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My father had set up his Christmas tree this last week, but to his dismay, found that this year he was unable to get the golden angel with the raised trumpet to its place at the top. He said he tried various options. I imagined him balancing on one of his 3-legged stools, with one hand on his “walking stick” for balance (a second stool might have been used as a place to rest the cane), while his other hand reached with one of those grasping, extension tools, that are supposed to be great for unscrewing light bulbs or picking up cans, but not for attaching angels to the tops of trees.

The precarious image reminded me of a time when I risked life and limb for a similar pursuit.

I was teaching at a small school in an old building—the kind with an ancient boiler in the basement and soaring ceilings in the classrooms. The children wore uniforms, and the teachers (all women) wore skirts. One day, when I was teaching kindergarten, for some reason I felt the need to add to the timeline during class. The timeline was located above the black board / white board combination at the front of the room. It consisted of dates, labels and pictures. Usually I dragged the ten foot ladder from the utility closet down the hall to my classroom either before or after class for such tasks. This time, for some reason, I felt it needed to be posted right then.

I looked into the eyes of the four and five year olds and said, as a joke, “If I fall, go get Miss Madsen.”

Then I put a small table (the kind with uneven metal legs) beneath where the picture or word-strip would go. Next to it I set a chair to serve as a step, and placed a second chair on top of the table. Then I smiled reassuringly at my class, and began to mount, thankful that I wore a longer, full skirt that day.

I never made it. I think I actually got onto the top chair before everything began to shift. As I fell (with all the grace of a cat in a clothes dryer), potential embarrassment ruled over practicality and I called out, “Don’t go get Miss Madsen!”

Then my head hit the floor that had no padding between the thin piece of carpet and what felt like concrete. There was a flash of darkness, and when I forced myself to sit up, small birds were circling.

I’m glad such a moment did not happen to my dad. There was no 3-legged stool, grasping tool, or balancing act involved. He was much wiser at getting what he needed secured up high. He came up with an excuse for my brother to drive him home from an event later that day, then Dad enticed Richard in for a cup of hot cocoa. While they sat, drinking and talking, he nonchalantly suggested, “I don’t suppose you could reach my angel to the top of my tree?”

For my 6’2″ brother? He didn’t even stand on his toes.

Lesson learned? Seriously, me?
Just last week I placed a counter-height, wooden chair next to my ten foot tree and climbed up with a glass ornament in one hand and slick socks on my feet. . .