Thursday, May 28, 2009

There will be blood...and vomit

Ah, yes, I remember it well. My older brothers John and Andy are playing marbles in their corner bedroom, the one with the airplane curtains. I am out in the hall doing the “little sister hover.” I am terribly curious about this masculine pastime of “playing marbles,” but intruding on male territory is unthinkable—unless I have an excuse. I await my opportunity. Suddenly, a marble rolls out into the hallway under the huge oak bookcase. Holding close to my heart the vain hope of somehow being allowed into the game if I retrieve the errant aggie, I lunge after it. In my eagerness to please I have forgotten a cardinal rule of physics, and my thick skull meets the solid leg of the bookcase.

Crack! goes my cranium, and a torrent of blood starts gushing from my forehead. I cannot see through the flood streaming into my eyes but can hear laughter coming from the northeast, i.e., the direction of the boy’s bedroom. King, the trusty family dog, hears the commotion and comes running. He lovingly laps the blood from my face and promptly vomits. Someone alerts Mom. When she sees her youngest’s head covered in blood and dog vomit she screams—she, a mother of four older children and a doctor’s wife to boot, has forgotten that even a minor head wound gushes enough blood to satisfy the most ardent wrestling fan. Amy puts a towel to my forehead and we all troop to the phone in the master bedroom. Dr. Scott (of the family that gave us our cat Maynard) instructs her to get me right over to his office, as these are pre-911 days. He expertly stitches me up, and before long, alas, only the shadow of a scar remained. I was already fantasizing telling strangers (for everyone in my small circle of home, school, and church would know what really happened) the story of how I got the scar rescuing a baby from a burning building, or perhaps in a deathmatch with another international spy where I used my tumbling skills to lethal advantage.

It’s hard to top another family scar story that comes from my dad’s brother Don. Don was born in 1916 and served in WWII. Throughout our childhood my sister Louisa and I believed that he received the long scar that runs down his face in the sands of North Africa. There he was, locked in hand-to-hand combat with one of Rommel’s finest—perhaps even Rommel himself--when a vicious swipe from a Nazi bayonet ripped his flesh from forehead to chin. Now, Don was—still is—noted for telling a good story, but two little girls curious about a nasty scar on an otherwise handsome face had no idea he was putting them on. Since our own father had no such tale of derring-do from the war—he spent WWII in New Jersey examining soldiers going out and coming back from active duty—we could offer our uncle’s dramatic experience when it came to exchanging tales of family heroism with friends, classmates, and eventually co-workers and in-laws. It was only a few years ago that we brought up this old war story merely in passing, and Don denied ever telling it to his two annoying nieces. He did, however, tell us the true story.

In the 1920’s when Don was a child, cars had very few safety features. One day Grandpa was driving the family Ford down a hill and had to stop suddenly. Without safety belts, child restraints, safety glass or air bags, Don was thrown through the front windshield and the glass sliced his face open. No Rommel, no bayonet.

I think I’ll stick with his other version, and if you happen to ask me about the scar barely visible on my own forehead, I’ll tell you about the cartwheel that foiled an international jewel thief in the upstairs hall near a huge oak bookcase.