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Guest column | Larry Clifton

Taking a hard tumble back to Florida way

After 1½ years living in the North Georgia Appalachians, family, unemployment and homesickness called us back to the Tampa Bay area. We've moved to a community just north of the Pasco-Hernando border, but the move to the new home might be more like Wounded Knee.

At times, I made light of the denim ensembles of hard-working ranchers and farmers of rural America. After all, the bib overalls and pointy cowboy boots are not indigenous to the turf and surf of parrot heads who are more concerned about blowing out a flip-flop while walking on super-heated sidewalks. However leaving Florida and returning over a year later has lent me the advantage of perspective.

For example, I noticed a man and woman standing and talking along a nearby sidewalk. Not since our last visit to Key West in 1998 have I witnessed a more disparate couple. The woman, 30-something with long dark hair, was leaning against a yard rake and wore a tiny black bikini and wide, colorful Indian-style headband. While doing yardwork in a tiny black bikini may seem strange to some, it was the fact that she appeared to be more than eight months pregnant that briefly captured my attention. Her thin frame made her condition all the more apparent.

The scene reminded me of a former neighbor from Land O'Lakes — we lived there for 19 years. Much to the chagrin of parents on our otherwise quiet street, nearly every warm Saturday he wore a loincloth while mowing his lawn.

Standing next to the nearly nude and very pregnant woman in our newly developed neighborhood was a portly older man sporting a long white Santa beard and wearing bright red suspenders (over a white T-shirt) that supported a loud pair of green trousers. The man's thumbs were locked around his suspenders. A handlebar mustache over his toothy smile matched his white beard. Summer Santa waved with four fingers at me without unlocking his thumb.

I saw the couple as I was en route to the drugstore for Ace bandages because this relocation from Georgia to Hernando County is the last that I will participate in as a featured laborer. I'm too old — testimony my wife eagerly affirms.

Two trips from the Georgia house in a 26-foot Penske rental truck was the basic plan, but alas, the devil is in the details, right? The problem is that our Georgia home is on the side of a mountain and after I backed the big yellow truck as close as possible to the front porch, the elevation of the cargo door and loading ramp was 8 feet above the sidewalk. This meant that I would need to slide the ramp across to the porch and load the truck from the perspective of a circus high-wire performer.

With sporadic help from friends and much assistance from my wife, Leigh, who has since warned she will never again lift anything heavier than a shopping bag, I placed the last item aboard the truck. It was the expansion panel for our maple dining table.

Finally I was ready to reposition the vehicle for a quick exit come morning. Until my wife said the panel should go on floor because it's part of the most expensive table we ever owned.

Moving the heavy maple panel would require me to extend my ladder from the sidewalk to the ledge of the cargo bay and climb back aboard. A little voice in my head told me that I was too weary for such a climb, but being a man I was able to ignore reason as I planted the ladder's rubber feet on the sidewalk and leaned it against the rounded steel of the truck bed.

The little voice screamed even louder about angles and slippage but I nevertheless climbed toward the truck in a punchy state of utter fatigue. Suddenly, my world literally tumbled down. The feet of the ladder kicked loose from the sidewalk and the part that rested against the truck slid violently to one side. As the ladder caught the inside of the truck, I fell. For a second I thought it would be a simple 8-foot tumble to the concrete below, but then I realized my leg was caught between two steps of the ladder.

Amazingly, no bones broke, but the tendons and ligaments in my left knee had been pulled laterally as much as possible without snapping.

Three weeks later I have ditched the cane and my gait is slowly returning to normal. We have taken the grandsons to Weeki Wachee and walked in the rain while the sun is shining. Soon, my knee will be strong enough to climb stadium steps and I will no longer fear being caught with one foot on the dock and the other on the deck.

Larry Clifton, formerly of Land O'Lakes, lives in southern Hernando County.

Taking a hard tumble back to Florida way 07/22/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 5:04pm]
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