Time out of time

horse & buggy accident 1989A long, long time ago, back when a video recorder, camera, clock, calculator, computer, telephone, tablet and music player were all separate devices, and letters were sent using “postage stamps,” my family experienced a time out of time.

That is to say, what happened to us in the waning years of the 20th Century inserted us into an earlier century, when time traveling was still science fiction, and letters were sent using “postage stamps.”

Not that we initiated the time transfer; no sir! We’re not that clever. In fact, you could say that we were merely along for the ride: just a happenstance of being at the right place at the right time.

It was the second of September and it was our first visit to this particular rural slice of the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania.

Innocently intending a pleasant diversion, my family and I boarded a wooden-wheeled contraption for a short, horse-drawn tour through the late summer countryside. Our full company included my wife Carol and me, our four children aged 3½ – 8, a young couple expecting their first child, and our 80-year-old driver. Off we started at a lazy, laid-back pace.

But soon, the clip-clopped cadence of Queenie’s hooves rose from walk, to trot, to canter, to gallop. From our jouncing inside seats, we witnessed the discombobulating blur of both scenery and time.

From the driver’s seat came a few, low and feeble, pleading commands—apparently so as to not startle either the unsuspecting passengers or the equine powertrain: “Whoa, Queenie….whoa, Queenie….whoa Queenie!”

But Queenie didn’t whoa. In fact, she paid no attention to the increasing cries of the little old driver or to her increasingly alarmed passengers. I aimed my bouncing head out the side window to witness the horsepower boost coming from a chugging, gray-dappled rump. The driver’s reins led to no effect on her front end, where, despite wearing blinders, her wide, wild eyes stared upward and to the right. As I followed skyward with my surprised eyes, a large colorful kite swooped into view.

Knowing what your problem is doesn’t always lead to an immediate solution. While we quickly understood the arithmetic of the situation (1 kite + 1 spooked horse = a runaway buggy filled with tender, bruise-able people), our difference-making resources from the position of tailing the horse’s backend were quite limited.

Oblivious to all dangers but the kite, Queenie galloped straight ahead with her neck craned far to the right, not willing even to blink at the perceived threat. Now we entered an area with many people who were quickly discovering they’d better run or get run over. (Run away! Runaway, coming through!)

Queenie slammed her neck into the corner of a building and collapsed. The buggy mounted the porch, separating spokes from rims from axles, and splintered apart. All of us hapless riders careened into the front, left corner of the buggy, piling up, as it happened, on my wife.

With Queenie down (whoa, finally!) and front wheels broken, our transporter slumped on its side, making it a bit harder for us to distinguish each other’s tangled elbows, torsos, noses and shins in the messy heap of human cargo. (Seat belts had not yet been invented in this era!) Now to the rescue came the formerly fleeing refugees, who held up the fractured fairy tale of a coach long enough for us to hand the children through the side window to willing hands and helpers.

After we had all clambered from the wreck, and were gratefully awaiting minor medical attention, I realized that the camera around my neck was probably responsible for the gash on my forehead, and—hey!—still had one last picture left on my roll of Kodak color slide film. It shows Carol holding her aching knee with one hand while the other reined in our excitable 8-year-old son from further unrestrained exploits.

A horse-and-buggy accident in 1989, I daresay, is an adventure out of its normal time period. Yet, like most memorable escapades from which you survive, can be interpreted for a life lesson or two:

1. No matter what time it is, trouble can suddenly swoop down on us. And though it may pursue or even lead us for a while, remember that it does come, eventually, to a conclusion; and:

2. When time-travelling, never follow a horse’s rear end.