Evel is now touring with Elvis, and they both have left the building.
Last Friday, I broke the sad news to my children. "Evel Knievel died today," I put it bluntly. They digested my report in bumfuzzled silence, prompting me to quiz, "Y'all do know who Evel Knievel was, right?"
The man, a legend from my childhood, inspired my older brother and me to push the bounds of my parents' health insurance policy and test the limitations of our two-wheeled, non-motorized, kid-powered machines. We scavenged an array of discarded materials to build ever-bigger ramps, propelling us higher and farther than the last. Boards with nails pointing dangerously skyward, placed between launch and landing, heightened the risk and peril.
My oldest son said, "He's that guy who drowned because he couldn't get his cuffs off."
Shaking my head, I corrected, "You're thinking of Houdini. And that's not what happened. Houdini died from appendicitis."
"Oh, yeah. Then he's the man who walked a tightrope across the Tallulah Gorge."
"No, no," I said again, frustrated. "That was Karl Wallenda, also now dead, from an unrelated funambulism incident."
"Was Evel Knievel the one who got dropped from a plane, in a cage, with his wrists and ankles shackled, and only 20 seconds to escape and pull the cord on his chute before he splattered on the ground?" my child excitedly asked.
Kids these days! I wouldn't pick a person that stupid to idolize. "No," I said, annoyed at them all.
For a piece, everyone sat quietly.
Eventually, my 10 year-old piped up. "Are you going to tell us what Mack Nievel did or not?"
The 8 year-old rebuked his brother. "Mama already said he was evil. He did bad stuff."
Quite right, I thought, depending on the use of the word "bad."
I decided to explain. "Evel Knievel," I said, enunciating his name for the sake of clarification, "performed amazing, death-defying, daredevil motorcycle stunts, like driving through walls of fire and jumping pits of live rattlesnakes." My audience appropriately gulped and whispered ooohs and aaahs. "He soared his motorcycle over 14 buses and attempted to rocket across Snake River Canyon in Idaho. He even missiled over a tank of live sharks."
In recounting my hero's glory days, I partially forgot my impressionable listeners, wide-eyed, sitting on ready, going to grab their bicycles as soon as I distractedly wandered off course, down Memory Lane. Composing myself, I quickly added, "He wrecked a lot, breaking nearly 40 bones and even going into a coma for a whole month. He once broke both arms at the same time. Knievel also fell to the bottom of Snake River Canyon without a parachute."
"Wow," the 10 year-old gasped, taking it all in, "What was he doing when he died?"
"Trying to breathe," I forlornly replied.
"He died because he was sick. His body failed him. It's kind of weird, isn't it, that he could do indescribably spectacular motorcycle tricks and survive even his worst injuries, but he couldn't overcome the physical ailments of his aging body?" Again, I got wrapped up in my own narrative, until the 10-year-old broke in.
"Gosh, Mama, that's so sad." His three siblings nodded in agreement. "He didn't die doing what he loved, like old Crocodile Hunter did."
Finally, proper grief, empathy, and commiseration, I observed.
Then my 8-year-old boy queried, "So, are you saying he was really nice even though he was evil?"
Kids these days!
They don't get it. Knievel's out there somewhere, wearing a star-spangled jumpsuit, hanging with Elvis.
Lucy Adams is a Columbia County native and McDuffie County resident. She will be signing copies of her new book, If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny, at noon Monday, Dec. 10, 2007, at the Baird Library at Augusta Preparatory Day School, where she is a second-grade teacher. Send comments to lucybgoosey at aol.com.
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