Posts from December, 2012
|Posted December 31st, 2012 by|
There’s nothing that can undo a tragic accident that claims the life of a little black-haired seven year old who loved skiing and who died attempting one more run on the slopes. But now at least we have some official answers.
I don’t want to belabor the past or play arm-chair quarterback to a trauma that’s squeezed the heart and soul of one important family, many related families, so many friends, teachers and countless others who loved little John Henderson. His death last year after falling from a ski lift at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort in Northern California made national headlines and local and nationwide papers in the the initial weeks after the horror–but not much has been written since that time. A few weeks ago that changed with the Sugar Bowl’s official statement on what happened to John Henderson. I care about this story for two reasons: I’m a journalist and I want answers. And I’m a friend of John’s parents and I want closure for them and their family.
I know nobody wants to dredge up the past or shoot verbal bullets at a handful of people who inadvertently, mistakenly or simply weren’t paying attention last December 18, 2011, when little John, along with two friends, got onto a ski lift but no one put the bar down. No one watched as the three young boys went foating up the hill, ten, twenty, thirty, forty feet above the ground. And no one is quite certain what happened in the moments later when, in the time between leaving the docking station and getting to the top of the mountain, little John–sitting on the right side of the 3 boys–slipped off and out of his seat. He fell 50 or so feet to the ground–a fall which crushed his body. Two days later John Henderson died from his injuries.
One year later, the family of John Henderson finally has some answers. They are on the website of Sugar Bowl and they bear announcing. There were many mistakes made that day and nobody meant for them to happen. But a little boy is gone because of a series of horrible errors–and in his honor and in his memory, Sugar Bowl has finally made that clear.
The final report says many things went wrong that day, and that ultimately Sugar Bowl failed to keep John Henderson safe. Sugar Bowl is making changes to its safety rules in hopes that another tragedy like what happened last December, 2011 not be repeated. The changes are welcome for anyone wanting to enjoy the ski slopes without worrying for their child’s safety–and I think that’s just about all of us. With luck, hope, and vigilance Sugar Bowl’s new safety rules will prevent other children–my children, your children, the kids of other families, our friends, teachers, relatives–from experiencing a similar, tragic loss.
In memory of John Marco Henderson, may these new safety changes not fail us. I realize they can’t and won’t change the past: so I hope and pray they help change the future.
|Posted December 30th, 2012 by|
I found out about an hour ago that my boss died on Christmas Eve.
He wasn’t my recent boss–or even my semi-recent boss. He was my first boss, when I was 15 and a half, knew it all and started my work career in southern Maine as a dishwasher at a seaside inn.
Mr. Reid was a tough one for me to appreciate. I thought he was completely out of date. He wore plaids and stripes, bow ties, hush puppie shoes and often wore a pin on his lapel.
The pins were a joke at the inn–where we served breakfast to dozens of inn guests and hundreds of tourists a day who’d heard about the home-made divinities his wife, Virginia cooked every morning by hand in the hot, sweaty 5-by-10ish kitchen in the back of the cottage-style inn. I favored a pin that said “I’m a handful, grab me.” Mr. Reid was famous for wearing the one that said, “If I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.” Just the fact that he wore any surprised me. I thought it quirky that he did but then again everything Mr. Reid did was quirky to me, a teenager with no life experience but all the belief that I had just as much as he did.
There was a bowl of those pins at the inn– “Tipping is not a city in China,” “Improve your image: be seen with me” and “If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother” were a few. Well before 7 a.m. every summer morning I’d wind my way blindly down the stairs from my attic bedroom to slap on my green apron, grab a pin to wear and a cup of coffee to sip, and find out what the specials were for the day. Inevitably, there he was, my “If-I-don’t-do it-it-doesn’t-get-done” bow-tied boss, awake for hours–or at least better at looking awake than I was. “Good morning,” I’d warble, exhausted before the day began. “Good afternoon,” he’d respond. Ugh I thought–and so it begins.
As I worked under his tutelage, Mr. Reid’s style made itself known. He was big on saving everything, a child of the Great Depression of the 1930’s: pennies, tin foil, rubber bands and clothing. I think some of his suits were made before he was. He constantly admonished me for using the shower for more than 2 minutes–which is all he got in the Air Force and if he could do it, anybody could do it. Both he and Mrs. Reid favored keeping the last bits of soap from a bar and collecting them in a glass jar so we could use the resource up until its bitter slimy end. I thought it completely G-R-O-S-S but to Mr. Reid, it was simply another Depression-Era way to get by, to live well. To that end, he encouraged me to get and then helped me open my very first bank account. And he was as particular about saving as he was about not giving too much away–
…like strawberries. “Don’t cut the top off that fruit!” he’d chastise me, a newly christened waitress/chamber maid as I tried to put together a fresh fruit bowl for Table 2. He looked over my shoulder as I cut up the Maine strawberries. “Look at all the fruit around that stem! You’re wasting food!” I’d roll my eyes just out of view of his. Lord, why did I have to work for this man?
