One of my favorite things to do as my family gathers together at functions is to relive memories from the past. Most of them tend to be hilarious moments that could have likely won us millions of dollars on the show “Funniest Home Videos.” The story I want to share today involved my son Ethan. He is 18 years old and a senior in high school. A little back story on Ethan’s childhood includes that almost every picture of him as a toddler has some type of ball in it. He was constantly, throwing, kicking, shooting or hitting a ball. Honestly, it was pretty annoying after a while. This story is one of my favorites now, but at the time it had me more angry than a hornet.
It was a hot summer day and I was outside mowing the lawn. I had finished the front yard and moved to the back yard where Ethan was outside playing. He was likely around 8 or 9 at the time, and he had developed a love for hitting golf balls. We didn’t really play golf, but I had an old club and some old golf balls, so he spent a lot of time in the back yard hitting golf balls into the woods and a bean field. No one else was in the back yard that evening as I was mowing except for the young aspiring Tiger Woods. As I made my rounds, I always made sure to make eye contact with Ethan to be sure he realized he was not to hit the golf balls in my vicinity. What was completely entertaining was how he would wait till he knew I was watching to swing and hit the ball, and he actually could hit the ball pretty far for his age.
Round after round of mowing took me to the top of the hill right behind our house where he was hitting. I heard him yell, “Dad! Watch me hit this one!” So, to describe the positioning of Ethan and myself as I was sitting on the mower makes me laugh to even begin to tell the story. Ethan was facing to the north and I was approximately 50 feet from him at a direct 90-degree angle from the way he was pointed. Safe, right? There was absolutely no way he could hit the ball that bad right? Yep, you guessed it, he hit it that bad. You may think that 50 feet wasn’t that close and I surely should have been able to get out of the way? Well, as Paul Harvey would say – here is the rest of the story.
As Ethan prepared his swing he twisted his body, the golf club raised, and he started the downward swing. All looked good at that point and I could see the determination in his face to smack that golf ball all the way to Wilmington. But a problem arose, and it was like it was in slow motion. Just as the club was nearing the ball he had put a little extra umph in the swing, this caused the club to lower, and he struck the ground right behind the ball. That caused the club to turn at 90 degrees exactly and he struck that Titleist ball mightily in the wrong stinking direction. Yes folks, was right at me — a fairly large man sitting on a zero-turn mower with nowhere to go.
Let’s take a break to think about how a zero-turn mower is designed. My mower was a Cub Cadet, and the seat was between two levers that operated like a steering wheel. I had relaxed my arms and the levers were in their resting position as I watched my son hit a golf ball down the hill away from me. You see, if this had been a standard mower with a steering wheel I could have just bailed off the seat to the ground. However, the zero-turn arms would not allow for that as the only exit was forward out of the seat. Forward was not a luxury I had at that moment.
As soon as Ethan struck the ball it was evident I was in trouble. I know this sounds crazy, but everything was in super slow motion. I saw the ball elevate, I saw Ethan’s eyes become the size of softballs, then I saw fear in those same eyes, and finally I could see every single dimple in that old golf ball. I made a very instinctive decision to bail. But remember, I had to clear one of the arms of the mower to fall to safety. Did I mention I am a fairly large individual?
What happened next is not even describable really. Ethan and God are the only witnesses to what happened as I bailed over top of the arm of that mower. I am still not sure how this all transpired, but as I bailed over the arm I felt a sharp pain in my side. The pain got worse as I felt myself dangling in mid-air not going anywhere. I seemed to be suspended from the sky. As I began a downward, ungraceful fall to the ground I felt and heard what can only be described as certain death pass by my left ear. Wow – I somehow managed to dodge the bullet. Then the ground came and I hit it. I quickly got to my feet, as I somehow thought this would make me feel better. Iit did not, and the first thing I saw was Ethan running. He looked like Forrest Gump.
He ran in the house faster than I had seen anyone run in my life. As I took stock of my side, my arm and my leg, I noticed the mower took the brunt of the damage. What once was a vertical arm of my mower was now horizontal and in no position to maneuver my mower. As I took further stock of myself, I realized that my entire side from arm pit to hip was as red as could be, and certain to be bruised if not broken. Luckily, nothing was broken, except the mower and maybe the speed of lightning as that is the fastest I have ever seen Ethan run.
I walked into the house and if memory serves me correct Ethan was hunkered down on the couch beside my wife with his head buried behind her. As I tell this story I have trouble even getting through typing it since I am laughing and crying all at the same time. I don’t recall what happened next, but I do remember that my son hit an almost million dollar shot. He proved me wrong by doing the almost impossible.
The moral of the story is that in life the impossible does happen. The unthinkable becomes reality, and on that day what I felt to be safety turned into an unsafe work zone. Even in our worst circumstances there can be humor. It might take 10 years to see the humor, but one day it becomes part of our history. It is a day that Ethan and I will never forget. He reminds me often.
The bad part is he didn’t even yell fore!
Chad McConnaughey is the Highland County recorder.