The Next Generation
Copyright© 2010 by Wes Boyd
Don Kohler had a friend who worked on the Geneva Hospital ambulance crew. Since Kohler was one of three full-time reporters for the Geneva Daily Post-Gazette, he was used to getting calls about stories at odd hours. Sometimes, the tips were better than others; the Saturday evening phone call tipping him to the story of the crippled girl saving a farmer's life caused him to gladly drive out to Willow Lake the next day.
Kohler's story made the wire service, and with a picture of Judy and Candybar and the corn planter, figured prominently on the Post-Gazette's front page Monday evening.
At school the next day, Judy found that she had become a minor celebrity for the second time in ten days. People who had hardly spoken to her in all her years in high school went out of the way to say something complimentary; she was pleased at the attention, if a bit embarrassed by it.
As she and Ken sat down to what had become their regular lunch in the cafeteria, her first words were to ask how his father was doing.
"Pretty well, considering," Ken replied. "He'd like to see you."
"I'm glad to hear he's getting along all right," Judy said.
"What I was thinking, was that since we didn't get your therapy session in at the Y on Saturday, maybe we could go tonight, and stop off and see him."
"I'd love to, Ken," she told him. "But aren't you going to be busy with farm work?"
Shaking his head, he replied, "There's work to be done, but after Saturday, no one will complain if I take off to take you to town."
"You know," she reflected, "It's kind of nice to be appreciated, but what with the newspaper story and all, I kind of think that people are making too much fuss over what I did. After all, I just did what had to be done, and there was no one else there to do it."
Ken nodded. "And you did the right thing, and so fast you hardly had time to think about it. Now, if you put my sister-in-law Carolyn in the same position you were in, I'd be going to a funeral today."
A glaze came over Judy's eyes as she thought about what Ken had said. Though she was too shy to admit it, she was a little amazed that she had done everything she had remembered doing a few days before.
When Ken, his mother and brother had taken her home Saturday night, dirty and covered with blood, her mother acted as if she were about to have a heart attack. Even when the situation was explained, Irene had been pleased that her daughter had been so heroic, but upset that she had been riding Candybar in the first place.
Judy's father had made what her mother said seem unimportant. After hearing the story, he took Judith in his arms and said, "I knew I had a special girl. It all worked out for the best."
Ken drove Judy home from school to get her gym bag for the trip to town. She had no more than gotten inside when Irene confronted her, saying, "Judith, what trouble are you planning on getting into with the Sorensen boy this time?"
"We're just going in to see his father, and then to the Y," Judith replied.
"I don't know about you and him," Irene said. "Whenever you go out with him, you do things you shouldn't be doing, and you tire yourself out. You're too fragile to be doing the things you do with him! What will your father say when he gets home?"
"We'll take it easy," Judith insisted. "We'll just go to the hospital, and then to the therapy session."
"Well, stay off that horse," Irene ordered.
Judy stiffened. Trust her mother to bring her down when she was feeling good about herself for one! "I will if I want to. I know what I can do!" Judith replied firmly, with just a trace of tension in her voice. "I'm no little girl any longer."
"You may have grown up some," Irene said angrily, "But you still don't know what you can do and what you can't!"
Judy picked up her gym bag from where it lay discarded from Saturday night. "How would you know what I can do? You don't even watch me in my therapy sessions. At least I know where I'm strong and where I'm weak."
"Oh, darling," Irene said, wondering if it had been the influence of the Sorensen boy that had made her normally docile little girl so upset. "You know I can't bear to watch you torture yourself in those sessions. You're too weak for that. I mean, I realize you want to walk again, but..."
"That's what I mean," Judy said, not giving in for once. "Riding Candybar is about as tiring as watching grass grow, but you wouldn't know that. I wouldn't have known it either if I hadn't tried."
"Yes, Judith," her mother protested. "But you could fall off the horse and hurt yourself, or it could run off with you and you couldn't control it."
"I don't think Candybar would run wild if you lit a firecracker under her tail," Judith replied, opening the door. "I'm going to Geneva with Ken. We'll probably have supper in town. I'll see you later."
Ken's father was propped up in bed, his leg in traction, when Ken and Judy found him. Ken could see that he was considerably better than he had been the day before, when the effects of the blood he had lost, combined with the pain of his crushed knee, had made him barely able to speak.
When he saw Judy, he broke into a big smile. He motioned her over to the bedside and took her hand, held it firmly, and said, "They tell me you're the reason why I got here."
Judy leaned forward on her crutches a little, and shyly admitted that she had something to do with it.
"I know you did," Chet told her. "I remember that hitch falling on me, and I sort of remember you yelling at me to hold onto something, but I didn't really find out until today what you did."
He stopped for a moment to gather his strength; Ken could see that his father was weaker than he looked. Judy said softly, "I just couldn't leave you laying there bleeding."
