St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Scarred Childhood

Brother Marv on the new 1947
Farmall B.  Growing up on a farm
was fraught with injuries, although
I can't remember any tractor
accidents other than Dad and then
Colby rolling over tractors.  
The other day I was taking inventory of my skin.  That happens a lot in June and July as we search for wood ticks each evening in the hope of preventing Lymes's disease. .  If we are lucky, the ticks give up by August, but right now you have to strip and check the hard to see areas.   

Margo is away with her father, who is still having difficulties after his stroke--confusion sometimes.  His memory seems to be OK, but he doesn't tell time right (got up at 3 am Sunday and dressed for church).  He didn't have this problem before his stroke 3 months ago, so Margo is trying to figure out with the help of the doctors if it is a medicine side-effect, a stroke created problem, or the beginning of dementia or??  Not being able to tell time, watch TV meaningfully, or read is surely a hard situation.

When Margo was here, tick checking was a rather enjoyable evening task as I carefully checked her all over for ticks and in turn she checked my back for me.  I think tick season leads to March babies here in the midwest.  However, on my own this summer, the fun is gone.  As I check my body, it is like reminiscing about growing up in the country.  

If you grow up on a farm, it is likely you have some scars to show for it.   There are endless scraped knees, bicycle road rashes, stubbed toes (yes we went barefoot), hammered or door crushed fingers, cuts, etc, but they really don't count unless you have to go to the doctor and get stitches or a cast. A chunk of silage in the eye, even if the doctor took it out--nope, I don't count that at all.  

My earliest scar is the skin dent above my left eye--where the milk can Marv and I were playing with toppled over on me for a 3-stitch cut.  As I remember it, I was 3 and he was 5 and we were playing milkman--lifting the milk can and setting it up on the wagon to haul it to the creamery.  I am pretty sure the milk can was
empty because, unlike me, Marv was a puny little kid like brother Ev (normal weight!).

On my left leg is a slight scar left from toppling over brother Marvin in the house when we were playing with pointed scissors.  He was cutting red and green Christmas chain loops and I toddled over to see what was going on and tipped over onto the scissors (at least that is the story he told).  I don't think there is any truth to the rumor that he poked me with them to keep me from eating all the flour paste.   Two stitches there.  

Falling out of a tree (actually shook until I lost my grip on a branch by Dale), broke my wrist in 3rd grade in the pine tree bordering the Wolf Creek cemetery and the school grounds (automatic home run if you hit the ball into the cemetery).  I coped during the school day by buttoning my sleeve to my shirt button near the neck, holding it up like a sling, until I got home and Doctor Mom who had me try to bend it unsuccessfully, hauled me to see Dr. Riegel who put a fence stretcher (or something like that) on my hand and pulled out until he could pop the wrist bone into place and plaster it there for a month.  No scars, but with a cast on my right arm through to the hand, I could whack my enemies soundly!  

Doctor J. A. Riegel brought me into the world, and his son, Dr. Fred Riegel patched me up as needed. 
Everett, Russ and Marv in our Lee Overalls ready to Farm.  None of those "half pants" for us. 

Dad converted an old horse grain drill to tractor pulled version.  It still had the seat on the back so 9 year old Russ decided to ride around the field for a few rounds to see if the grain was feeding down through the gears and tubes into the ground without plugging up.  The opening for each tube exposed two small gears that somehow helped push the oats through the openings.  Sure enough, one plugged up and needed a finger pushed in to clear it out.  Three stitches and a permanently wrinkled fingernail was the result.  
Note the "ladder" on the open haymow door.  I wonder if Byron, on the right, was using padding!  This is in later days when we came home to help with haying in the summer. 

Hauling hay was a fun job on the farm, as it got us four boys out working with Dad.  Dad was a very hard worker, but liked to joke a little along the way.  We followed in his footsteps, hooting at the wagon driver for jerking at starts and stops and in general goofing around while still working hard.   I still remember the howls from my brothers when I threw the tractor in neutral down the steep road hill while hauling a full rack of straw home.  They were riding on the top front of the 5 bale high load when the wagon started swerving back and forth on the road.  I tried to slow it down, but that exaggerated the swerves and soon the brothers were in the ditch mixed with straw bales.  They weren't hurt at all, but their dignity was injured and I had to really push on them to get them to reload and continue with the hauling. They did like to complain a lot. 

When we unloaded a wagon full of hay or straw bales, we had a rope and pulley hay carrier system.  You stuck the bale fork into 10 bales, signaled the tractor driver hooked to the end of the rope to go forward and up the load went into the haymow.  

