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Airheads and Klutzes Anonymous
By Betty Garrett Deeds
May/June 2012 Issue

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Mom’s eyes were aimed at me like BB’s without a barrel. Holding her key ring, I felt she was daring me to open our front door. Six failures, one more to try. Fingers trembling, I inserted it gingerly. At first, it seemed to fit. (Thank you, God.) So I shoved in the rest of the key, wiggling it this way and that, but the lock would not open. The key’s serrated edges twisted and stuck inside while the stem broke off.

“Betty,” Mom said, gritting her teeth, “you are the clumsiest child I have ever seen.” I heard that remark every time I broke dishes and glasses, hers and mine. Whenever I tripped over the coffee table, failing to perform a pas de deux or fell on objects that weren’t visible, or walked into walls not through doors. My shins were rulers with bruises that marked the height of every object in a room.

I was also “the most absent-minded child” she had ever seen. Lost my schoolbooks, pencils and tablets, but oddly enough I never lost the books I cared about. Automatically, each night she called, “Turn off the flashlight under the covers and put the books away. You’ll be blind within a year.”

Incredibly, I also lost the ration coupon for five pounds of sugar, a priceless commodity during the War. She pinned the coupon to my dress. I arrived with the pin, but no coupon. No coupon, no sugar.

As time passed, and I passed through my own childbearing-rearing years, I became Mom’s caretaker. She endured an unholy number of physical ailments and diseases, ranging from spinal surgeries to cancer of the middle ear to complications from kidney disease. Not a happy traveler in life, she somehow clung to it as if it were a cliff meant to hold her fingers. Many times, I found myself sitting beside her in Columbus hospitals after being told she would not live through another night. We learned how to laugh together as we cried, and I came to admire that once-intimidating toughness that was also her love. And she always got back up. Always. Until the last time.

When she died on December 20, 1982, my brother and sister-in-law accompanied me on a grave-shopping trip. Mom hadn’t practiced pre-planning. She couldn’t afford it, ever. But, just as she was a shop-till-she-dropped fanatic all her life, I know her hand was on my shoulder as I surveyed the cemetery’s merchandise.

There were three lots in one row with a slight mound behind it, the closest thing we could get resembling the hills Back Home. The cemetery lot in the middle was “taken” and occupied. “Would you like to buy the other two?” the salesman inquired of the flanking spaces. “No,” I said, “I’ll take a single, please.” I was feeling grouchy and distracted and didn’t want to dwell there any longer. After writing a check for the grave and its “perpetual care,” I took home a booklet entitled “Deed To The Estate.”

Inside was a number designating the only real estate Mom ever owned.

On the first Memorial Day after her death, I made a trip to her grave carrying a bouquet of Irises from my garden. She loved that stately flower. The cemetery was crowded with more visitors than residents, and brass ensembles here and there played taps and displayed our flag.

I thought I remembered the location, but had last seen it in a Christmas snow and with a mind that was in a fugue state. I tried to check at the Perpetual Care office, but it was closed for Memorial Day. Finally, I found the right row. It was located near a stone building, and I spotted the slight ground rise behind it, but the correct grave was in doubt. The middle one displayed its permanence. The ones on either side looked very much the same. How could I be sure which was Mom’s?

As I tried to calculate which mound looked sufficiently aged to have spanned the December-May stretch, I swear I could feel her watching me the same way she did when I tried to unlock doors. Meanwhile, I kept waiting for some of the people near me to move away, but the opportunity never came.

Finally, I surrendered and just lifted a corner piece of sod to check the one which seemed most firmly attached. The young man playing Taps stopped mid-melancholy. I knew a number of people were staring at me and gasping. So I dropped the Irises right where I was and sprinted to my car. Once inside, I bent down to search for my keys. After successfully turning the ignition and starting the engine, I roared out of there like an Indy 500 racer.

That’s when I remembered the most scathing assessment Mom ever applied to me. “You’re right, Mom, absolutely right.

I don’t know my ass (or anatomical aperture) from a hole in the ground.” And when I finally found the deed in the safe place where I’d hidden it, turns out I hadn’t. I only hope the stranger enjoyed the Irises.

Well, time marches on sufficiently so that I no longer check the footprints on my face. Many things have changed, but not my tendency toward absent-mindedness and what I’ve come to call klutziness instead of clumsiness. I now have at least seven pairs of glasses scattered around the house by various telephones and desks, all of them vanished when needed. If the glasses are there, then there’s no pen or paper. However, I no longer have the self-centered conviction of youth that I am the only person suffering from these afflictions. I now know there are others struggling with klutzy conditions who just don’t talk about it.

After falling from a ladder once while washing kitchen walls, I was taken to Riverside Hospital with a concussion. Even though my face was the only area that revealed signs of injury, turning a mottled hue of purplish blue, they said something about arteries. After CAT scans, a neurologist came to talk to me. He assured me I had a brain, making no editorial comments other than to note that I had traces of some small strokes that predated the current “incident.” Probably from one of my sidewalk pratfalls. I seized the opportunity to ask him about the airheaded klutziness syndrome. Did it have a physical cause that might lie in the billions of neurons in the brain – perhaps some “seconds” or placed backwards?

“Afraid not,” he said, shaking his head and smiling. “It has nothing to do with the brain or anything else I can easily explain.” Why was he so sure? “Because,” he said, “when I told my friends I was going to be a brain surgeon, they all fell out laughing. I can’t cross a room without falling on things, or play tennis without breaking a racket or tossing it out with the tennis ball.” After numerous examples, he stated, “It’s like poise and grace, except it’s the opposite. Some people just have it, some people just don’t.”

Perhaps it would help to form a group called Airheads and Klutzes Anonymous, using some of the principles of A.A. We could support each other in privacy.

“Hi, my name is Betty. I am an airhead and a klutz.”

Let’s call a meeting to order.

Betty Garrett Deeds is a former reporter for the Columbus Citizen-Journal and author of Columbus: America’s Crossroads. She can be reached at This article was first published in our August 2002 issue.

© 2011 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

First published in the February 2003 Short North Gazette.

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