06 October 2012

Flying babies

I did not know until writing this post that the frangipani (also know by the genus name of Plumeria), although iconic of Pacific Island leis and other decorative uses, is native to the tropical New World, and is introduced to the tropical zone in the rest of the world.

Our house in Yap had a flat roof, tar-sealed, with a drain in the middle to catch water for the water tank.  It was tar-sealed - but sometime around the end of June, 1977 or early July, the seal began to leak.  As it was a government house, Public Works - the government department responsible for maintaining the government buildings - sent two men out to renew the seal.

The front of the house had a feature that made it unnecessary for them to use ladders.  A frangipani tree grew there, with branches that provided a very easy climb to the roof.  It was quite safe.  You could carry things up with you easily.  Even a two-year-old child could negotiate the climb.

One evening - Sunday evening, we think - Sue and I with Father Horgan and Sister Rose (a Maryknoll sister, principal, I think, of the Catholic school) were sitting in our living room.  Pleasant weather, not raining, though - fortunately, as it proved in the event, it had rained quite a lot that day - the rainy season is from around May until December.

We sat, chatting, perhaps having a glass of wine.  Susan was looking out the window through the fly screen - to see two-year-old Johnny plummet past, riding a coconut.

The workmen had, of course, taken drinking-stage coconuts onto the roof - and left the empties there.  Character appears very early in children.  Johnny, in particular, is of the see-it-do-it sort of personality.  He was that in 1977.  He had seen the men go up and down the tree to the roof all day.  As I recall, they had enjoyed calling down to him off and on during their work.  The attraction for him was irresistible.

The men had gone home for the day.  The hard part of the whole climb was getting into the tree itself.  There was a steel railing around the trunk of it that you had to climb up onto in order to get into the branches that led to the roof.  Johnny managed this, and climbed to the roof.

I think we actually had some advance warning of what was going on, but didn't interpret it correctly.  Just before the accident, I recall hearing a thump on the roof - wondering what that could be.  It would have been Johnny dropping his coconut.

He landed with his forehead on a concrete footpath.  That ought, one supposes, to have put paid to any hope of his survival - at least of his escaping without serious injury.

But ... the coconut itself landed in soft earth, next to the footpath.  It had been raining that day, and the footpath was covered with fairly thick, and soggy, leaves.

There was not a mark on him.

Nevertheless, we ran up the hill to Dr Haight's house.  Dr Haight examined him.  No sign of problems.  Whew!  It would be a good idea, he said, to wake him up once or twice during the night, to see if any sign of concussion might be developing.  We woke him once.  It was perfectly clear that there was nothing the matter with him.

A little later in this year - 23 November, 1977, in fact - something happened which, though without any lasting physical effects, was worrying in a different way, and to this day, has left at least emotional scars.  Susan was attacked.

1 comment:

Edgy said...

dad's writing is awesome, these posts read like chapters in well written novel. the scene is set, the story develops around a central theme and then at the end... cliff hanger! Just wait till next week's exciting installment :)