May 5, 2019

From the Vaults: Scars


    My newest set of glasses are a tad wider than my last pair so I was a little shocked to look in the mirror one day and see two scars on the outside corner of my left eyelid.  I also noticed a third right below my lower lip. I guess what startled me is having no recollection when or where I collected these three badges of honor. It could be that they have become more noticeable as gravity helps my aging face sag around the edges.  The fact that there are two marks, side by side that resemble quotation marks and one that looks like a large period makes me wonder exactly what caused them. Some people collect tattoos and piercings. My brother was the one in the family who collected broken bones.  I guess it was my lot in life to be the one in the family who collected scars.

    My earliest ‘badge’ was collected when I was between three and four years of age.  We were living in our first Marquette house on Kaye Street, a block west of Seventh Street.  Three blocks farther west stood the Picqua Mill site where the Marquette Public Schools would build the new high school eight years later.  Marquette was expanding to the west and this neighborhood was a kidville populated by young families. Our next door neighbor worked as a football coach at Northern Michigan University and they had a daughter about my age.  I do not remember her name, but I do remember we played in the front yard a lot when my brother and sister were at school. It was this young lady with a great arm that gave me my first scar.

    One must understand the mind of a preschooler to find the logic of lobbing bricks at someone, so don’t expect me to find any logic here.  For some reason, she did just that and nailed me in the middle of my forehead. I am not even sure how long I stood there with blood running down my face, but that is where my brother found me when he came home from school.  Mother patched me up and being young enough to heal quickly, I (apparently) escaped with no further damage to my thick skull or growing brain. The scar that remained wasn’t all that visible, until the next time I conked my head.  It was rather alarming because the next knock didn’t draw blood, but it did raise what my dad called ‘a goose egg’ that felt big enough to cast a shadow. The last part may be an exaggeration, but it sure felt like a unicorn horn in the making.  Though knocks on the head come less frequently these days, I still sport a bit of a bump and a scar to remind me of my old neighbor. Her father went on to work for the Green Bay Packers and I often wondered if this tough little girl with the strong arm might not have made a good quarterback.

    Once we had made the move to our new house on Norway Avenue, I was old enough to get involved in some of my older brother’s high jinx.  If you doubt this statement, I have scars on my knees to prove it. Ron and his buddies decided to build a cart out of lumber scraps and some old lawnmower wheels.  When it was done, the logical place to test it was on Lincoln Street just to the west of our house because that was the only street in this new neighborhood that was paved.  Well, it was paved to the intersection of Center Street where it abruptly turned back into a gravel road the rest of the way down to Wright Street. As little brothers are want to do, I insisted on taking my turn riding this little cart from where the paved part of Lincoln began a steep downslope that continued once it crossed Center Street and turned back to gravel.

    Things were going pretty well until I heard Ron yell, “Turn, turn” because as they got to the end of the pavement, they would push their feet on the board that served as the front axle and turn on to Center Street where they would roll to a stop on the gravel.  I don’t remember ‘brakes’ being part of this vehicle, so when they yelled to turn, I did just that. The only problem was, I had already passed the end of the pavement and when I tried to turn the buggy on the gravel part of the road, it skidded sideways, tipped over, and sent me sprawling on my hands and knees on the gravel.  Ron deposited me in the kitchen and my mother proceeded to pick the pieces of gravel out of the palms of my hands and my knees. Most of the wounds healed pretty well as they tend to do when you are younger, but there must have been one particularly large chunk of rock embedded in my knee. It remained a large, conspicuous scab for a long time which eventually yielded to a scar that is still quite visible to this day.  The lesson was learned, but had I not taken all the hits on my hands and knees, my face would have been the part of me collecting gravel.

    This is not to say that my face remained unscarred in the years after the great brick lob.  We had a neighbor up the street with three kids. The oldest was a year younger than me, so I would be invited to their house to play with him.  They lived less than a block up Norway Avenue so I would walk up there on my own, feeling very much the man about town. They also had a wire haired Terrier (I believe it was an Airedale) who was, shall we say, a little high strung.  This was not a mean dog, he just got a little excited when they had company. They had a long curving set of cement stairs that lead up to their front door and on one of my visits, I was just starting to climb them when the mother opened the front door.  The over excited pup dashed out between her legs, ran down the stairs and greeted me by jumping up and licking my face. Standing on his hind legs, the dog was almost as tall as I was and in his excitement, he managed to run one of his paws down my cheek.  There I stood on the bottom stair next to the driveway, bleeding like a sieve. His claws had opened up four parallel scratches that ran from my eyebrow to my chin and as facial cuts tend to do, they were gushing blood all over my coat. The poor mother was trying to help me without causing me to panic while also trying to get a hold of the dog before he manage to decorate the other side of my face.

