More of this sad story next time. . .

Jim Atwell, Quaker minister
and retired college administrator,
lives in Cooperstown


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