Looking back, the summer of 1990 was a rough time for everyone involved. The Gulf War was in full swing, a sharp recession swept the global economy, and MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” was a number one single.
As if these atrocities weren’t enough, it was also the year my mom went back to work part-time, leaving my dad with five wily rug rats to contend with during one of the hottest summers on record in Nova Scotia.
My sisters, teenagers at the time, could mostly fend for themselves; however my brothers (10 and 12) and I (only four) required constant entertainment to keep from tearing each other’s heads off.
Dad tried taking us to the playground; but the monkey bars proved too perilous. Our trips to the beach resulted only in jellyfish stings and heartache. Eventually, he gave up, bought a bucket of KFC and took us to Greenhill Provincial Park. A picnic in the park, he (undoubedtly) thought, what could possibly go wrong?
The park offered panoramic views of the entire county, and in those days there was a tower several stories high you could climb to get a better look.
Immediately upon arrival my brothers rushed to the tower, with me following right behind them.
“Where do you think you’re going?” asked my brother Kristin, “This isn’t for babies!”
“I’m not a baby!” I protested, “I’m four and a half!”
“You’re not allowed!” contested my brother Stephen.
“Can I dad?” I pleaded
“Go ahead,” he sighed, lifting a drumstick defeatedly, “but be careful.”
With a satisfied grin, I began climbing the ladder, taking the first few rungs with vigor. I was feeling quite smug- until I looked down. The ground appeared miles away; my dad and his bucket of chicken nothing but a red and white dot on the horizon. Above me, the ladder seemed to extend infinitely.
My lip began to quiver.
“Hurry up!” shouted Stephen, a few rungs ahead.
“She’s scared,” chimed in Kristin. “I told you she was a baby!”
Tears burned the backs of my eyes, but resolve stirred deep within me. I was Jack, and this was my proverbial Beanstalk. I would climb this tower if it was the last thing I did.
Somehow, through sheer adrenaline, blind faith and four-year-old will, I made it to the top. Ready to bask in my accomplishment, I stepped onto the platform, took a long gaze around, and…… immediately began to bawl like a baby.
“DADDY!!” I wailed, “IT”S TOO HIGH!!!”
Inconsolable and paralyzed by fear, my father was forced to abandon his chicken and momentary peace to climb up the tower and rescue me.
“It’s ok,” he said later, wiping away my tears with a half soiled wet-nap. “You can try again next year.”
But I didn’t. Not that year, or any year after. Instead, I developed a life long fear of heights (and, vaguely, wet-naps). However, I did learn one important lesson that day which continues to guide my decision-making process: when given the choice between taking a risk and staying firmly on the ground with a bucket of fried chicken- always, always ,choose the chicken.