    The rest of the trip to the doctor’s office is a bit of a blur.  I do remember the kindly nurse cleaning my wounds in that “oh, it isn’t so bad” manner that nurses tend to use even if one might have a limb dangling at a right angle.  I also remember my mother being very concerned about what would be left behind when my face healed. The doctor said, “He is young, once the scabs heal, the marks won’t show.  Just do NOT let him pick the scabs off!” Anyone who has ever had the urge to pick a scab off a healing wound knows that this is a tall order. Now, consider scabs that are visible every time you look in a mirror.  By the end of the summer, my face had healed and to this day, I think I can see the remnants of this episode if I look very carefully with a bright light, but the doctor was right in his initial assessment (and I did leave the scabs alone).  I was a bit skittish around over excited dogs for a while, but that scar also eventually healed.

    Every once in a while, I would play “Who has a scar story to beat my scar story” with my Junior High classes.  Yes, it sounds gruesome, but hearing that other kids do stupid things that leave lasting marks can be a great time killer if one needs a way to knock off a spare ten minutes when a class period seemed to run long.  I never collected any money on the deal, but I always assured any takers that no matter how good their story was, I had one that would top theirs. After a few souls would tell the class about their scar adventures, I would pull out the brick story as a prelude to the monkey story.

    In the years before NMU built dormitories across the whole field east of Norway and Lincoln, the carnival would set up on one corner of the area just south of Wright Street.  This property used to be the U.P. State Fair grounds in the days before the Fair moved to its current location in Escanaba. The kids in our neighborhood got a double dose of carnival fun because not only did we get to walk a quarter mile across the field to attend, we could go hang around and watch them set up the rides.  I was around nine years old when the monkey story occured because I was still riding my first green and white, medium sized bicycle. Having followed my brother Ron across the field to watch the carnies set up, I noticed a bunch of kids were clustered behind a row of tents that lined the west side of the carnival grounds.  Behind these tents, there were a dozen or more monkeys wearing collars attached to leashes that were tied to the tent stakes. Kids were pulling up the long grass from the field and offering it to the monkeys. They would take the bundle and nibble on the root ends of the plants while chattering away at the kids.

    It looked like everyone was having fun, so I pulled up a handful of grass and offered it to the first monkey at the end of the line.  He took it, looked at it, looked at me, and then faster than I could pull my hand away, he grabbed my right index finger and chomped down on in the middle of the segment between the knuckle and the first joint.  I backed up in disbelief and watched the blood pour from the jagged wound while the monkey just sat there looking quite pleased with himself. I grabbed my bike and began pushing it back home where I horrified mother with my bloodied right hand.  After I told her about the dastardly monkey, she put me in the bathroom and had me run cold water over the wound while she called my father. When dad got home, he stuck his head in the bathroom and asked, “You got bit by a what?” and I will say it hurt just a little when I replied, “A monkey” and he tried (unsuccessfully) to stifle a laugh.  

    The next thing I knew I was laying under a sheet at the hospital while the doctor stitched me up.  Again, my most vivid memory was of the young nurse who was holding my head between her hands and talking softly to keep me distracted while the doctor stitched.  Hearing the doctor and my father discuss the two week rabies quarantine the monkey would be under did not make me feel much better. The doctor helpfully suggested that the next time a monkey bit me, I should bite him back.  I replied that his teeth were a lot sharper than mine, so he suggested that I just wrap him around a telephone pole. Dad suggested that I just stay away from monkeys all together.

     The carnival’s insurance paid for my medical care and threw in 200 ‘free’ carnival tickets to make me feel better.  The problem was, I had no desire to go to the carnival. My brother and sister, however, were fine with treating all their friends to unlimited carnival rides courtesy of my monkey bite.  If you doubt my tale, the next time you see me, ask and I will show you the jagged scar that I still sport on my right index finger.

    With all that said, I survived the bumps and bruises of childhood, but all of my scars together could not match one of dad’s.  My father had the mother of all scars on his lower abdomen. When he was about the age I was when I got beaned with the brick, he survived a burst appendix.  Mind you this was around 1924, and the state of internal medicine and antibiotics being what they were then further cements the idea that we Finlanders are a tough bunch (and have the scars to prove it).  

Top Piece Video – could NOT find a decent song about scars, so Stop Draggin’  My Heart Around  will have to do for a theme song….