Holiday break

by Debbie Carini

In the winter of 1966, I broke my right elbow. I wish I could say it was in the service of something dramatic like trying to jump off a swing in mid-air and experience flight (that’s how my sister broke her arm), but it was a nerdy pursuit in the dead of winter.

With the freezing temperatures outside, my sister and I engaged in “indoor” activities, usually “playing pretend.” On this particularly snowy day, my mother was washing curtains and so we were able to avail ourselves of a number of curtain rods.

“Hey,” I said to my sister, “let’s make these into instruments!”

She started moving hers in and out, like a trombone with a telescoping slide. I pulled mine apart and found that it was just the right size for a violin and bow. Though the fiddle is rarely seen in a marching band, my sister and I decided to have a parade in the basement. As we headed down the stairs, I turned to face her and assume the role of drum major. And so I was conducting, playing and walking backwards when I tripped on a broom that had fallen across a stair tread.

I landed on the concrete floor and when my mother tried to help me up, pulling my arm, we both realized something else was wrong.

In those days (a sentence start that makes me feel like I’m about to tell a story about the Great Depression and not an era generally associated with “free love” and The Beatles), our doctor practiced out of his house. My mother did not have a driver’s license or a car so we walked, or our neighbor my Aunt Margo drove us. It was late afternoon and the doctor confirmed the break, but he was too busy to set it so he sent me home for dinner (knockwurst and sauerkraut) with my arm in a sling.

Later, he set my arm in old-fashioned plaster. It was gleaming white and everyone signed it. My Aunt Nada, an artist, told me she was drawing the White House on my elbow—how stately, I thought, and was greatly disappointed to see a tall, thin building when I held the cast up to the mirror. Turns out, she drew a picture of a lighthouse.

Last month, in an attempt to lessen the effects of too much Thanksgiving dinner, my husband, son and son’s girlfriend enjoyed a night hike (led by volunteers from the Sierra Club) in Griffith Park.

I have a little trepidation about hiking; much like playing music, I’m not well-trained in it. I’m also a little nervous to be in nature in the dark (albeit the middle of the city of Los Angeles—I would honestly prefer a subway in New York City at 10 p.m). Our hike leader took us on a couple of treacherous-sounding paths—Cardiac Climb and Ankle-Breaker Path, but I managed.

Perhaps my knees were shaking just a bit, because once we were on the paved service road heading back to the car, I took a header onto the gravel, breaking my fall with my left ribs and wrist. And yes, breaking my wrist.

So I find myself in another cast, version 2015—much lighter, with a soft sock-like layer against my skin. I’m still tempted to stick a coat hanger down it to scratch the phantom itches (much like I did when I was 7). And though I’m not collecting signatures on this updated model, I feel festive and ready for the holidays thanks to a finishing layer of bright green tape. So if you think you’ve spotted the Grinch in disguise, don’t worry, it’s just me and my chartreuse forearm—happy holidays!


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