Saturday, January 26, 2008

One of my dumber days

I mentioned below in the 7 random and/or weird facts that I had to have a steering wheel removed from my hand when I was 17.

Grab a drink and travel with me back to 1984, when I didn't have the sense God gave a clump of dirt.

What started off as a really normal day quickly turned into a comedy of errors sprinkled with fear before the day was done.

Early one morning, the summer before my senior year, my sister and I hopped into old farm pick-up and drove out to a cotton field 17 miles from the house. Up and down hills, across cattle guards, down muddy turn-rows, and finally to our field.

We had our lunch packed, a thermos of ice water, our lip balm, hats squarely on our heads, and two razor-sharp hoes. We were set to hoe 160 acres of young, tender cotton.

We loved this kind of work. The solitude. The sun. The rattlesnakes. Okay, so we didn't like the snake part, but the money was good and I had my eye on a new pair of boots for school. A little old rattlesnake or 20 wasn't going to keep me from those boots.

The way we tackled a job like this was to park the pickup in the middle of the section and then each of us would take a side and hoe our way towards the center. This way, when we got done we didn't have to trek what seemed like a million miles to get back to the truck. Pretty smart for a couple of dumb farm kids.

We hoed, yelled insults at each other, daydreamed, and killed way too many snakes that day. At least the hoeing went fast since the cotton was little and the weeds hadn't had time to start invading.

Finally, it was time for lunch. We'd done a little over half of the 160 acres and we were ready to dig into that bologna sandwich. We went to the truck, rolled down the windows and left the doors open. Our feet and legs were covered in a fine layer of dirt. Sweat ran down our backs and faces. It must have been close to 100 degrees.

We ate, talked, and dreamed about the future. All too soon it was time to get back to hoeing. My sister wanted to sit for just a little longer so I agreed.

I'm a fidgeter. I can't just sit and do nothing. I have to be doing something with my hands. So on this fateful day I started playing with the steering wheel. It was a shiny chrome number with graduated holes in each spoke.

Kind of like this one.

I began on the end with the little hole and methodically poked my index finger in each one. Then I switched to my middle finger. Poke. Poke. Poke. Poking each hole while listening to my sister talk. Then it was time for the ring finger. For some reason, I went out of order this time. I poked the little hole and then the biggest hole. Then the middle hole.

Imagine my surprise when my finger slipped all the way into the hole. Now, imagine my shock when my finger wouldn't come out of the hole. Oh crap! I tried pulling, twisting, everything. It was stuck.

My sister was sitting there with her head back, eyes closed, yammering away like she had a certain number of words to speak or die. I was too shocked to utter a word. I finally got her attention by pulling her hair. (Yes, I'm the tactful one of the bunch.)

She started laughing. Then she realized I was truly stuck. Oh dear! We tried pouring water on it thinking that might loosen things up. Nope. Now there's mud all over my feet and legs.

Okay, how about lip balm. Frantically we put lip balm on my finger and the steering wheel hoping that a little lip grease would work. Nope. But now my finger smells like watermelon and my muddy feet and legs are greasy.

By now my finger is swollen and has a lovely blue cast. We know it's not going to come out while sitting in the middle of a cotton field so we decide to pack up and head for the house.

The only problem with going home, we have to drive to get there and I'm firmly attached to the steering wheel. Did I mention the farm truck didn't have power steering? We gathered our wits, our hoes and started down the turn-row, headed for the house.

Sometime during our 7 hour stay, the tail-water had gotten out and made a huge mess. I'm talking mud like you've never seen. We fish-tailed, slid, and got stuck trying to get back to the road. It's hard enough to drive a truck with no power steering, but to drive essentially with one hand is nearly impossible.

I cried. How stupid could I be? I was supposed to be the smart one. I was the oldest after all and the younger ones did stupid stuff. Not me!

We finally made it to the highway and high-tailed it to the house. Barney wasn't home and we couldn't get him on the radio. I made my sister go in the house and call my mother at work. Mom said she'd be home as soon as she could get there and she was bringing a cooler of ice. Ice? For what? My severed hand? More crying ensued.

I had all of these horrible thoughts racing through my mind. Would they have to cut my finger off? Would they stop at the finger or go for the whole hand? How would I ever get married? If I did get married where would I wear my wedding ring with no hand? You might say I was getting close to hysterical.

While we waited I had my sister get a screw driver and a wrench and I proceeded to tear the steering wheel out of the truck. Before that day, I had no knowledge of how stuff like that was put together, but I was determined not to lose my finger or hand if I could help it.

By the time Mom came home I was in the bathroom with my hand and attached steering wheel in the bathtub full of ice water. My finger was really blue and it hurt. She called Granddad and he said to try some grease.

We dried off my finger and started slathering on the Crisco. We could get it to budge a little, but then my finger would swell up even more. Mom finally said enough and packed me, my steering wheel, and the cooler of ice in the car for a trip to the doctor's office.

That had to be the longest 15 mile trip I've ever made. My mother didn't mince words and I had no choice but to sit there and take it.

"Yes, I know better."

"Yes ma'am, I know it was stupid."

"Of course I'll pay for it."

On and on it went.

We finally arrived at Dr. Gregory's office and were discreetly ushered into an exam room. Well, as discreet as you can be with your finger stuck in a steering wheel that's covered in a neon yellow towel, parading through a waiting room full of people.

Dr. Gregory came in, took one look, and promptly started belly laughing. He said he'd seen a lot of silly stuff in his life, but I won the prize for the silliest. Thanks Doc.

Once he recovered, he set about trying to get my finger out of that entrapping metal. He tried binding my finger with string to compress it. That didn't work. He tried pulling it out, but that caused too much pain. Finally, he said, "We're going to have to cut it off." I fainted.

When I came around, my finger was being very gingerly cut out of the steering wheel with a pair of bolt cutters. Once he was sure my finger was okay and that it wasn't going to fall off due to lack of blood he said I could go home. I gathered up my steering wheel, bright yellow towel, and ran to the car, leaving my mother to deal with the paperwork and people.

I never did get the boots I so desperately wanted. Instead, I paid for a pair of bolt cutters, a doctor's visit, and a new steering wheel.

My dumber day has led to years of being the butt of family jokes. That's okay. It's built character. I kept that steering wheel for a lot of years. Maybe as a reminder to keep my fingers to myself or maybe because we had such a close bond for a while. Who knows.

To this day I don't stick my fingers where they don't belong, even if it's only up my nose.


Annie said...

Bless your heart! That makes me queasy just reading about it. So glad the doc got it off. Sewing would be such a challenge...

Sue@CountryPleasures said...

Oh my, you are a good story teller, I felt like I was right there! I bet you don't try that again! I can't believe you girls hoed 160 acres!

JLynnette (Aunt Jo) said...

Annie, right you are. Once it was over I could laugh about it, but during it wasn't quite so funny.

Sue, thank you! Like I said, I keep my fingers to myself and out of anything that might not give it back.

We use to hoe all summer long and did it from the time we were 11 or 12 until we graduated. Once we got old enough to drive, we'd drive tractors and other farm equipment too. I miss it.