But it was my job to work for him and work for him I did–as did my older sisters. The 5 of us all worked there for various amounts of time–one for just a few hours, another for the better part of a decade. And slowly, carefully, naturally– and without me realizing it–Mr. Reid, his wife and his entire family became family to me and my family.
He was a teacher to me in ways I never expected. He showed me how to parallel park a car. “Don’t go too fast, don’t go too slowly. Keep your eyes in the rearview mirror. Turn now! Turn NOW!” He was also a pseudo-parent: I had my first car accident in his car. I forgot to put his car in park when I went to the local post office and when I came out I found it in the middle of the street! I couldn’t call my father–he was 3 states away–but I could and did called Mr. Reid. And he came.
Trying to kill black flies in the heat of July was futile until Mr. Reid taught me how. “You’ll never get them like that, now–watch me,” he counseled. He went into a long and involved air-velocity-wind-trajectory diatribe that made my head ache–and suddenly WHAM he slapped that black fly dead. I was stunned. After that I paid close attention and WHAM I started killing black flies, too.
Mr. Reid had a way of curling his mouth up at the top lip when he was trying to prove a point–like a professor lecturing his amphi-theatre class. Little did I know how much experience he’d honestly had. He’d risen to the high rank of Colonel in the US Air Force. He’d inherited, learned to run and successfully ran a Maine inn as a young man. Eventually, he sold that and bought another one–the one I worked in. He had 6 children with his wife, Virginia, endured the loss of one of them, ran one of the most talked about breakfast inns on the coast of southern Maine and counted the Presidential Bush family among his many local foodie admirers.
Mr. Reid knew more about life than maybe I ever will. But at the time that–like his humor–escaped me. He’d constantly say “harry-carry on” when we were slammed with guests and more lined the lawn to get in to eat his wife’s infamous breakfasts. Little did I know Hara Kiri was a form of suicide in originating in Japan: I just thought Mr. Reid was weird. One day I came downstairs to work the early shift and saw a sign near the cash register that Mr. Reid had hung there: “Kids, get out of your parents’ house now while you’re young and you still know everything.” I shook my head, grabbed a coffee and wondered why an old man would admit defeat like that so publicly? It would take years for me to absorb all I’d learned from him. How to tally up a time sheet. How to add in a hurry. How to scrub a toilet, make a hospital corner, and fold a comforter so that it covers all of the pillow top. How to put taxes onto a breakfast bill. Why he taxed our tips (“it’s the law, and it’s the right thing to do.”) How to parallel park a car to within inches of the bumpers in front and behind me while strangers watched and waited for me to hit the other cars–which I don’t. The best way to score an orange. And how to take a joke…
which I couldn’t do when I worked for him. Like the day I asked to borrow an iron and Mr. Reid gave me something that looked like it came from the Sears catalogue circa 1962. I plugged it in, stepped on the cord by accident and the cord burst, burning a hole in my tennis sock. I raced downstairs in a panic for help–and Mr. Reid calmly came along with his brother Will. He inspected the room, noted the lack of real emergency and walked across the room to the old hunk of metal. He looked at it, held the cord in his hand and said to his brother, “Well Will, it looks like she broke the iron.”
Mr. Reid’s fatherly-elderly-bosslike-quirky way of dispensing wisdom was something that I couldn’t appreciate…until I grew up. And I’ve been a grown-up now much longer than I was a teenager. And as an adult I treasure the experience of knowing and working for Wallace Reid.
He was a treasure. He was a character. He was a father, a husband, a boss, a pain in my neck–and the greatest gift-of-a-boss I could have ever gotten. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t parallel park my car and think of him. Any time I take the stem off a strawberry I make sure I just take the green part. Black flies will never have a chance around me. And you can take a protractor to my hospital corners.
If there’s a God in Heaven–and I believe there is– He had a nice old suit with a bow tie and a pin on it waiting for my old boss to step into as he passed through the pearly gates on Christmas Eve. Maybe he handed him a steaming cup of coffee, a stick shift car or an apple to score as he welcomed him to Christmas Day– I don’t know.
All I do know is that for the rest of my life, and until I walk through those pearly gates myself, I will always remember Wallace Reid: the man who gave me my first job in life, who drove me crazy, who taught me life lessons by the handful– and who gave me the chance to grow and learn in ways I still haven’t forgotten…
…and never will forget.
|Posted December 26th, 2012 by|
|Posted December 18th, 2012|