This downsizing experience has been going on since the beginning of February and it is now June. For weeks and week while we wait for the renovations to be completed on our new and smaller apartment, I’ve been picking through our possessions deciding whether we need to cut back on everything from our cookware to how many winter coats we will have room for in our new home.
Then there were the possessions that had been tucked away in the back of the closets for nearly thirty years. They, too, now had to be dragged out into the fresh air and we had to decide what to do with them as well. Going through that stuff was like managing an archeological dig. The farther back in the closet I went, the older and more obscure were the items. Most of these things have either been sold or given away, and now belong to someone else.
But then there were a few things I found that were much more curious, like the notes and newspaper clippings I’d kept over the years that hinted at long forgotten and unfinished writing projects. These items related to ideas for stories that never amounted to anything, tucked away, they were cryptic ideas that after a month or two were replaced by another idea, another potential story or novel.
Probably the best example of one of these long abandoned projects is this faded newspaper clipping that I found amongst my papers. It is a photograph of an 83-year old woman pulling a car with her teeth. I’m sure that I had a story in mind at the time when I cut it out of the newspaper though for the life of me I cannot even begin to figure out what kind of plot I had in mind.
Though I had no idea what I had intended on writing about this woman I could not help but be fascinated by Helen Bordeaux. The clipping did not have a date and I wanted to know more about Helen so this morning I googled her.
From an article I found on the internet Helen Bordeaux had immigrated to the United States from Hamburg, West Germany around 1917. In Germany she had been a swimmer and diver and found work in the USA in a high dive act where she did trick flips and stunts on the fair circuit. Eventually she began to perform in the New York Hippodrome in NYC and became known as “The World’s Most Famous Lady High Diver.” She eventually made her way to Hollywood where she became a stuntwoman in the silent movies and worked with Harry Houdini, Charlie Chaplin and Cary Grant.
Over the years she had several accidents. Once she misjudged a high dive, fell to the ground breaking her back in five places and was paralyzed from the waist down. The doctors told her that she would never walk again but she was strong willed and a believer in prayer and within five weeks she was up and walking.
In 1954 at the age of 62, Helen now widowed bought a chicken farm in upstate New York. Six years later she retired from the farm, moved to Ephrata, a town in Lancaster County, PA and became active in the Ephrata Community Action Council working to get more low-rent housing for the aged in the area.
Then in 1975 at the age of 83 (This is when I was introduced to Helen Bordeaux through a newspaper article.) she hooked a strap to a Volks Wagon Bug, put the other end of the strap between her teeth and pulled the vehicle across a parking lot in Ephrata, reenacting something she had done many times in 1918. This time she was not only many years older and she was wearing false teeth.
After this amazing feat she said, “Boy, that was something I had to do again. I could die tomorrow.” But Helen lived another ten years and died at the age of 93 in 1985.
It seems that I’ve had this article about Helen since 1975. I lived in California, newly married and just finishing up a BA in Psychology. I did some writing back then but I had hoped that someday I’d find time to do much more story telling. Back then Helen was still alive and it was her strong will that peaked my interest. I suppose I thought if she could keep at it, so could I.
Well, here I am embarking on a new adventure and though I’m nowhere near 83 years old, I see how fast time goes by and finding out more about Helen only makes me more fond of this old gal. So I salute Helen and slip the yellowed newspaper clipping back into it’s folder and begin the day with a renewed faith in my tomorrows.
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