Editor’s note — This is the first of a multiple-part series as the author relives some of his childhood trauma.
THE HOLEY TONGUE
This was one of the stories in a series about my susceptibility to almost getting killed as a kid. I’ve alluded to this little mishap before, so stop me if you’ve heard it already.
On Halloween when I was, oh, maybe 11 or 12, my buddy Ted and I decided to climb the big willow tree in my front yard and scare the bejesus out of passing children. If you have to ask why you don’t know what fun is, folks.
I was climbing ahead of Ted, at least 20 feet up. He was probably 10 feet off the ground behind me. I reached for a branch, it broke, and next thing I knew I was hurtling downward, backwards, towards the gaping jaws of death. You ever fall from a great height backwards? A lot of stuff goes through your head as you fall all slow-motiony and whatnot through the air, like “I hope mom will be OK without me” or “I sure wish I would’ve kissed Debbie Mirkelson on the playground last Tuesday when I had the chance,” or perhaps, “Oh no, when they clean my room they’re going to find those magazines under my mattress.”
Too specific? Never mind.
My point is, you actually experience great insight and retrospection on the way down. I actually think I may have understood The Grand Unification Theory for a second, but sadly it vanished from my brain upon impact. Anywho, as I flew past Ted, and you may find this hard to believe, but he actually yelled, “A-h-h-h-h-h-h-h …” imitating a man falling down a hole.
What can I say? I’ve had some really weird friends in my life.
So I hit the ground, landing on my back, and all the air went out of me. Things went black and I thought, “So this is what it’s like to be dead.”
Except I wasn’t, although for a second I’m pretty sure I saw Jesus.
Soon Ted came down and shook me, probably not the preferred method of treatment, and it was only then that I began to feel the pain. My back hurt like hell, but something was seriously wrong with my mouth. I instinctively reached in there to see what was wrong, and to my horror there was a lot of blood and a substantial sized hole in my tongue. I ran screaming bloody murder into my house, only to be chastised by my parents for interrupting a scintillating episode of “My Three Sons” or something.
Did anyone call 911? Nah. Was I taken to the emergency room? I was not. I got a wet rag, stuck it in my mouth and got on with my life.
Bottom line? Even though I still have a lump in my tongue today, it healed. And my back is fine if you ignore the fact that, on rainy days, it feels like a honey badger is chewing on my lower lumbar vertebrae.
What can I say? ‘Twas a different, and in many ways better, time.
That title sounds like a Strawberry Alarm Clock album from the ‘60s. Anyway…
When I was 16 or 17 I hung around a lot at my sister’s house. She was young and hadn’t been married long, so for a teenager that was the place to go, ya know?
Anywho, one summer night a buddy and I were hanging out there, probably looking for trouble and up to no good. Somehow we got hold of some fireworks and decided to have some fun. First, we went out back and shot bottle rockets at each other, always a guaranteed good time. After a bit, disappointed that nobody was maimed or anyone’s eye was put out, we headed down to the creek to throw M-80s into the water. Lemme tell ya, watching underwater explosions was pure entertainment for a southern Ohio kid in 1973. Probably still is. The fish probably didn’t think so, but hey.
That amused us for awhile, until we began throwing the M-80s at each other, because of course we did. If you don’t know, M-80s are deadly and banned in many parts of the good old USA, basically because they are deadly in the hands of moronic people such as I. How my brother-in-law had possession of these I do not know, but let’s just say he knew a guy. Anyway, in the beginning we at least had the good sense to throw them at each other’s feet, because anyone can spare a toe or two, right?
But, of course, that didn’t last. Because at one point I saw a lit M-80 coming straight for my face. I instinctively threw my hands up, and as luck would have it the M-80 blew right as it hit my hand.
Good God it hurt. I was certain I’d lost some fingers or worse, but I couldn’t tell because A.) It was dark, and B.) I couldn’t feel my hand.
The only thing I could do was run to my sister’s house in a panic. I bolted through the darkness of the backyard with my eyes on the light over her backdoor. I was running as fast as I could, holding my hand as I went, certain I was minus some digits. All I wanted was to get to the house and examine the extent of my horrific injuries.
To reiterate — pitch dark, running full-speed through the backyard, focused on porch light. What more could possibly go wrong?
Turns out, a lot — like being clotheslined by a clothesline.
Yep, the one that I forgot was there.
It caught me exactly at throat level, so my feet kept going but my head stayed where it was. I was upended feet first, flew through the air, and eventually landed on my back.
After lying there stunned for a few minutes I got up and staggered into the house and into the bathroom to check out the damages. Turns out my throat had a rope burn across it and looked as if I’d attempted suicide by slitting my throat with a butter knife. Oh, and my back felt as if a railroad spike had been hammered into it.
But on a positive note, I still had all my fingers, and after a couple hours I could actually feel them.
You know, in retrospect, I really should have been more cautious as a kid.
Nah, that wouldn’t have been any fun.
Dave Shoemaker is a retired teacher, athletic director and basketball coach with most of his professional years spent at Paint Valley. He also served as the national basketball coach for the island country of Montserrat in the British West Indies. He lives in Southern Ohio with his best friends and companions, his dogs Sweet Lilly and Hank. He can be reached at https://shoeuntied.wordpress.com/.