My Green Thumbs and Other Thumb Stories

When we were kids, well teenagers, Cec had Kenny and me building a new shop building out from the house in Smithwick. It was a pipe frame, a simple structure. The cross bracing was used sucker rod (the steel rods lengths that were used with windmills to connect the wind-motor to the bottom pump) It was a misty rainy day. Kenny, using the skills he had learned in Ag Class was doing the welding. My job was to hold the long lengths of sucker rod. With it being wet, when he would strike an arc I would feel the current flow through my body. In normal fashion Kenny would lash out at me if I didn’t hold the piece steady. I didn’t exactly enjoy the jolt I was getting each time he started welding but I endured. I finally figured out that if I’d put the bar in place then press hard on it with my thumbs I would only feel the shock right at the point of contact. After a few hours we were finished with that phase of the job.

About two days later, I woke up that morning and both of my thumbs were swollen to nearly 4 times there normal size. They had turned a greenish color. Both of them.

Cec said that the electricity had probably caused the bones to get infected. Sounded like a good diagnoses. Wasn’t like I could come up with any better explanation. It was very unusual.

I tried to go on like nothing was wrong, but soon figured out if both your thumbs are almost as big as your hand it was hard to do anything. I tried to get Kenny help me zip my pants. He wasn’t having any of it.

My mother helped me.

When I got to the car, opening the door was another challenge. Driving was another problem. Opening the car door when I got to school was trying.

My handwriting was even worse than normal, with me holding my pen like a 3 year old.

Walking up and down the hallways looking for someone to accompany me to the restroom was kind of awkward.

Finally Tommy Houy came to the rescue. He became my potty mate for the next few days. What are friends for?

It never occurred to any of us that I may need to go to the doctor.

He Bit My Thumb

There are a few things in life that really don’t mix. Being really tough and drinking too much are a good example of this. Cecil Lewis was tough guy and he drank a way more than he should have.

Back in 80 – 81 I had contracted to build a new state park and campground area down on the Guadalupe River near the little community of Bergheim not far from Boerne, Texas. When I needed him my dad would help me out on projects. On this job he mostly drove a water truck driver. He never drank while on the job that I could tell. However, one Monday morning he showed up for work and it was very apparent that he was in no condition to drive a truck or do anything else. I wanted him off the job before anyone else saw him. I just didn’t need those hassles in my life. It was early in the morning and no one else was there yet. All he needed to do was load up and head out.

I for a few minutes but when I returned he was still there. He had a good reason. As drunks sometimes do, he had left his headlights on and his battery was run down. I agreed to jump start his pickup if he would just leave. While I was hooking up the cables, he said something that I didn’t agree with. He wanted me to know he could drive that truck as well as I could. We got his pickup started and rather than leave he got out and wanted to argue. I finally got right up in his face wagging my finger. He grabbed my hand and bit down on my left thumb and wouldn’t let go. A wrestling match ensued with both of us ending up on the ground. I was finally able to get back on my feet but still stooped over. When I saw that he wasn’t letting go, I put one foot on his chest and stood straight up. My thumb came loose.

The pain was excruciating. I had literally skinned all the hide off of my thumb. When he was once again standing on his feet, I couldn’t believe what I saw. His two front teeth were sticking straight out the front of his mouth. They were still attached to his gums. He then pushed them both, back into place. Making a whistling sound as he spoke, he said “Damn Ron, why did you do that”? Then he started to laugh, a drunk laugh. When he laughed, his teeth would flutter. It was comical looking but all I could think about both of us getting out of there. For the next couple of days they just dangled in his mouth when he spoke. After figuring they weren’t going to take new root and return to normal, he pulled them himself. He lived the last fifteen years of his life with false teeth. My thumb finally healed, but it took a while.

Madeline sees this incident as a low point for the Lewis family. She wasn’t very proud of us. In fact she took it harder than either of us.

Building Campfires

When we were kids we played outside all year round. Weather didn’t seem to be that big of a deal. When it was real cold we just carried more wood and built our campfires bigger. In the summertime a small fire was built so it wouldn’t give off much heat. But on those cold days we’d take Tar Baby the donkey and pull up cedar stumps and drag fallen trees to the clearing out from the house where we had our fires.

I don’t guess we were ever told we couldn’t build a fire. It kept us busy. Out away from house the roofers had left a big block of roofing tar when the house was built years before. I was always fascinated with that black tar. I’d chop off chucks of it and pitch it in the fire to make it smoke more.

Then I graduated to putting some in a coffee can and heating it up and watching it bubble. Not sure why that fascinated me. My mother saw what I was doing and told me not to do it anymore.

Sometime later I was back at it again. I decided that I would bottle some of the hot black goo. This was in the days of women giving home permanents. I came across some of the little plastic leftover bottles. Perfect, those could hold my black bubbling substance.

I was about 8 or 9. Holding the plastic bottle with my right hand and with pliers in my left hand I carefully lifted the tin cauldron and started to pour. As soon as the hot tar hit the plastic it vaporized, leaving the boiling stuff all over my thumb and hand.

I immediately started rubbing my hand into dirt and ash left from the many fires before. With most of the black off, I went to the water trough to bathe it in cool water. Sometime later when I went in the house I stood, always holding my hand behind my back. I guess it was obvious that with a grimace on my face and my right hand behind me something was wrong. My mother finally made me tell her what had happen.

She cleaned and dressed it. It eventually healed, leaving a light scar that I’ve carried on that thumb for the rest of my life. One more time that I should have landed at the doctor, but that wasn’t something we did very often back in those days.

Shooting Turtles

The two stock tanks below the house were overrun with turtles. For fear they would ruin my catfish population I decided to open season on them one afternoon. I was by myself and every time one would stick it’s head up, it wouldn’t live to tell about it.

I was using a lever action 22 magnum. It would hold maybe 15 rounds. When It was empty, I started reloading. Instead of dropping one round at a time in the magazine I decided if I took the plunger rod out I could reload much faster. I hadn’t counted on putting one more shell in than I was suppose to. Due to that miscalculation I needed to improvise. Since the gun was empty, if I stuck the plunger back in and held pressure on it, I could transfer one shell into the chamber then get back to the task at hand.

I hadn’t figured on was while pushing the plunger down that if my thumb was resting over the end of the barrel and it discharged I would blow a little half round circle of flesh off the side of my thumb. That brought an end to my turtle shooting.

When I arrived at the house, Madeline said I was a white as a bedsheet. We wrapped it up with some rags, then called my friend the local doc. He met me at his office, cleaned and bandaged it. It hadn’t hit any bone, only flesh. By law he had to call the local law enforcement officer to report a gunshot incident. I guess they just had to be sure I hadn’t frazzled Madeline’s last nerve and she decided to shoot me in the thumb.

With all that taken care of, we headed off to Vegas the next day where I could explain to every blackjack dealer why my thumb was all bandaged up. It was a great conversation piece.

I never remember returning to the stock tank and going on a shooting rampage again. I guess I decided the turtles had won.



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