Up front: September 2011

Face value

Chivalry is not dead, but it nearly killed me. Here’s how it happened.

A year ago, I started this column with a description of a place on the Maine coast my wife and I visit most summers: “Forged by a half-billion years of folding and faulting from continents colliding, heat so intense it lends credence to the concept of hell and pressure that stretched, twisted and thrust them to the surface to be scoured by glaciers, the rocks that ring Orr’s Island are still a work in progress, worn by waves that pound them, etched by ceaseless tides scratching their crevices.” Add to the forces that have had their impact on them: my face, after I toppled head-first onto one last month, ripping and smashing my nose and slashing my brow. Since we were on vacation, I won’t deny that alcohol was involved, but not in the quantity to call it the culprit. I blame the manners my momma beat into me so long ago.

We had arrived at the majestic old house my friend Doug Warren’s family owns on the island that evening just before supper, having driven up over the course of three days with our 8-year-old grandson, stopping to show him Antietam, the Civil War battlefield in western Maryland, and Mystic Seaport in Connecticut along the way. After a leisurely meal, the adults — Doug and his wife, Jane and I and two other couples who also were houseguests — walked down to watch starlight play on Casco Bay. My butt was firmly ensconced on a bench above the rocks when I noticed one of the ladies sitting on the ground. I offered her my seat. She demurred. I insisted.

Standing up to make way for her, I lost my balance. As I tottered backward, her husband grabbed my shirt, spinning me around. That probably saved me from bashing the back of my head and ending up with a concussion. Or maybe breaking my neck. The boulder my face bounced off lay about 2˝ feet below where my feet had been.

I don’t recall much pain and stayed lucid — well, as lucid as I normally am, though I missed getting to see two of the women whip off their T-shirts to wrap around my head to stanch the bleeding. The local rescue squad arrived with a stretcher, and following my first ride in an ambulance, an emergency-room doc stitched up my nose and forehead. After a radiologist in Australia read my CT scan, my wife drove me back to the island in the wee hours of the morning.

Rather than teaching my grandkid how to catch stripers and blues and eat lobster and about the other wonders of coastal New England, I spent a lot of time in bed icing my face and watching the blood pooling in my cheeks turn an amazing array of colorful hues. Now back home, waiting for the swelling to subside and cartilage to heal before having surgery to fix my nose, I can’t help but smile when I look in the mirror. The scars I see, like everything else about this, could have been a lot worse, and I’ll always have them to remember what I did on my summer vacation and, in the bigger scheme of things, what a lucky man I am.