I loved my grandparents' backyard. Since my imagination had been artificially enhanced by Hardy Boy mysteries and the adventures of both Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, it was a wilderness with trails in every direction. I can still remember the smell of the damp earth and the sound of discarded vegetation crunching under my PF Flyers. I spent large portions of my day thinking about what new things could be done in that adventure paradise. One of my greatest dreams was for automobility down those wondrous trails.
All I had to work with was an old wagon. On concrete, I could kneel in the bed of the wagon with one leg and generate a tolerable amount of speed by pushing with the other. But on dirt paths with tight turns I simply couldn't get the effect I dreamed of.
My chance came at the end of one of my month-long visits. My mother was scheduled to pick me up and she was bringing a friend from my neighborhood. Rick was a big guy and reasonably fast. He'd provide the push power I needed. I spent the morning clearing the route I would drive. Everything was ready when the car pulled up in the driveway. I detailed my plan for Rick during lunch. As soon as we finished dessert, we were out the door.
I positioned myself in the wagon and Rick pushed off strong. I steered my little cart down my Grampa's main path, hugging close to the homemade irrigation system on the left. Coming to the first big turn down by the well house, I pulled sharply. The wagon leaned up on the left-side wheels. Rick slowed slightly and the wagon crashed back down to all fours.
I howled with delight. By this time Rick was tiring a bit. The natural slowing worked to my advantage as we veered back and forth around trees and garden plots. If only Rick could make it to the big finale. I had carefully carved an opening in the shrubbery under a mimosa tree. If I hit the gap just right we would burst out and back on the main trail in a blaze of glory. Amazingly, The Dukes of Hazard wasn't even a foggy idea in the bottom of a Hollywood producer's coffee cup at the time.
I urged Rick on. As I looked back, I could see he was fading. He obviously wasn't enjoying the drive as much as I was. As we approached the thicket he gave one final push. I pulled the handle a little too hard. The wagon careened into the trunk of the mimosa.
I don't really remember the impact. What I do remember is seeing the wasp nest on the limb above me quiver and drop.
Until that moment, I had never been stung by a wasp. That statistic changed in the 30 seconds that followed — by almost a sting a second. I was up and out of the wreckage, swatting and screaming and heading back down the main path. Heading for open spaces, I forgot about the irrigation pipe, tripped and rolled in the dirt. Fortunately, this maneuver discouraged the wasps. Unfortunately, I landed hard on my hip.
"My hip!" I wailed. Thinking the wasps had made it down my shirt and into my pants, my grandmother deftly pulled my shorts down and began spraying my leg with reckless abandon. To this day, I can still see my grandmother through the mist of aerosol pain killer — spraying as if my life depended on it. The can of Bactine expired shortly thereafter. I finally was able to muster enough breath to explain that I had hurt my hip in my fall. Bactine, while effective on wasp stings, has no effect on joint injuries.
An important lesson was learned that day. In times of great stress, well-meaning people often employ the wrong remedies in addressing a problem. As conflict builds, we react instinctively. But as the tension mounts we can lose sight of the real cause — and that what we're doing is wholly ineffective.
It's in those most crushing times that we need to slow down. If what we've been doing hasn't helped, we need to find something that does. That means we have to focus on the real problem. And for the moment, that means that we have to stop and identify what the underlying interests are.
So, as conflict arises, you might want to ease up on that Bactine until you know what the problem is. And you might even preserve the ozone layer.