My brothers, John and Dewey, seemed more inclined to break bones than any of the rest of us. I was big on getting licks on the head and injuries that required stitches.
When I was 2 years old, I fell in the tobacco barn where my mother and father were stripping tobacco and hit my head on the wagon tongue. That required stitches just above my left eyebrow. I still have the scar to prove it.
I once fell backwards off a speeding bicycle while riding double behind my brother, Tom. The back of my head hit the hardest part of the gravel road when I landed. Talk about getting saddled. They say I didn’t make much sense for a day or two.
When I was 7 or 8 years old, the Jackie Gleason Show with the June Taylor dancers was responsible for one of my more unusual head injuries. The June Taylor dancers always closed out the show, and they were spectacular. Their costumes were fabulous, and could they ever dance. Whirling, spinning, dancing…they were a choreographic marvel for their time. The dancers usually wore long skirts and sometimes they would spin so fast their skirts would stand out parallel to the floor. At the end of their routine they would fall to the floor forming a circle. The director would go to a ceiling camera view, and as they moved their arms and legs, it gave a perfect simulation of a kaleidoscope. Their performances were unforgettable.
One evening after finishing my bath, I was headed for my bedroom wearing nothing but a towel. As I walked by the television, the June Taylor dancers were right in the middle of their routine. Watching them spin around the dance floor gave me an idea. I decided that I could make the towel that I was wearing stand out around me just like their skirts were. So I started spinning. I should have known that it wouldn’t work. I had the towel pinched tightly above my hip. I decided that I needed to spin faster. I did. That’s when the room started spinning faster. I was in trouble. Suddenly, I found myself on one foot. The room got sideways. I began to fall. The back of my head hit the square edge of bedpost, knocking me semi-loopy. That’s not the worst part. When I put my hand to the back of my head my fingers found a deep gash in my scalp. I looked at my fingers…red. It is no fun getting metal clamps put in your head.
But that mishap was not my most memorable. My most unforgettable injury was sustained on a Sunday morning – and of all places – in church.
When I was a boy, I sat under the sound of the gospel of some fine preachers. To most of them, straight-up-and-down noon meant absolutely nothing. As a matter of fact, most of them didn’t find their second wind until some time after noon. It made for a long service for a young boy. I usually took something with me to make the time go by faster. A simple puzzle or a pen and pad would usually do the trick.
One Sunday, I took four dark-green soldier figures with me. Each was about 2 inches tall and made of hard rubber. I had a whole set of them, but I thought four would be sufficient that day. Besides, it would have been hard to slip a whole army into church. I remember each of them even now. One was standing up straight with the butt of his rifle against his shoulder as if he were firing his weapon. Another had dropped to one knee and had his arm extended with pistol in hand. Another was lying on his stomach, resting on his elbows with his rifle in firing position. The last one had his arm raised and was in the process of throwing a grenade. I played with them until the big hand on the clock made it up to noon. That’s when I got bored.
Then, I had what seemed to be a great idea. I retrieved my pocketknife and began to remove the weapons from my soldiers. First, I sliced the rifle from my standing soldier. Then, I removed the rifle from the one who was lying down. Next, I cut the pistol out of the hand of the one who was on one knee. The grenade was the last weapon to go.
At the feet of each soldier there was a thin slice of rubber that represented the ground and provided stability for standing. I decided to remove that next. I found that to be more difficult. I had one soldier firmly in the grip of my left hand and was bearing down with considerable force with my knife, much like a whittler would hold a piece of whittling timber, when the knife’s blade slipped off the soldier. It had nowhere else to go.
The big blade of my pocketknife plunged through the thigh of my new chocolate brown wool pants and into my leg.
There are 1,000 things that run through your mind when you’ve stabbed yourself in the middle of a church service. One thing you don’t want to do is jump up and scream, “I’ve stabbed myself.”
I did the sensible thing. I laid my knife aside and quickly peeked through the inch-long slit in my wool pants, whereupon I saw blood. Then I did another sensible thing. With the thumb and forefinger of my right hand, I “pinched it off” and applied pressure. I looked at the clock. It was 12:10 p.m. I would pinch my leg to hold off the bleeding for the next 20 minutes, acting as if nothing had ever happened. When church was finally over, I tried to appear nonchalant as I headed straight for the truck still applying pressure to the wound site.
When we arrived home after church, I showed my mother the slit in my pants and the gash in my thigh. She simply said, “Well, I guess you will be wearing stitched pants until you outgrow them.”
I wore the battle scar on my leg for a much longer time.
But I was thankful…thankful I had not stabbed myself earlier in the service that day. I might have bled to death.
Jack McCall is an author and contributing columnist who writes weekly for The Lebanon Democrat.