Humiliation in a Helicopter

Aug 20, 2015 by

Humiliation in a Helicopter

When I was 16, I visited Mt. Rushmore with my mom and younger sister. While we were there, my mother had the brilliant idea that it would be fun to take a helicopter tour and view the monument from above. A helicopter ride? How cool was that?! We joined the line at the counter (limit of 7 people) and waited our turn to sign up. I was eager to join in the fun… that is, until the pretty young girl behind the counter asked each of us how much we weighed. “There’s a weight limit,” she explained. My mother (quite heavy at the time), listed her weight at 220 lbs. My sister (a tiny slip of a thing), gave an accurate weight. My heart pounded as I stood there. What should I say? I hadn’t weighed myself in weeks, and with good reason. When you’re hovering just below 300 lbs., having that negative self-image reinforced by weighing yourself is not exactly something you want to do.

And so, when it was my turn, I gave the girl a brilliant smile, and I lied. I told her a much lower number than my actual weight. She nodded, listed all the weights on mt. rushmoreher form, then looked up. “Sorry, but I do need to confirm your weights. We have a limit of 300 lbs per person.” And with those words, she hauled out a scale from behind the counter, brought it forward, and asked us each to stand on it so she could record our weight.

Seriously? A public weighing? Good Lord, I was in trouble now. I’d lied about my weight. I’d told her I weighed ‘170’, which to my way of thinking sounded ‘overweight’, but certainly not as bad as 300 lbs.

My sister hopped on and off the scales. No problem-o. She barely weighed 100 lbs. I hung back, cursing the day she’d been born. She’d always been able to eat exactly what she wanted and never gain a pound. My mother looked at me, but I motioned her forward. Might as well put off the inevitable as long as I could. She stepped on the scale. Sure enough, it registered 220 lbs., just as my mother had said. The girl shoved the scale in my direction. The moment of truth had arrived. I looked at my mom, who raised her eyebrows and gave me one of those dreadful What-are-you-waiting-for? looks. I had no choice. With a deep breath, I stepped on the scale, closed my eyes, and prayed.

Please let me weigh 170 lbs. Please, dear God, puh-leez let me weigh 170 lbs. I’ll go on a diet when we get home. I promise never to eat sugar again. Just please let me weigh 170 lbs.

Suddenly someone (my mother) grabbed my arm and yanked me off the scale. “305?” she hissed in my ear. “I cannot believe you weigh 305 lbs.” My face flushed a bright red. I couldn’t believe it, either. When had I gained those extra pounds? On vacation? Too many ice cream cones in the summer heat?

“I’m very sorry,” the girl behind the counter said. Was that pity I saw in her eyes? “One of you will have to stay behind. We’re already nearing our weight limit for the helicopter.”

The other passengers waiting to board stood aside, staring at us. They were eager to get going on their thrill ride, and we were holding them up. But not for long. “Never mind,” my mother told the young girl. “We won’t be going. Thank you anyway.” And with that, she stormed out of the building.

I was mortified as I followed her to the car. How had I gained so much weight? Even worse, what was my mother going to say? I shot her a glance as we climbed in the car and buckled up. Her face was set in stone, just like one of the chiseled faces on Mt. Rushmore. I sank in my seat as we drove away, my heart sinking further in my chest. My mom was the one who’d wanted to take the helicopter ride. I was the one who’d exceeded the weight limit. The silence in the car was deafening, even over the blast of the air conditioner. She kept driving, and probably covered about 5 miles before suddenly pulling the car to the side of the road, and turning to me with narrowed eyes. “You, Miss, are going on a diet the minute we get home,” she said. “And I don’t want to hear another word about it.”Blog Fatty Patty

Which suited me just fine, because I certainly didn’t want to talk about it. I was embarrassed beyond belief. Ashamed of myself. Guilty. And mad. Mad at myself, mad at my mother, and mad at the world. Why couldn’t I eat what I wanted without gaining weight? Why couldn’t I eat like a normal person?

Fast forward 30+ years. I lost the extra pounds long ago, and today am living at a comfortable weight for a person my height (5’11”). But I’ve never forgotten that horror in a helicopter experience. It left a heavy mark on my heart. And I always knew that someday I would write a book about what it’s like to be overweight… about how it feels to live fat in a world that worships thin. Fatty Patty was the result. My first novel, it’s the story of Patty Perreault, an overweight school teacher who’s convinced that if she loses those extra 35 lbs., her life will be perfect. Patty has a lot to learn. Life is never perfect. Our weight always fluctuates. But why not be honest about it? Facing the truth about who you are is better than being curled up under the covers, not wanting to face the day, not wanting to face a closet full of clothes which no longer fit… not wanting to face a pretty young girl behind a helicopter counter, and know that she’s going to haul out a diet scale.

Helicopter in HawaiiMy husband and I will be visiting Hawaii next month. Guess what Steve wants to do? That’s right… take a helicopter ride. It’s on his ‘bucket list’ (though certainly not on mine).  And I’m sure there will be a diet scale involved to record our weight. But this time I’m not worried. I’ll tell them exactly how much I weigh (158 lbs. as of last night) before I hop on the scale. On and off. No worries. I’m done lying about my weight. I’m living one day at a time, one meal at a time.

As for that helicopter? I’m simply pop a couple of Dramamine, strap myself in, and hold my breath for the thrill of a lifetime.

Isn’t life great? Enjoy the ride!


  1. Janine Kimberley

    What an amazing story Kathleen! I can now see your motivation behind Fatty Patty (which I loved). Did your mum eventually lose her excess weight as well? Go for that helicopter ride in Hawaii and enjoy it – life is too short to miss such great opportunities to experience such a beautiful place as Hawaii

    • Kathleen Irene Paterka

      Janine, thanks for dropping by the blog to chat! My mother did eventually lose quite a bit of weight, and weighed about 160 lbs. when she passed away (March 2015). My sister, however, gained a lot of weight. When she died (at age 36 of breast cancer), she was well above 200 lbs. (and much shorter than me). My ideal weight is 155, for someone my height, and I’ve been at that weight since I was in college. I feel so much better… ‘clean’ inside, if you know what I mean. My system doesn’t feel clogged up by sugar. Meanwhile, I will be on that helicopter ride with Steve – only thing I’m REALLY nervous about? He wants to go on a ‘no-doors’ helicopter – which sounds really scary to me. Wish me luck! ~ Kathleen