Lila Shoemaker: No Thrills for Me, Thanks

As much as we try to protect them, our children are going to learn about risk taking and danger the hard way, most likely. In this essay, Lila Shoemaker, the 2014 Arizona Mother of the Year, recounts her own experience with danger and pain as a child. 

little scraped knee“I’m not going to do it and nothing you say can make me!” I said, clenching my fists with my eyebrows knit in determination. I’ve had enough thrills in my eight young years to last me forever. I am not going to take a risk on purpose. I have to defend myself. No thrills for me, thank you, anyway.

Years before that, in 1957, I was about 18 months old. I was a petite, shy little blonde and the second of a set of twin girls. My parents, siblings and relatives were out in the Sonoran Desert on the outskirts of Gilbert, Arizona, a few miles from the Superstition Mountains. It was our annual family reunion. It was warm for April. There was precious little shade to be found under any Palo Verde, Mesquite or Ironwood tree and I was barefoot. It was Arizona. We had finished roasting hotdogs and the campfire was out, so I toddled across it. I didn’t understand that white coals were even hotter than black ones. I screamed like a cat caught in a wringer washer. Lucky for me my mother was nearby to snatch me out of the coals that were searing my feet. She quickly cut open an aloe vera cactus and swathed the soothing ointment on the blistering soles of my tender feet. The relief was instant. Her arms went around me like my favorite baby blanket. That was my first of many thrills.

My next thrilling adventure was also an accident. I was a little older, but still inexperienced. I was around four years old and about three feet tall; a skinny little freckled thing with mousey brown hair. Across the street from my house was a huge, empty field surrounded by a four foot high, barbed-wire fence. Daddy kept his cow and horses in the field beyond. Along the fence that split the two fields, was an irrigation ditch and a large and beautiful cottonwood tree, the prettiest tree I’ve ever seen. It’s silver-dollar sized round leaves shimmered and sparkled in the wind like a lake full of diamonds. My brothers and sister and I would walk with Daddy to watch him feed the horses or milk the cow. Lana and I liked to play in the tack and saddle trailer. I had crossed that street hundreds of times.

My cousins lived next door. The seven of them and the five of us younger ones all climbed the back fence going from house to house so often, the wires of the fence dragged along the ground. Uncle Dewey kept a big 20,000-gallon watering trough in his backyard full of sand in the winter or water in the summer. There was sand in the trough the day this mangy old dog started bothering us. It made me mad, so I got out of the sandbox and chased that dog from my Uncle’s backyard to the front yard, across the street and over the sidewalk, where the dog ran under the wire fence. I stopped at the fence and let the dog go, then turned to run back across the street, but a car was coming. I was hit.

I don’t remember how I got there, but while facedown flat on the pavement, I saw the car’s front tire to my left and another tire to my right. From under the car I could see my front yard. My cousins and siblings were looking at me, yelling and pointing. Everything went black. The next thing I remember, was riding in a truck; just a dark, hazy glimpse then everything went dark again. Through prayer, an anointing with consecrated oil and a priesthood blessing from my father, I was healed and made whole.

A year or so later, I’m in first grade, walking to school with my brothers and sister and other kids my age. You would think walking to school would be safe enough. I’m on the sidewalk about to cross the entrance to the parking lot. There are no cars coming so I step off the curb. All of a sudden this kid on a bicycle comes up from behind me, turns into the parking lot and knocks me down and his bicycle goes down, too, on top of me.

Months later, I’m playing in the front yard with the cousins from next door, the five of us siblings and the three Thorntons, from down the street. We’re all gathered to walk to school together. I’m drinking a glass of milk and one of the Thornton twins decides to swing his baseball bat around, knocks my glass into my face and gives me a shiner. Do I have “hurt me” written on my forehead?

So now, it’s the summer after my year in third grade. Mom takes all eight of us kids to the Salt River where we usually float down the winding river on inner tubes. This time we hike up to Sheep’s Bridge, which is a rickety, old footbridge with wooden slats just wide enough for one sheep to cross at a time. The slats are lashed together with thick rope. The handrails are made of the same rope and draped across the river on both sides of the slats lashed to the ropes on the wooden slats at regular intervals. The bridge hangs across a deep ravine with sheer cliffs on both sides. The Salt River runs underneath. From the middle of the bridge, if you hang off one of the wooden slats, you can let go and drop into a deep pool of cool, refreshing water below. To my eight-year-old eyes the river was a thin thread, looking far away, like the Colorado River from the top of the Grand Canyon. I think of my burned feet in the campfire, the car running over me, and the baseball bat to my face and I say to myself, “No more thrills for me, thank you. I’ve had enough accidents and injuries in my eight years, to traumatize me the rest of my life. I am not going to terrify myself like this.”

I didn’t do it. I didn’t hang from the bridge and I didn’t drop off into the cool, refreshing water of the Salt River. I didn’t care how fun, Mom said, dropping off Sheep’s Bridge was going to be. I wasn’t going to drop off Sheep’s Bridge just because my sister did it for a dime. I didn’t want to feel the thrill of falling or my feet stinging is they hit the water. So, I didn’t.

(Little girl image courtesy of Jesse Millan)