I was in a dept. store recently and I heard a mother chastise her kid, she said: “Put that away before you poke your eye out.” I couldn’t see what the child had in his hand because they were on the other side of the display counter from me, but from the tone of the mother, it was likely something with a very sharp point, like an arrow, or a dart or a toy missile, or something inherently dangerous.
OR . . . she could have been like my mom. Hearing those words immediately took me back many years. I cannot tell you how many times I heard that phrase as a kid. My mother was the safety supervisor/engineer for the whole neighborhood for as long she ever had kids of her own. After that, she kept the job for her grandchildren and any kid that would stray into her domain.
The only problem was she only recognized two possible injuries, and she preached against them tirelessly. You could either 1. poke your eye out, or 2. break your neck.
My mom did not acknowledge any other form of injury. She never seemed to worry about a broken arm, a broken leg, or a bad bruise or a bad cut. I suspect that if we had come home with a completely severed finger she would have looked at it as one less weapon with which we could poke an eye out. I don’t know whether she ever thought any other injury was possible. Maybe she thought that anything less than poking an eye out or breaking your neck was too trivial to worry about.
No matter what we seemed to be doing out in the yard, Mom would open the door and peek out at the back yard with one of her usual admonishments.
“What are you doing out there.”
“We’re playing catch with a rubber ball.”
“Don’t break your necks!”
Forty-five minutes later, she may have been hanging clothes out on the line: “Is your game over?”
“Yeah, Mom, we’re just taking a break and laying on the grass reading comic books.”
“Well, don’t poke your eye out.”
Every game of touch football, or tag, and every indoor wrestling match and every tree we climbed was an opportunity for a broken neck. Each rubber dart, jackknife, or pillow fight was a golden opportunity to lose an eye. (I never did figure out how you could lose an eye in a pillow fight. But Mom had it all figured out and was not about that highly dangerous activity go by without a stern warning.)
I remember my mom with deep dark brown hair, and I remember that she used to color it to keep that way for well over 25 years. I am sure she plucked her first gray hair the summer I got my first BB gun. My brother and I just sort of added more gray with each passing day. Brother Curly eventually got a BB gun too and I started to play high school football. Now MY neck and HIS eyes were both seriously at risk allthe time.
I think Mom thought that she might catch a break when I left for college. (Out of sight, out of mind?) Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Brother Curly went to a teen dance, got into a fight and got his two front teeth knocked out. This was a new kind of injury to Mom. One that she had never dealt with before. She had never contemplated anything happening to any other part of our anatomy.
As my brother tells the story, mother just took a good look at Curly’s toothless mouth and said: “You’re lucky he didn’t poke your eye out!”
In our mother’s eyes, things didn’t get much better when we became adults. I bought a motorcycle at age 30 only to be told that I “would break my neck on that damn thing.”
That was also around the time that the whole family took up downhill snow skiing. “Why do you want to slide down a mountain on two slippery sticks? You know you’re gonna break your neck! You have a family now!”
“Mom, snow skiing is much safer now, the equipment is better and the snow makes for a soft landing.”
“What about those things you hold in your hand while your speeding towards a broken neck?”
“Those are ski poles.”
“Yes, I know what they are, I have read up on them. They are pointed, you will poke your eye out.”
I know she always meant well, and that is what is important, I guess. I still have both my eyes and so does my brother and sister. We all just learned some things were better if not told to Mom. I told her that I had sold the motorcycle years before I actually got rid of it and never breathed a word about that bunji jump I made.
Some days I have to wonder what she would have said if she had known I tried skydiving once and jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. I can see her now if my parachute didn’t open and I would have landed at 100 miles per hour and reduced to a mass of bloody protoplasm with only one eye surviving out of the whole mess and looking skyward. “I told you would poke an eye and break your neck. Well don’t come running to me!”