If you want to get a lively conversation going among farmers, bring up the subject of scars. For some reason we glory in telling about the marks of maiming or near death that decorate our bodies like so many road signs along the trail of life. Hardly a one of us doesn’t have a crooked leg or missing finger, or a lost limb from getting tangled in a power take off shaft, the most dangerous (and handiest) thing technology every invented this side of the automobile. We all know of someone who lost his or her life trying to argue with power take off shafts. Perhaps it is the gravity of the situation that awes us into wanting to talk about it. I am only here today because once in my very stupid youth, I was lucky enough to be wearing a pair of jeans that were so rotten they were about to fall off from shear gravity. When the jeans caught in the power take off, they ripped completely off my body in a split second and wrapped tightly around the shaft. Better pants and my leg would have been wound around the shaft too. I remember standing there in my underwear, giggling like the idiot I was.
As a child, one of my fascinating past times was sitting in my grandfather’s lap while he rocked and sang. I was totally enchanted by his fingers. His middle and forefinger on his right hand were cut off half way down and I would search out the short stubs as he rocked, hold them in my chubby fists and stare up at him until he told me once more the story. He had caught them in the mechanism on top of the grapple fork which was used to lift great gobs of loose hay from the wagon to the loft. In only a few more years, I would be “setting the fork” and being careful where I set my fingers.
In our local coffee shops, farmers gather every morning to trade stories. The topic sometimes gets around to scars and then the bull really starts flying. I love to listen, unnoticed, from a far off table.
George: “I got a half inch wide scar runs clear up my side ribs plain as a sheep path. Bundle kicker on the old corn binder did it. It kicked me instead of a bundle.”
Bill: “Worst ever happened to me was when I sliced into my leg with a corn knife. Bled like a stuck hog.”
Dave: “You can say what you want, but those old belt driven crosscut log saws were the most dangerous things on the farm. Uncle Tod backed into one in a careless moment, and in a flash it cut a chunk out of his butt half as big as a picnic ham.”
My only real contribution to a “show and tell” of farm scars is significant in a way I did not realize at the time. Dad was driving the tractor pulling baler and haywagon, and I was loading the bales on the wagon. I decided to pull the pin to unhitch the loaded wagon from the baler without alerting him— trying to save time, the old formula for scars. Just as I grabbed the pin, he stopped the tractor, unaware of what I was doing. The wagon lurched forward just enough to smash my forefinger between pin and hitch. We improvised a tourniquet and headed for the hospital in the only vehicle available, our old truck with top speed of 24 mph.
Doc Schoolfield, who began practicing medicine in the Kentucky hills and had seen everything, stared at the bloody mess for a bit, wondering whether to amputate or try to sew the finger back together again. “Might as well give it a try,” he shrugged. At the time none of us knew how important that decision was. A fingertip can be mighty handy to someone who ends up making a living by tapping on a computer. His repair healed wonderfully and today, watching my fingers dance over the computer board, I think of that wise old doctor and what a wonderful surgeon he was even if he never got the credit for being one.