We were speed unloading one day, trying to set a record for time to unload 80 bales (4 layers of two bale-fork sticks --8 pullups).  In anticipating my signal to go, brother Marv on the tractor started 3 seconds too quickly and my hand, resting on the hay pulley and rope got into the pulley tearing off my nail.  Mom took me to St Croix where Fred Regal numbed it, stitched it, and in an hour I was back on the load.  Went fine until the numbing went out and man it hurt for the rest of the day and night.  You could feel each heart beat throb in the finger. I lost the "half moon" on my right ring finger and it left a small scar.

Sometimes injuries were at play.  Jumping across our makeshift dam on Wolf Creek composed of a cattle watering tank (that doubled as our minnow tank) I slipped and came down on my knee on the angle iron across the middle of the tank.  A few stitches and a sore knee.  A month later, somewhat healed up, I was practicing at football at St Croix Falls when my friend George said "Hey, you're bleeding all over your leg."  It had opened up again. Two weeks later, somewhat healed, and back to football, it opened again.  I quit football and my direct and sure path to the NFL was closed off.   The scar remained, through later tearing the ACL on that knee while  skiing, and then falling off the roof breaking the leg and three surgeries later leading to a knee replacement made that scar disappear in much more impressive ones.  

We were filling silo at Grandpa Gene's farm (where brother Marv lives--he knocked down the 12 foot silo and used the base for a gazebo).  I climbed to the top of the silo as it was nearly full to do some spreading out the silage and grabbed the top handle of the silo door (stave silos had insert doors that had built in crude steps) and it was loose and down I fell with the door dropping on top of me.  I waited until I could breath and didn't seem to find anything wrong even though there was only a few inches of hay on the concrete floor.  So I put the door back in and went on about my work.  For some reason, I blamed myself for the fall.  I was a heavy kid even at age 12 when this happened, and had already learned to be guilty for things that happened to me and not my feather-weight brothers and parents.   Anyway, we finished the day and filling without me noticing much problems.  Then for two weeks, I walked around bent over and limping like an old man--no running and as easy on the working as I could get by with.  I didn't say anything to mom and dad and tried to look normal when around them and eventually I returned to normal.  No external scars but somewhat of a permanent list to the left when I walk.  
Dad's cousins, the Hughes boys of Barron WI (grandpa Hanson's sister Ella Hughes). Dad was one of 6 boys who lived on adjacent farms next to their 6 boy cousins.  Endless amount of injuries plagued active boys on the farm.  However, all 12 boys made it into adulthood with their limbs intact. 

Haying for neighbor Raymond Noyes, I was climbing into the haymow up the ladder and a ladder step gave way.  Now in barns, there really weren't ladders, but instead metal rungs in the cement barn foundation and then cross boards nailed between the studs in the haymow part.  Most of these had been nailed up sometime when the barn was built and over the years weakened with use.  
Down I tumbled through the hay shoot onto the floor below (with a little hay cushioning the fall onto the concrete floor).  Always these kind of falls were the same.  You fell, had the wind knocked out of you and had to wait until you could catch your breath before taking inventory of what else might have gotten damaged on the way down.  
When I could breath, it hurt with each breath.  No head, arm, leg or other noticeable hurts, just couldn't breath without pain each time. 

  Raymond took me home and Mom to St Croix where the Dr. Riegal pushed here and there on my back and chest pin-pointing where the greatest hurt was.  "Just some cracked ribs.  Your haying season is over for 6 weeks.  Take aspirin when it hurts and don't do any lifting and you will be fine."   And it was--no x-ray, but some stronger pain killers just in case.  I went to Stokely's soon after that for the string bean picking season where all I had to do was drive a tractor bean-picker so it didn't really bother me!

My left shoulder is messed up--drops lower then it should, so much that my suspender keeps slipping off it.  That came from a car accident where my left shoulder hit the car door pillar and pushed it out a couple of inches in a collision.  I think the doctor called it a shoulder separation.  The treatment was pain killers and time--the shoulder just is lower now then the other one.  I have often thought I could go into acting-- the Igor on Frankenstein who hitched around with a bad leg and a misshapen shoulder--and do it with little acting needed.  

So, having not found a tick again tonight, I cover up the injuries with my Superman PJs and drift off to sleep ignoring the twinges, creaks and dents, evidence of an eventful life.   

I fell from the top of this silo, 12 feet down the metal chute on the left side when I was 12 years old.  Other than walking around like a 90 year old man for a few weeks, no problems persisted except a tendency to drift left when I walk.