What do I do to relax? Carve a piece of wood or a deer antler, maybe. I’m not great; not bad either. What I can teach you about carving has to do with very sharp tools and very hard woods. If you are saying, “Uh oh,” you’d be on the right track.
It was the late 1970’s when Barb (my wife), Allen (my son), and I were on our way home from summer travels. By a stream in Colorado, I picked up a piece of wood-a broken branch about seven inches long and slightly smaller in circumference. We had backpacked in Rocky Mountain National Park that summer and I wanted a reminder of that event. I bought an Exacto knife and packed it away with the piece of wood. I had an idea for a carving. I don’t know why I thought I could carve, but I wanted to give it a try.
On our journey home, we stopped in Lock Haven, PA. in the early afternoon. Barb’s sister, Dixie, left us a key to use her apartment. She was off on vacation herself. We weren’t familiar with the area but found the apartment and settled in.
I pulled together a lunch. Later, Allen, eight at the time, nestled in a chair with some comic books. Barb put on the television and I pulled out my piece of wood and trusty Exacto. I had already begun carving the backpacker I’d envisioned. The knife slid along the surface. I cradled the piece in my left hand, while biting the sharp blade into the applewood, drawing it towards me over the surface. Suddenly, it slid over the piece, not biting at all, and sunk into my wrist.
Blood spurted up. Instinctually I dropped everything to grab my left wrist with my right hand, applying pressure while elevating my arm above my head. I ran to the bathroom, trailing blood along the way. Barb followed me. Allen dropped his comic book at the commotion, not knowing what to make of it.
I was afraid to look at the slice, since I was pretty sure it was deep. Blood dripped down my arm. It didn’t take us but a minute to determine I needed stitches. That meant finding the local hospital…a problem in the pre-GPS, Google Maps days.
Being in an apartment building was helpful. Barb and I went to the next apartment and knocked on the door. No-one home. On to the next. Picture Barb with her hand over mine, both covering my wrist, attempting to stem the red flow making its way down my upraised arm. Would you open the door to us? In my mind, I thought I looked like a suicidal woman who had just slit her wrist. Not a pretty picture to present at anyone’s door.
On the second attempt, a kind man took the measure of us through his half opened door. After Barb’s explanation, she asked for directions to the local hospital. He, with gestures and a few umms, told us of left turns and rights, a block here, a store there. We looked at each other. I shook my head conveying this isn’t going to work. Barb responded, “I know its an awful lot to ask, but could you drive there and we’ll follow you in our car?” He wasn’t enthusiastic, but he agreed.
What amazes me is that we left Allen alone in the apartment. I’m assuming with strict instructions not to open the door for anyone! But still, we left him. That part is fuzzy. Shows how muddled in panic our thinking was, I guess.
We arrived at the hospital, greeted by a yellow line that led to the ER. Follow the yellow brick road came to life. We, however, were not skipping along. Finally, escorted to a small room, we were met by a very handsome, young doctor. I say very handsome, like he should have been on General Hospital. The nurse assisting him, not so pretty, blatantly flirted with him the entire time we were there. He, to his credit, was all business.
Barb began to look squeamish as they swabbed my hand with disinfectant and then opened the wound to see how deep it went. I, on the other hand, found it fascinating to peer inside the layers of newly parted flesh. That’s when Barb was asked to leave the room, her green pallor threatening to turn to a full blown faint.
Three stitches inside and six outside made quick work of my mishap. We were then ready to go back to the apartment. A very relieved little boy greeted us. Barb made me, I repeat, made me put away the Exacto and the carving.
Here’s the funny thing. Forty years later, two of Barb’s sisters were visiting for her birthday. I read this story to them. Susan broke in, “Wait a minute. You didn’t leave Allen alone. I was there! I was taking a nap when Barb woke me to say ‘I have to take Gail to the hospital. Please stay here with Allen.”
Susan, who lived in Iowa in the 70’s, tried to figure out why she’d been traveling with us. Neither Barb nor I remembered that she was there at all. When Al and his wife joined us later that day, we asked him. He didn’t remember Susan being there either. Poor invisible Susan! I knew Allen wasn’t at the hospital with us. Having completely wiped Susan from my memory, I figured we must have left him alone. That would have been weird. I feel so much better about it now. I’m not a bad mom after all. We had lots of laughs over all of this.
Getting back to Carving 101…my advice is as follows. First: Never, EVER, draw a knife or carving tool toward your own appendages. Always carve away from your body. Second: keep a first aid kit close at hand, and, perhaps…umm…directions to the local Emergency Room.