"I just don't know how to thank you," Chet said finally, then went on in an intense, though weak voice. "I don't know how to say this, but I'm glad you're being crippled doesn't keep you from being one mighty fine person."
Judy had been hearing praise for a couple days, but this really counted. "Thank you," she said, squeezing his hand.
The bedridden man turned to face Ken and said, "You know what I said about your Uncle Ed?" Ken nodded, and Chet went on, "Well, I was wrong."
Later, as they rode across town to the YMCA, Judy asked, "What was that about your Uncle Ed?"
Ken thought for a moment. There was a message in what his father had said, and he wanted time to digest it. "It's his way of telling me that he really thinks you're all right," he said, truthfully, after a moment.
"Well, I hope he'll be all right," Judy responded slowly.
"You don't think he will be?"
"Come on, Ken. He's got a crushed knee. He's what? In his fifties?"
"I hope I'm wrong," she said, "But I'd be surprised if he didn't take a long time healing. You'd better be getting some crutches, too. I'll bet you he'll need them."
"I don't understand why your physical therapy is here," Ken said as Judy came out of the locker room, dressed in a pink and white striped leotard with white tights.
"It's a long story," she replied as she worked her way over to an exercise machine. As she began her workout, she started explaining.
Physical therapy had been a way of life for Judy for ten years, now. Since Dohrman County Hospital in Geneva had only the most rudimentary physical therapy facilities, for many years the only alternative had been to go to St. Catherine's hospital in Camden. Not only was this expensive, it was a long drive for three times or more a week. Still, the therapy was necessary if there was any hope of her ever walking again, since muscles in her legs needed to be kept exercised so they wouldn't atrophy.
"About the time they got all the modern cam exercise machines here at the Y," Judy explained, "Beth got married and moved up here. You remember, the woman that taught us how to dance. She was one of my physical therapists in Camden, and we worked out routines on the equipment here that work about as well as what I can do in Camden. Now, I only go down to St. Catherine's every couple months, so they can check up on my progress. It makes everything so much easier."
As Judy worked out, Ken watched, interested in the proceedings. The leotard and tights gave Ken his first look at the shape of Judy's legs. Both her upper legs merely looked skinny, though there was more musculature on the front than on the back. From the knees on down, though, her legs seemed positively withered, so bony that the looked like a case of extreme starvation. Ken could see why he'd always seen Judy wearing pants or a long dress.
It seemed to him that the workouts concentrated as much on Judy's upper body as on her withered legs, and he commented on this.
"If you had to use your arms for as much as I have to," she told him, "You'd want them strong."
Even with the strapless gown Judy had worn to the prom, Ken hadn't been aware of just how well developed the muscles of Judy's upper body were, though now that he thought about it, he could remember how firmly she had held him. Watching her work out, he could see that Judy was no weakling. The strength of her arms was very impressive. Moreover, he could see that she really worked at her workouts; within minutes, the sweat was rolling off her face.
Judy moved from machine to machine, to concentrate on specific parts of her body. At times, Judy asked Ken to help with a routine, such as holding her knees down while she did situps, or lifting her to a horizontal bar, where he was surprised to see her chinning herself one-handed, using either hand. As the workout went on, Ken began to wonder just how strong Judy was. Toward the end of her workout, she was working out on a weight bench. After a few minutes of bench presses, she sat up, ready to go on to the next activity.
"Would you stay there for a moment?" he asked.
"You'll see." Ken called a training room attendant over, and the two of them began fastening weights onto the weight bar, Ken keeping track of the total. After a few minutes, the bar was ready. Judy looked up apprehensively at all the weight. "Let's see if you can lift that," Ken said, as he and the attendant stood at either end of the bar to keep it from falling if it should slip.
"I don't know," Judy frowned. She wiped her hands as best she could on her sweaty leotard, and carefully took a solid grip on the bar. Her muscles bulged with the strain; she gritted her teeth until her face became a grimace as she pushed upward.
All of a sudden, a muffled grunt came from deep within her, and the weight moved upward. She got it out to arm's length for a moment before the strain became too much; as the bar dropped, Ken and the attendant guided it into the holders.
She lay panting on the bench, the sweat still rolling off her brow. "That was almost too much," she managed finally. "How much was that?"
"Two hundred forty pounds," Ken said.
"Why?" she asked plaintively.
"Tom and I drug the corn planter down to the scales at the feed mill after school yesterday," Ken explained. "That's the weight you lifted off of Dad's knee. I just wanted to see for myself."
"This seemed heavier. A lot heavier," she said slowly.
"So what?" Ken shrugged. "You're tired now, and you were excited then. Judy, I am impressed. I couldn't do that. There's more to you than meets the eye."
In the locker room a few minutes later, Judy could feel her muscles aching. The pool would feel good, she knew, even though she would be even more tired after her swim. Her leotard had been clean an hour before; now it stank so bad she could hardly stand to touch it to take it off and cram it into a plastic bag so it wouldn't foul her gym bag.