English picked up both the concept of hubris and the term for that particular brand of cockiness from the ancient Greeks, who considered hubris a dangerous character flaw capable of provoking the wrath of the gods. In classical Greek tragedy, hubris was often a fatal shortcoming that brought about the fall of the tragic hero. Typically, overconfidence led the hero to attempt to overstep the boundaries of human limitations and assume a godlike status, and the gods inevitably humbled the offender with a sharp reminder of their mortality.
I don’t know if I fit the classical Greek definition of Hubris, but a couple of times I did get spanked pretty good, if not by Zeus, some power. Maybe it was God knowing I had a comeuppance.
Or maybe it was just old-fashioned karma.
Although my aunt, uncle and cousin, Bernice, Willis and Sara Wilson, lived nearly across the country in West Virginia, they were like a second immediate family to me. I spent many a summer flying back from California to stay at the family farm outside Huntington, to the point I considered Huntington to be my second home.
When I went to school in Virginia, I thought nothing of leaving Charlottesville on a Friday afternoon to drive the 300 or so miles over the Shenandoah mountains to spend a weekend with the Wilsons. Sunday afternoon, I would start the 300 mile trek back to Charlottesville.
I’ll bet I did that a couple of dozen times. Even got a speeding ticket in rural Virginia that was somewhat amusing in retrospect.
Golf has always presented a challenge to me. I marvel at those people who, having never played the game, pick up the clubs and par the holes.
That’s not me.
I started playing it at the age of 12, and then would alternately give it up and start again every decade or so.
It is a humbling sport. I do get some schadenfreude when I watch a pro on TV miss a 3 foot putt. Years ago, I thought I was a decent golfer. Looking back in retrospect, that was a bad attitude. I can remember attending a PGA Seniors Tournament and going to the driving range before the game to watch the pros.
Yes, before every game these pros, like Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, would go to the driving range for at least an hour and practice. Even after playing the game for 50 years.
I was literally 10 feet from Palmer, watching him. Now we amateurs will just start hitting the balls. The pros would hit one, take a moment’s reflection to see what they did right – or wrong – and hit another.
For an hour or more.
If they take that kind of respect to the game – and how it can bite you – who was I to brag to my aunt at a small course in Parsons, WV that I was a “great golfer”? Which I reminded her – repeatedly.
Anyway, we are at a small public course when I was 12 or 13 and my aunt buys us each one ball. And I think she rented the clubs. She said, “Now Billy, here is one ball. If you lose it that’s it. The game is over for you.”
Well, I of course assured her that wasn’t going to happen. Because I was a good golfer.
I don’t think Arnold Palmer himself ever made such a proclamation.
So anyway, at the tee on the first hole, I manage to slice it into the rough. For you non-golfers, I hit the ball, it veered off to the right off the main fairway and into some tall grass or weeds.
My aunt said nothing.
I get up to the approximate area and look all through the rough but can’t find my ball.
But I found someone else’s left there from who-knows-when, and played that.
The entire nine holes went like that. Tee off, lose the ball, find another.
I always found another to continue playing.
Even at that tender age, I thought some Force was having a laugh at my expense. Rather than finally exiting the game with some remaining shred of dignity, I was always provided another ball.
My aunt, who really was a decent golfer, finished with the ball she started with.
Fast forward a decade, and the Wilson’s are visiting us over Christmas in California.
I thought I was a decent skier. But then, occasionally I would be reminded that there were some better – even someone at 7 years old or so. At Tahoe’s Heavenly Valley, there was/is a favorite trail I liked that would wind around – and down – the mountain for 2.5 miles. Like a good road course, the Roundabout Trail had some nice long straights for speed and some hairpin turns.
I’d be schussing down, feeling good and at one with the skis, and out of nowhere some half pint in a crash helmet would fly by me.
There wasn’t a hill I couldn’t take although I will say some of the really gnarly ones – I wouldn’t ski like Jean-Claude Killy, but would traverse slowly back and forth.
Jean-Claude Killy I was not.
So anyway, the Wilsons are out visiting us over Christmas and I offer to take Sara skiing. She had never skied before, and I was really ribbing my aunt.
Nobody ever said that I was a quick learner.
“Don’t worry, Aunt Bernice, I’ll bring her back no matter what shape she is in!”
I was really needling her, numerous times.
As I recall, my aunt said very little. In any event, I didn’t get the reaction I was hoping for.
The next morning, Sara and I get into my Capri and we make the 90-minute drive to the Sierra Summit.
I arrange for her to have some lessons, and she spends the rest of the day on the “Bunny Slope”.
I of course, head for the summit. I think we met for lunch.
The day was pretty uneventful, until that last run.
I think among skiers, that last run is the one that can get you. You are a bit tired, but want one more before leaving.
Anyway, I’m off the chair lift and a minute later, skiing down through the moguls. For a few minutes, I’m lookin’ fairly good.
Then I hit a mogul sideways.
I tumble, and start bouncing down the mountain. I can remember hitting my back, going airborne for about 20 feet, then hitting my back again with an “ooooof!”, only to launch again. And slide.
Repeat about 5-6 times down I don’t know how many feet.
All this wouldn’t have been bad – you can see skiers do this with some regularity. Although with my distance, maybe like that guy falling off the ski jump on the Wide World of Sports intro, I coulda been a condenda for an intro…
Except my ski bindings didn’t release.
Which was twisting my knees in directions I’m glad I didn’t see.
I finally come to a stop a good way down the mountain, and laid motionless for a minute or so trying to catch my breath.
Finally tried to get up, and there was a sharp pain in my knee.
The ski patrol eventually comes by and asks if I need any help. Playing Mr. Macho, I tell him I should be fine and decline the ride down in the sled.
He comes back an hour later and I am 20’ from where I started.
This time, I’m not so proud as to decline the sled ride.
So Sara, waiting for me at the lodge, sees me coming down in the sled.
When I tried to stand up from the sled, I could feel the joint move in my knee. I would learn later that a ligament, which holds the bone in the joint, was torn off the bone.
“ I knew you were feeling bad, Bill, when you wanted me to drive us back!”
So Sara brought me home a bit beaten up, and my aunt, as before, said very little. My uncle though, found it to be a source of great amusement!
I wore a leg cast for 6 months and learned how to shift that 4 speed Capri with one leg.
Today, every now and then when I am driving along I-80 with a passenger, at that summit I show them the mountain and I tell them where I went down from near the top to about a third of the way down.
So there was a price to be paid for being a bit proud and boastful, at least with my aunt.
Pride literally came before a fall.
One response to “The Price of Hubris With The Wilsons”
My wife suffered the “terrible triad”
ACL, MCL, and meniscus
While ballet dancing