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Williams column: Falling, and hard heads, in the Williams DNA

In a classic commercial, a person living alone falls and cries out: “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” In that commercial, those words comprise not just a statement expressing acute woe, but also take a sort of wireless e-form, becoming a call through a battery-powered, neck-worn device to the local EMS.

Some people in this life, no matter what their age, are more prone to falls or other accidents, as if gravity has its way with them more than with others.

My mother seemed to me to have had more than the usual amount of slip-ups as I was growing up, and later on as well. After some recent “gaffs” in my own ambulation, I now think that I took after her to a certain extent. In the old debate between heredity and environment, I attribute this to DNA, as the only person in which a certain amount of “learning” goes with his falling is a movie stuntman. Just as there are predispositions to alcoholism, diabetes and cancer, like my mother before me, I find myself somewhat more disposed to taking a spill.

I remember the time my mother fell while attending a PTA meeting at East Rowan. It was during December in the late 1960s, not far from Christmas. Along with the colors of Christmas, I remember seeing a small blotch of bright red on my mother’s snow-white winter coat, the result of her falling and striking her head on steps at the school. Our East Rowan principal, Mr. Joe Lyerly, tended to my mother after her fall, then took her by the arm and escorted her to the car. Mr. Lyerly was always (and I’m sure, still is) a true gentleman. Although his first name is “Joe,” and not “Jim,” the term “Gentleman Jim” could have been taken and paraphrased on his behalf, becoming “Gentleman Joe.”

My mother would take precautions later on when walking, so as to lessen the chance and frequency of such missteps. When she lived at the Yadkin House, she would walk carefully up to the Square for her exercise, and sometimes further. One time in the 1980s her leg was injured, but through no fault of her own, as she was riding in a friend’s car when the car was struck by another vehicle.

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My first great falling mishap occurred around 1956 or so, at the age of 5 (or so). This “fall” however, was not of my own miscalculation, as I was “pulled” into it. My father was driving the old Studebaker into our driveway when my mother’s door came open, leaving her to reach for the nearest thing reachable to prevent falling out of the car. Unfortunately, I was the nearest thing reachable, and since this was before the advent of seat belts, we both fell out. I hit my head and went unconscious, seeing black. I still remember seeing that blackness, although unconscious at the time, so I must have been seeing it with “something” other than my eyes. Perhaps I saw it with my soul, but I woke up shortly afterwards, before my soul had the chance to travel down that tunnel where darkness turns into light at the other end. We immediately went to see Dr. Frank B. Marsh, who pronounced my head to be “fine.”

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Some years later, I fell on steps at Granite Quarry School, leaving a permanent “dent” in my shinbone, which with a little bit of searching, I can find and still feel today.

While at Appalachian, I slipped on an icy Boone sidewalk, hitting the back of my head in the early 1970s, but this was probably not a precursor to anything, since many people slip and fall in Boone in the wintertime on icy sidewalks. I slipped and fell backwards, but what was so amazing was that it all happened so suddenly that I didn’t even have a split-second of time allotted to me for my brain to tell my hands to grab or “slap” the pavement to break my fall.

The slapping of the canvas of the wrestling ring was one of those tricks of the trade of the wrestlers featured on Jim Crockett’s old wrestling show out of WBTV, watched by me and my father. I’m sure that the old hand-slap “trick” is still used in modern “wrestling” (such wrestling bearing about as much resemblance to true Greco-Roman wrestling as that which my father and I watched and enjoyed back then). The back of my head was the first part of me to meet the concrete, but amazingly, not even the slightest goose egg arose, possibly meaning in this case that my skull and the concrete were equal in density, neither yielding to the other, nor causing the other damage.

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As I said before, everyone slips and falls on the ice in Boone in the wintertime, so that was not a precursor of inherited tendencies to falling, but it was my first adult occurrence of the sort of incident which pointed out the extra-sturdy quality of my “headbone.” While at Appalachian in the early 1970s, I also tripped over plowed snow and fell on my nose (which didn’t fare quite as well as my skull) in the parking lot outside Antler’s Restaurant and Tavern of Blowing Rock. I was helped up afterwards by the late Esther Rufty (Hodgin) and some other friends, all of whom had wisely partaken (unlike I) of only about one drink each. This tumble, like that “elemental” one on the Boone winter sidewalk, was actually no “precursor” of anything, only something which came about “subsequently,” following the partaking of too much beer.

Digressing for a moment to other bones; some years ago I fell on a wet entrance floor where I worked at the Caswell County Department of Social Services and cracked some ribs. While they were healing, I could press on my side and hear a “clicking” noise. Speaking again of “precursors,” that “clicking” noise was produced by all that will physically remain of me someday (along with perhaps a few teeth). Just about two years ago, I fell in my apartment, with the cracking of several ribs again being the result. Science tells us that the most common injuries found in the fossilized bones of Neanderthal Man are his cracked ribs, and that after many years of speculation, he may indeed bear some relation to us. I find some comfort in this possible kinship with someone else who also went through a certain amount of “hard knocks.”

I find that, just like my mother, I must pay closer attention these days in order to lessen those sort of “ambulatory-challenged” accidents. I have hit my head many times since that evening on the Boone sidewalk, with no resulting damage, and even struck it while standing up, as when I “shook” the timbers of the reconstructed Native-American temple mound at Town Creek Indian Mound. My son Jeremy fell and struck his head not long ago, but the emergency room thankfully pronounced his head to be “fine,” (just as Dr. Marsh did mine, long ago). Just now, it occurs to me that sometime I should pursue further corroborative familial evidence in this matter from the only other living member of my original, immediate family from when I was growing up, my brother Joe, and see if he too, may have some “skull tales” to tell.

As I said before, negative traits such as the proneness to falling can be passed down in families, but equally so can the beneficial traits, partially countering or totally balancing out the negative. That special trait which has, and still continues to stand me in good stead throughout all these years of my life, is the one which has proven to be the best over-all evolutionary counter for proneness to falls which could result in a concussive bump: “the Williams’ hard head.”

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