Stones in the Road, Part 3 “California Dreaming” by Mike Plumb

stonesI was lying down in our van in the church parking lot, not only because of shafts of white pain, but also hiding, trying to maintain my sense of dignity. It just seemed as if everything was going wrong all at once. And of all possible places and times, in the middle of talking on Sunday during church. As I tried to calm myself, lying there out of sight, my mind by its own will forced me back to old memories that I had long forgotten.

I went back to my teen years (30-plus years earlier) and a conversation between a doctor at UC Hospital with me and my dad. He was giving directions that I would need to wear a back brace and get monthly cortisone treatments for the foreseeable future. That, because of my accident, there’s a possibility that my back concussion and bruising injury could come back to me with a vengeance. But as a teenager then, all I heard him say was that for my back to properly heal, all sports would be out for me for the next few years.

I was fourteen when fate played that card. I grew up in Napa, California, and although that may sound cool now, with its reputation for yielding international top wines and a tourist vineyard destination, back then it was more of a farm town which hosted a mental hospital. But Napa was quite ‘sochy” (socially conscious) and class-oriented, probably preparing for its soon-to-be world debut. Anyway, myself and two buddies were involved in our newest hobby, model flyable airplanes. These were extremely light, built from balsa wood–classic, self-propelled via rubber band. Even though I thought it was a cool hobby- taking the place of my Duncan Yo Yo’s faze, I didn’t think at the time I was a nerd. I mean, I wore Converse (Chuck’s All Stars) and real Levi Jeans. No JC Penny’s or Monkey Ward’s brands for me. To wear Ward’s tennis shoes was social suicide! Doing so may also kindle one into deep psychological problems and I was already in line for experimental drug trials for Ridlin.

Anyway, engaged one day in some of that hyperactivity with my friends and our new model airplanes, I accidentally got my model airplane stuck on the roof of the neighborhood Catholic church. I suppose I didn’t understand church or religious protocols, so when two of my buddies lifted me over their heads to climb upon the front entryway porch of St John’s, none of us thought it might be an affront to God. Apparently the priest thought differently, he heard the commotion and came running out the front doors, knocking over my friends, which sent me flailing through the air, landing back first on the concrete steps. It was a small miracle I managed to grab my little airplane before the lights went out.

Next thing I know, there’s a crowd of people standing around and some guy with a lit match in my face asking me, “What do you see?”  I didn’t immediately answer because I didn’t know how much trouble I was in. Then I heard that oh, so familiar, full of concern voice of my Pops: “What the hell’s happening here?” He was pushing his way through the crowd, trying to find out what I’d gotten myself into this time. While I was saying, “I think I’m OK” to my Dad and the concerned priest, an ambulance showed up and medics jumped out. I heard the priest tell the medic that I only fell 6 or 7 feet. The medic said, “Don’t try to move him, he landed in a bad position on these steps, he may have broken or injured his back”. As the medic started talking to me, we all realized I couldn’t move. Nothing worked from my waist down. The ambulance drive to the UC hospital was one of the longest of my life. In those days a parent or spouse didn’t get to ride in the ambulance with their loved one. I rode the two hours with an attendant that looked and acted like Elvis. I had no one in those days to pray for me. I don’t think I ever heard of such a thing as praying for people. In fact the steps of the Catholic church where my body first started to turn on me was the closest I had ever been to being in church.

I was raised as agnostic as it gets. Both my parents worked in mental health at Napa State Hospital. I suppose my early growing years were made up of having the free rein to run (actually ride my bike) around a state hospital because my parents were in management roles. Boy things were different, I remember my Pops bringing home old alcoholic patients to live and work on our little piece of heaven, cultivating our little American dream. Mom and Dad’s secret dream took the form of a small farm-vineyard we owned on Old Sonoma Road. This was the classic California Dreamin’ lifestyle and where I first learned about “keeping up with the Jones’.”  These were fairly innocent times, but sadly, Mom introduced a new world-view into those years–dinner parties, cocktails, material prosperity, cheating, and ‘Frank Sinatra” cool. So, while many young people get their world-view from Sunday school and church, I got my world-view from what it takes to keep up with the Jones’s. This would soon be a horror story for my family growing up.

Back to my ambulance ride, and then to the hospital, where traction and tests, traction and x-rays, traction and probes, traction and traction took place. After a few hours some feeling began to come back. After a couple days there that I can’t remember most of the feelings came back and I was walking again. After a week it was decided that I seriously bruised my spine and did some damage to some discs and vertebrates. OK, what did that mean? Remember, this was before MRI’s so what it meant was: Time will tell but in the meantime, your baseball and sports career is finished. Baseball was my second life after model airplanes and Yo Yo’s. I had a letter to earn as a high school pitcher. I was primed to be good enough to play first-string relief as a sophomore. I was up for all city. This was a huge bummer to my freshman world.

Then my Mom and dad divorced. My brother Greg and I woke up one morning and found Pops crying at the kitchen table. Never, I mean never, had we seen Pops cry. He looked at us and said, “Your Mom is gone, she has left us and won’t be talking to any of us for several months.” Well, a lot a good all that material stuff did us now. Now, my losing out at sports seemed like nothing more than sour milk. I threw up right there in the kitchen. My little brother cried and grabbed hold of Pops leg and didn’t let go of it for six months.

Hundreds of family friends consoled us in the next few months, but never once did anyone ask us if they could pray for us. Were there no Christians in California in the sixties? God and prayer were as foreign to my world then as the absence of them would be now.

So this is where my physical problems began and perhaps the heart-sickness that would eventually lead me to a God-experience that shook my world and gave me a heart for people in need, which led me to becoming a pastor.

So I guess you could say my back problems started as a result of the Catholic Church, I jokingly tell my wife, who was raised Catholic..

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1 Comment

  1. Joseph Lyons

     /  February 25, 2013

    Good to hear more of your story



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