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A Country Kid's Thorn in the Flesh

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie

"What you limping about, boy?" papa inquired. "Oh nothing much, pa. It'll be OK", was my reply as I turned to limp away. I was just a 10 or 12 year old barefoot, shirttail country kid and I knew full well why papa was so eager to know. He highly enjoyed taking me down and using his pocketknife as a surgical instrument to remove an infected splinter from my foot. But I knew from past experience, that was a very painful and unpleasant experience even with my tough leathery feet, so I tried to avoid papa's surgical procedure as long as possible.

You see, I had learned to tolerate the minor pain caused by the splinter, for a while at least, to prolong the advent of greater pain and agony. Usually I never complained one bit and no one was even aware that I had a splinter in my foot. That is, until after a week or ten days when it became so sore from infection that it caused me to limp and hobble around. That's when papa began to notice it and with each passing day, he became more anxious to sit on me while he remove the splinter, "before it made me really sick", he'd say.

It most assuredly wasn't easy growing up in a primitive rural area of Northeast Texas during the Great Depression. I had a dad that practiced delicate surgery without a medical license and I had two siblings, older sisters that were mama's girls. They never got out very far away from the front porch. They helped mama around the house a little. They primped a lot and did their hair repeatedly while modeling their clothes in front of the long panel mirror hanging on the bedroom door. They did all the girl things and day dreamed of their future with a "prince charming". They never learned to milk a cow, slop the hogs or lay-by the corn crop. They never mid-whiffed a laboring farm animal, nor even marked a boar hog. Papa and me did the "Man" things and were all over the place and everywhere about, tending animals, gardening, hunting, fishing and working on the old family car.

Mama often times called me "Manny" (as in my little man), a name her uncle Mayo Clark had tagged me with as a very small child. She often said, "Manny, y'all work on that old car all week, just to get to go to town in it on Saturday". And she was really "right on" with that point of observation.

All the while papa held a regular job as a pumper working there in the big Rodessa Oil Field near McLeod in Cass County. That is usually where I picked up a splinter while following him about the oil patch, playing around and watching him as he performed his duties. In the early days of that oil field, the oil companies used a lot of boardwalks as access to the oil wells in remote areas. Some oil field workers called them "cat walks". The boardwalks were usually made of two rough 2"x12" oak boards laid side by side and supported by legs, stilts or piers underneath, often running for a long distance. These boardwalks spanned small ravines, ditches and swampy areas. They would extend from the road to an oil well, a tank battery or maybe a gas flow meter loop.

I would often skip along these boardwalks up very close to the tree limbs and among the pretty fall leaves and muscadine vines during autumn or among the lovely, fragrant blossoms, the berries and wild grape vines during springtime. All this joyfully filled a country boy's time and was a great amount of fun. Fun that is, until I carelessly skipped into a splinter on a rough board and sunk that sucker deep under the tough sole of my bare foot. The splinter would sometimes be an inch to an inch and a half long. If I could not remove it myself, it remained there until I started limping or hopping around and then papa noticed it. These were some of my earliest lessons in life about pain management and the suffering, both physical and emotional, which often comes with our daily living.

Now, those boardwalks weren't the only place for a barefoot country kid to snag a splinter, but they were the most common place.

"What you limping about, boy?" "Oh, nothing much, pa. It'll be OK. Must be just a grass burr or a brier thorn. Nothing much. It'll be OK, pa. When are we going fishing again?"

Sometimes I might be able to avoid papa's pursuit to perform surgery, but it would inevitably happen sooner or later. I just knew his mouth watered to do "surgery" on me. He would turn me belly down while he sat on my legs and pulled my foot up. He then took his "clean" pocketknife that had a freshly sharpened "surgical" blade (the same blade he often used to mark pigs and calves) and he carved the tough hide along the length of the splinter, where he soon could just flip it out of there. Oh! How painful it was. No stitching was ever in order, no matter how big the incision. Then pressing out the infection, a good application of iodine was used. I was then released to the "recovery room" where maybe a Band-Aid might later be applied, if I was lucky enough to get that follow-up treatment.

To tell you the gospel truth, I was really glad to get that splinter out and after the excruciating pain and agony was all over with, it was actually a great relief. A relief very similar to the "popping" or lancing of a boil or risen on our posterior section. You know the feeling I'm talking about. Doubtless few among us has escaped the boil or risen.

Papa performed that delicate surgery too, when necessary. Poor country folk did what they had to do to survive during those hard times. I'm extremely happy I survived another "Country Kid's Thorn in the Flesh."

N. Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray" >
August 1, 2006 Column
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