Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Disaster of the Moment Club

Let me tell you what happened to me!
The Disaster of the Moment Club

Last week I rode the Iron Horse from Havre to Spokane to care for Antoinette, my four-year old granddaughter, while her Mom attended a conference. We had a great time exploring the walking trails and the playgrounds at Riverfront Park . She especially loved the giant Radio Flyer wagon slide and the fountains. I indulged her every whim. It was hard to say good-by.

But at 1:30 Saturday morning I boarded the Empire Builder, tucked myself into my roomy coach seat and closed my eyes to sleep what was left of the night. At first call for breakfast, I scurried to the dining car. I love riding Amtrak. I meet people from every corner of the nation and the world. The attendant seated me at a table with three other women.

As I sat down, I rubbed my right knee which was feeling a bit stiff. The woman seated across from me, whom I will call her Ms. A, asked, “Are you handicapped?” I pondered her question. Physically? Mentally? Financially? But I needn’t have bothered. She was fishing for a chance to tell her own woes. “I can’t hardly get around at all,” she began.
“Nine months ago I had stomach surgery. I lost 145 pounds. But I got gangrene in my foot because of infection from the surgery. So they amputated two of my toes.” We all murmured words of sympathy.

Since the lead-in topic at the table seemed to be surgery, Ms. B, sitting to my left, spoke up, “I’ve been in Seattle to help my sister recover from surgery for cancer. She’s doing well so I’m on my way home to New Hampshire .” Ms. A promptly countered, “Speaking of cancer, I buried my sister last week. Tumors throughout her body. Worst they’d ever seen. Not only that, on the way to her mom’s funeral, my niece was killed in a head on collision. Drunk driver. Orphaned those three little children.”

We sat in a puddle of stunned silence. Then Ms. C spoke up, “Who is taking care of the poor children?” Ms. A sighed loudly, fiddled with the rings on her fingers and fluffed her hair. “I guess I’ll just have to take them in. There is nobody else to do it. That is, once I get back from my vacation. I’m going to meet an old friend in Tennessee where the horrible floods are. We’re going gambling on a Mississippi Riverboat.”

Bad things do happen to good people. Perhaps Ms. A is one of those good people caught up in a web of bad things. But I felt we all needed to come up for air. So I decided to shift the subject to the fun time I’d had with my granddaughter. Ms. A stopped me mid-sentence, “Shut up. You are such a loudmouth. You don’t know what you are talking about. I don’t care. Now, I don’t hold that against you. I’m just telling you.”

Well, that did shut me up. I recognized then and there that Ms. A was a dues paying member of the Disaster of the Moment Club. Not only that, she needed to have the worst disaster going. She was a master of one-downmanship.
I thought about some stories I had heard, like the one about an entire accident-prone family. One day the mother showed up in a wheel chair because she had fallen through the kitchen floor. Don’t you just itch to know the details?

But a man who grew up in Whitewater told the best disaster story. His large family was dirt poor. As a youngster, he worked summers on a farm in Malta . One year, when it was time for school to begin, he hitch-hiked back home to Whitewater. He walked into an empty house—no father, no mother, no brothers or sisters, no furniture. Nothing. Imagine that.

If I had been quick enough, or mean enough, I could have adapted those stories as my own, just to hear Ms. A try to top them. Instead, I gulped my coffee and hurried back to the comfort and safety of my seat.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door.
May 20, 2010

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