The view of the Hudson from Helen Hayes’ estate: right next to Doctor Stein’s. Truly part of a “Beautiful Morning” until... One of my favorite columns. I updated it again, kept the old political references and added some new ones.
The old time radio we had bought from the church auction was playing The Rascals, It’s a Beautiful Morning, when I woke that Saturday in April. As the song seeped into my soul: filling me with a feeling of wonder, I realized how lucky I was. I looked down, looked at my hands, my feet and wonder turn into wonderful.
The actual words I said out loud to myself that morning: “I have all my toes, all my fingers, Mom’s cooking breakfast downstairs for me, I live in a nice suburb, in a nice house with my own bedroom: things could be worse…”
And how true that was until…
The small, but comfortable, house I lived in looked over the Hudson through a gauntlet of trees owned by my family and the neighbors: the Morses, a family with a long local history, including several famous ancestors. Nyack was still home to many famous and important people then. Another neighbor included a studio musician who recorded with Herb Albert. His wife encouraged me to follow my music. Mr. Setzer, another neighbor, worked for Nelson Rockefeller, but was also a local Democratic politician. Through his son, Dell, I learned to respect intellectual differences, and his friends: the joy of debating with other sides of the political spectrum. And another neighbor, down the hill, had encouraged me, though my mother, to add acting to my interests, and eventually my career…
My family wasn’t really all that well to do, but my father was a well paid Park Avenue executive who invented liquid coffee creamer, helped with Teflon I and contributed to creating cereal with freeze dried fruit in it. That’s only a few culinary, semi-culinary, contributions of Bill Carman, some good, some less so. (I notice net info on Teflon I, is minimal. But ask your Grandpa or Grandma. It flaked off into the food. My guess: my father’s “contribution” was corn syrup as a binder, hence the “flake.” Oops.)
All for $38,000 a year in the mid 60s, plus a new station wagon every two years from the company, all our restaurant and gas bills: paid for.
My life could certainly have been far, far worse.
With the riots down the river in Harlem, women found from botched abortions in Central Park on almost a weekly basis, soldiers coming home in body bags from a war we could not, or would not, win, most of my relatives and friends up north struggling just to keep their heads above stark poverty in the otherwise beautiful Adirondacks, I knew many other people lived lives far harder than we did.
There were other reasons for this being a “beautiful morning…”
I was excited that Saturday because of the church auction where we bought old TVs for a dime or a quarter. There were always great deals, games for the kids to play and plenty of sugar coated snacks to add to the kid “crazies.”
But first I had to go to my job: mowing Dr. Stein’s lawn. Not a bad job at all for an 8th grader. Dr. Stein owned a mansion on a few acres. A splendid sea of grass sloped down to the Hudson. He had hired me to cut that grass once a week. Right next door to the Stein estate was the home of our more distant “neighbor” I mentioned earlier: the Helen Hayes estate. Acting became part of my life’s work because my mother took tickets at the local community theater Helen had helped create. Mom was so impressed she had encouraged me to try out for my first part in The Mikado. So in sixth grade I became “The Mikado.” I had had leading roles in plays and musicals almost every year after that.
I was hooked and acted for 30 years in my own productions for children as toured schools for the young on the east coast, nursing homes, campgrounds, churches. Then, before I retired, I also did a local recycling show in Nashville.
But that Saturday I was doing the typical: teasing Helen Hayes’ toy poodles at the gate by barking back at them. Then I strode next door, saddled up, and started to ride Dr. Stein’s aging, yet mighty, green “give the grass a haircut” machine. No safety features. Never had them.
Everything seemed as close to Nirvana as possible: good weather, an exciting place to go after, lots of scenery and the sweet smell of mowed grass.
Just before I finished I went between two bushes and got stuck in a rut. I knew I couldn’t just put it in neutral because I was sure I wouldn’t run fast enough before the mower made it’s jolly dash down to the Hudson. So I put it in gear and gently rocked it out of the hole. It started going way too fast. I reached over to the other side and slipped it into neutral. The mower started curving down towards his bed of prize flowers: flowers that he had won many awards for. For a brief moment it tipped, just a little.
That’s when I slipped under the mower.
I jumped back up and watched the still running mower roll into his prize flowers.
“Damn, he’s going to kill me. I hope it didn’t chop up too many flowers. Oh… wait… my foot was under there. I wonder if I hurt myself?”
I looked down and half of my Hush Puppy was gone. Hanging out was what looked like hamburger. It wasn’t hamburger.
Thus started my journey through the hospital, doctor visits, Dr. Stein’s daughter who decided not to be a nurse when she saw what had happened and my first, and only, experience with morphine. I can see how some people get hooked. Almost a hundred stitches had to be removed from what had been my foot and each one hurt like hell.
I had to learn to walk again, though without a big toe and part of my foot there are still many things I can’t do, most of which I was never all that interested in doing anyway because I’ve never been interested in sports. Oh, and I can’t bowl. You have the ball in one hand and take off with the other foot. My take off sucks. So I have to walk up, stop, and throw it.
Later that year my mother died after a long, difficult for all, illness. Shortly after that I almost froze to death after I went through the ice next to Twitchell Lake: 20 below weather, little chance of getting home.
Despite all that, I knew a lot of other people had it a lot worse. But that moment, that song, still echoes in my head with more than a bit of irony…
“…a beautiful morning?”
Years ago George Bush flexed his muscle before announcing that we were going into Iraq saying, “Feels good.” Someone had left a camera on. I understand. To him things were good: promising. A beautiful morning.
Years later no massive amounts of WMD, plenty of dead innocents, dead soldiers, the country headed into an economic pit deeper than Hell itself, and George: once proclaimed to be a war hero and having had approval numbers at one time in the high 90s, had at best a back seat in the 2012 election. He was not even allowed on the campaign bus. One might argue “tossed under.”
When Barack Obama won, supporters felt exhilarated: things were really going to “change,” the future looked promising. Birther debates, the economic hole growing bigger and bigger, Patriot Act doubled down on, scandal machine set on high, Benghazi, compromises his base hated.
The big old grin on Donald Trump’s face when he found out he won. A smile worthy of s beautiful morning. Amongst the wreckage, a new president, he’s still trying to get that beautiful morning back.
Joe Biden? We shall see. For supporters a beautiful morning was marred by January 6th and now we have seemingly hills too high to climb with such a small majority.
Jim Croce once wrote, “tomorrow’s going to be a brighter day.” But what about the day after? And the next?
There are always dark days ahead, and bright days too. Such is life… and death. Whenever there’s a “change,” or a loss, a lot more than mere feet may be destroyed, but it certainly can knock you off your feet.
I have never regretted my “beautiful morning” experience. It has given me perspective: something winners, and losers, of elections sometimes seem to lack. These “beautiful morning” moments, like loving the song on the radio, are but a momentary oasis floating in what sometimes seem an endless sea of struggles ahead…
…as we hopefully head unto yet another “beautiful morning.”
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
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