‘Bloody’ practical joke
Early this week I wuz finishing up mowing vegetation around the barns at Damphewmore Acres when I spied a vigorous “ink berry” plant along a brushy edge. It wuz loaded with ripe ink berries.
Before I proceed, let me remind readers that “ink berry” is a common name for American Pokeweed, a colorful plant that grows throughout most of the eastern half of the U.S. A word of caution: all parts of the ink berry plant are poisonous.
That definition aside, when I saw the plant it brought back a memory from my childhood around Moran, Kan., about what I now see as a “bloody practical joke.”
It was during an era somewhere around 1950 when fall cutting of firewood for the winter was common. It was also common for a crew of neighbors to work together to lay in the winter firewood supply. The most common way for the crew to work wuz for some men to fell and de-limb the trees, others to drag the tree trunks and limbs to the big buzz saw, others to manhandle the limbs through the buzz saw, and others to split the bigger wood chunks.
I’ll mention that a buzz saw is one of the most dangerous contraptions ever invented. The circular cutting blade wuz powered by a tractor and belt and the blade spun at an alarming speed with a similar menacing loud buzz. The blade wuz unshielded and users put their life and limbs into danger every time firewood wuz made. The danger was known by all, but ignored by necessity.
However, in the time before chainsaws were invented, buzz saws were the most effective and efficient way to cut massive amounts of firewood. That fact will be attested to by anyone who ever spent much time making wood on either end of a manual crosscut saw.
Anyway, that’s the background. Here’s the bloody practical joke story. I was somewhere around 8-10 years old. The buzz saw crew wuz at our neighbors. The crew consisted of Austin, Harvey, Vance, and my dad Czar E., plus some other guys I can’t recall.
It wuz close to noon and the guys were getting ready to go to the communal lunch fixed by the wives of the crew members. Vance, one of the younger crew members, saw a ink berry plant, loaded with ripe red berries, not far from the buzz saw. Vance hadn’t been married too long.
The ink berry sight gave him an idea for a practical joke. He wuz wearing knee-high gum boots and heavy wool socks. He started the joke by taking his pocketknife and cutting off several clusters of ripe ink berries. He then dropped them into one of his boots and followed the berries with his stockinged foot and squished the ink berries around until his wool sock wuz soaked with what looked like fresh blood.
He told a couple of crew members to “help” him hobble into the closed-in porch. Then he planned to tell his wife that the ax he wuz using to split the wood had ricocheted off the wood sliced into his foot.
And, that’s what happened. He told his wife the story and then lifted his “bloody” foot out of the boot so show her how bad it wuz. Needless to say, his wife — and all the other wives — were alarmed at all the “blood.”
The thing is — when the prank wuz revealed and all the men crew members started laughing — all the women didn’t see the humor in the joke.
I wuz pretty little, but I still remember there wuz a lot of social tension around the table through lunch that day.
Well, that buzz saw memory jogged a couple of others into my mind. One I call a “very close call,” not for me, but for Burl, the elderly, bowlegged cattleman who wuz our landlord in Stillwater, Okla.
Burl and I were buzz-sawing up a stack of limbs he’d gathered for his winter wood supply. He insisted that he be the guy closest to the humming buzz saw because “he didn’t want me to get hurt.”
Long story short. With the buzz saw humming along, a stack of wood gathered around Burl’s feet. Eventually, he stumbled on a hunk of wood and fell forward toward the saw blade. He caught himself just in time, but when he pulled his cotton-gloved hand back, the palm of the glove was cleanly cut through by the saw blade, but Burl’s hand had nary a scratch or a cut on it. Burl blanched and said to me, “Now THAT wuz a close call.”
Third buzz saw memory wasn’t a “close call” for the recipient, but a permanent impairment. Gar Macomber wuz a pleasant old gentleman who ran a business from his acreage on the west side of Bronson, Kan. Gar sold bedding plants and, as I recall, he also had a small blacksmith shop.
But, what I, as a little kid, recall most about Gar wuz his peg leg, not an artificial limb as seen today, but a pure wooden peg leg that he stumped around on. I wuz too little to understand impoliteness when I bluntly asked Gar what happened to his leg.
He smiled wryly and told me that years ago he wuz cutting firewood with a buzz saw and the saw blade came unbolted and instantly cut his leg off right below the knee. I remember Gar saying, “It happened so fast that it didn’t even hurt. One second I had two legs and the next I had one.”
Gar’s story left a lasting impression on me about the dangers of buzz saws.
I’ll close this week with a lament about the passing of two fine folks that I admired. The first was Roger Welsch, the Nebraska humorist, public speaker, author and activist, who made “Postcards from Nebraska” a staple for many years on CBS “Sunday Morning.”
Roger and I were friends who seldom saw each other, but our paths used to cross frequently as aggie public speakers. Roger and I were kindred spirits in our love for rural life. RIP.
The second passing is of country music legend Loretta Lynn. We weren’t friends, but I admired her upbringing and the simplicity and purity of her songs. I have in our basement somewhere a Loretta Lynn vinyl record with the grooves worn smooth by the needle in my record player. RIP.
Words of wisdom for the week: “The difference between slow and lazy and thorough and complete is whether I’m doing the work, or someone else.”
Have a good ‘un.
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