“What’s up with the bottle of coconut water?” my Mom asked as she sat down at the dinner table, pointing at a bottle of Vita Coco that Rio had scored at Walmart, of all places. It was his second attempt to see what coconut water tasted like. In his first attempt, his mother brought home an actual coconut with a label that basically said: Don’t drink the water from this coconut.
Debs isn’t the label-reading sort.
The undrinkable coconut still languishes in the back of our fridge, months after she bought it. Apparently the water of immature green coconuts is what you drink, not the liquid inside the hard-shell brown coconuts. Who knew? But, anyway, that’s how the family dinner conversation got started on coconuts rather than on my Mother’s two favorite subjects: The race for the president; or the latest plane crash.
Mom joins us for dinner six nights a week. She usually arrives as we’re starting to cook, and jumps right in without preamble: “You heard about the plane crash in (fill in the blank), right?” Then she launches into whatever gory details and pseudo-expert opinions they’ve been hashing over all day on MSNBC.
As she goes on, often at length, it’s actually possible to watch my wife begin to stiffen up, her movements morphing from their usual fluid grace to awkward mannequin-like jerks. You see, plane crashes are my wife’s worst fear.
Well, not plane crashes in general, but fear of one particular plane crashing. And any reminder that planes can—and sometimes do—come down out of the sky in a bad way just serves to feed her fear that someday a pretty blue and white classic with twin tails might do the same.
Now, Debbie’s fear is specific. She doesn’t worry about me crashing with Rio, or with Lisa, or with Mom, or with anyone else we take for a flight. (Remember that the Plane Tales Plane is a two-seater, so the whole family can never fly together.) No, Debbie only worries about she and I crashing. And it’s more a maternal instinct worry than a self-perseveration worry. Her fear is leaving Rio an orphan.
So Deb is never 100% relaxed when she flies with me. The slightest bump of turbulence causes her to gasp. The slightest odd noise makes her jump in her seat. I’ve learned that steep turns are definitely out, and that shorter flights are the best choice.
Naturally, I’m always on the lookout for ways to (1) put her fear into what I would regard as a realistic perspective, a task I always fail at; and (2) to do anything possible to increase our safety. We took a Ninety-Nines Flying Companion Seminar, and I’ve been diligently teaching all my “co-pilots” how to handle the plane on their own. Rio landed brilliantly the other day. I also I bought a GPS personal locator beacon for the plane, and Rio and I built a survival kit designed for the environment we fly over: Arid and either very hot or very cold. (The goal was to have it weigh the same as one gallon of gas and keep two people alive for three days. It ended up weighing closer to two gallons, but it’s in the luggage compartment for every flight.)
Oops, I deviated from course there a bit, back to our Tale. So as I said, the Vita Coco threw Mom off her regular track. While I was cutting veggies for the salad, I filled her in on the back-story on why there was a bottle of coconut water on the table. That’s when Deb turned from the stove and said, “Did you know that 260 people a year get killed by falling coconuts?”
I digested this statement for a moment, then said, That seems improbable. You mean like, walking down the beach minding your own business, and thump-whack you’re a gonner?
Huh. Well, coconuts are heavy, and coconut palms are tall. I guess it would be a bit like having the iconic anvil dropped on your head. And there are both a lot of people on the planet, and a lot of coconuts, too. So the more I thought about it, the less improbable it seemed that coconut impacts could send a few hundred people a year to meet their maker.
But then I remembered something. The National Transportation Safety Board just released the latest general aviation accident statistics, and there were 253 fatal general aviation accidents in 2014. That meant that it was more likely that Debbie would be killed by a falling coconut than in a falling Ercoupe.
So that’s what I told her.
First her eyes twinkled. Then she snickered. Then she laughed out loud. “Maybe I worry too much,” she said.
I think so.
Then my mother switched the subject to the latest political news from the presidential race.
Epilogue: So the bad news, dear readers, is that we really don’t know how many people are killed every year by falling coconuts. Debbie had heard 260, but when I researched coconut fatalities for this post, the most common (and disputed) number on the internet is 150 deaths per year. Apparently this number came from a company that sells some sort of travel insurance policy to cover you for injury or death from falling coconuts. In point of fact, people are killed by falling coconuts, but no one actually collects statistics on the number of these sorts of fatalities.
But even though the coconuts may be a myth, Debbie is still more likely to die from falling off a ladder, drowning in her own bathtub, or succumbing to food poisoning that she is to die in a general aviation airplane.
As for me, this got me thinking if I’d rather my obituary featured a plane crash or a coconut-cracked noggin. On one hand, if a pilot dies in a plane crash, many will assume he didn’t have the “Right Stuff.” On the other hand dying from a coconut whack is so bizarrely random and pointless to be almost comical (unless it happens to someone you love).
I guess I’d have to choose walking away from the crash, after having saved all souls aboard via brilliant flying, and then being struck in the head by a falling coconut that was jarred loose when the plane hit the beach. That would at least give me ironic hero status of dying while saving the day, and bring two unlikely statistics full circle into one heck of a Plane Tale.