Fortune sides with him who dares.
The man in charge looks at her as he and the others settle the barrel. The woman smiles at the young, muscular men, huffing and puffing as they take sips from their water bottles. “Thank you so much! Once I acclimate myself inside. I will give you the signal.” The point man studies her closer, trying to see her face and determine her age. He removes the handkerchief, wiping the sweat raining down on him. “You are most welcome. We appreciate your generosity, but Ma’am, can I ask you something?” The woman nods in the affirmative.
The man hesitates. He wants to be diplomatic to this pleasant woman. Squinting, he carefully words his inquiry. “You do not appear to be addled, but why in the world are you doing this?” The woman looks down as tears well up. Silently, she turns to her manager with a desperate stare. He returns her gaze, appearing a bit dumbfounded. He did not expect this sudden request to fill in the blank. “Ah um,” clearing his throat. Being uncertain himself, he gives it his best, attempting to sound composed. “Well, Mrs., um, believes we should push our limits.” The woman rewards him with a bountiful smile. He is relieved. Pleasing his kind patron, the manager displays more confidence, puffing his cigar, bowing, and tipping his hat.
The woman adjusts her large brim hat, ensuring it continues to obscure her face. She will keep it on until she begins the journey. “May I have a few moments, please?” The point man answers for all of them. “Of course.” The Manager grins widely with thumbs in his belt. Inwardly, however, he is seething. “Let’s get this ridiculous show on the road,” whispering through his teeth. Although he has been most impressed by this unusual woman, the manager is ready to proceed with his next project. He hopes all goes well for his ingenious and courageous customer, but he, too, wonders about her mental stability.
The woman reflects on the events unfolding. She knows they think she has lost her mind. Little do they know the motives for her undertaking this momentous feat. The woman studies her hands, encased in gloves covering the bumps that appear like mounds on her otherwise smooth palms. She is fortunate. Her mother’s secret concoction of oil and particular herbs soften the calluses and keep the front of her hands youthful and plump. She thinks to herself, “They have no idea about my age or situation.”
Again, the woman’s eyes fill with tears reminiscing about long ago. “My beloved baby, gone. My husband died shortly after. I have tried for years to make a living, but I have meager reserves. Now that I have spent most of my savings designing this wooden cask and planning for this plunge, I must make it work.” The woman says a prayer before turning toward her spectators.
Now preparing herself to enter the barrel, the woman expresses more appreciation. “Many people refused to help me with this venture. They doubted I could survive it, but I believe I will. Whether you do or not, thank you for agreeing to assist me.”
The workers shift uncomfortably, and they allow their boss to speak for them. “Ma’am, my pleasure. God bless you! Ready?” The woman nods, taking his proffered hand as he leads her to the entry of the barrel. She sets foot inside and has a seat, trusting the protection of the thick mattress surrounding the inner walls. The man glances at her with admiration and tips his hat. Before he and the others close the sturdy door, he says, “God Speed.” The hatch closes, the woman looks around. “Well, if that cat survived, so can I.” She removes her hat and straps herself in as securely as possible. Annie takes a deep breath and then gives the signal by banging the door three times. She feels the barrel roll as she sways, hoping for success before the tumble.
Author’s Note: Annie Edson Taylor was a widow and schoolteacher who decided at age 63, on her birthday, to take a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel. She survived, as did the cat who took a test run a few days earlier. Ms. Taylor was desperate and hoped the risky expedition would lead to exposure and financial gain. She disguised her age to attract doubters to assist her in this venture. Many declined, seeing it as a suicide mission. Ms. Taylor designed the barrel herself.
Her motives for this undertaking were financial. She had little money at this juncture in her life. Ms. Taylor was hoping that her survival would launch her to fame and fortune. Sadly, she died pennilessly. Although she is not as famous as she would have preferred, she has a footnote in history as a woman who took a risk and defied her naysayers.
I used a quote from the great Virgil, one of my favorites. Although fortune did not shine on Ms. Taylor, she knew she had to attempt. We can applaud her for that. For all the risk-takers, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” You may fail, but you will never succeed without trying.