Heights and I don't get along

Sep 15, 2016 By Betty Starks Case

The reasons have piled up since my childhood

Have you ever had your home's roof replaced?

It happens to a tune like no other.

Our current week began with roofers arriving at 7 a.m., scrambling up ladders to the high reaches of our house, garage, and breezeway to tear off old shingles in preparation for the new.

"T-locks are no longer being manufactured," says our insurance company. "We can't insure them. They'll have to go."

I'm not talking one or two hard-working guys here - more like six, bless them, each armed with a hammer, shovel, or some unidentifiable (to me) tool.

Pickup trucks surround us. Friendly boss Phil stops by to verify a small addition to the original job. Husband Ned says, "Not needed." Wife Betty says, "Get it done while they're here."

Hey, you're not taking sides, are you?

Rain begins to fall. A high, wet roof is slick, uncertain for workers. I'm told they wear shoes with special cleats to stabilize their movements, but dangerous work all the same.

The rain continues. Boss Phil calls off the job for today. But this is Wyoming. The sun will shine in a day or two and our gutsy roofers will be back to finish the job.

All this reminds me I've never responded well to high places. Not mountain cliffs, nor rooftops, nor stairs.

Years ago, my mate talked me into climbing the ladder to our home's rooftop to help him with repairs. Summoning all the courage I possessed, I was OK until I turned to gaze at a distant mountain scene.

I burst into tears. My co-roofer gently eased me to the ground.

Today I wonder, did something happen in my childhood to instill such a fear?

Ah - I believe there's a memory from about age 3 or 4. My family had just moved from a warm little pink house in town (my favorite) to a big old gray house in the country appropriately known as "The Stone Place."

I don't recall if the house was made of stone or if that was the name of former owners, but to my imaginative child-mind, the house was big and cold and scary in many ways.

On the day we moved into that home, I don't know if I was being a problem, if my parents were weary and annoyed, or if all our nerves were stretched to the breaking point. Whatever, the result was my being shut in a big, nearly empty laundry room I'd never seen before, "until you can behave yourself."

I remember crying and shaking the water pipes, frightened and hating the cold old house.

To add to the negatives (and help with finances) our mother took a school teaching job for the year and hired a woman to care for my two sisters and me - our first "sitter."

My sisters and I slept in a bedroom at the top of a flight of stairs, to me a very long flight. We'd never lived in a home with stairs before. One morning I jumped out of bed, took a few steps, then missed one and to my memory, rolled all the way to the bottom. Probably screaming all the way.

Somewhere in those age 3-4 years I must include my downward flight from the tree in front of my grandparents' home. The tree my mother warned I'd fall out of if I climbed it, remember?

This event, however, is the one positive in all my descents from high places. The resulting attention gained from my mother and grandmother healed the fright of it all. And I feel justified in believing this fall somehow created a special tie to my newspaper publisher grandfather.

Remember the trite old line, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree?"

Clearly, this apple fell quite a distance from Grandpa Lou's journalistic tree, but at least it landed on familiar ground.

Fast forward to the teen years of my story, and I'm reluctant to use this one again. It makes me sound as if I'm just clumsy. (No comments, please). But here it is:

I was staying overnight with my high school girlfriend-cheerleader, whose date offered to take us to a movie at a theater in Riverton. My friend decided I should wear high heels (hers) which didn't quite fit, plus I'd never worn heels before.

Of course, we'd sit in the balcony, the seating area of class.

People thought the show was over until, as we were leaving I tripped on the top step. My girlfriend's date reached to grab me, lost his balance, and we rolled together down the balcony stairs.

Does this leave any doubt in your mind as to why I'm so afraid of heights?

And why I plan to inspect our new roof from solid ground?

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