Earlier this week, I was finishing cutting vegetation around the barns at Damphewmore Acres when I spotted a vigorous “ink berry” plant along a weedy border. It was loaded with ripe ink berries.
Before I continue, 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 US. One caveat: all parts of the plant of ink berry are poisonous.
Leaving that definition aside, when I saw the plant it brought back a memory from my childhood in Moran, Kansas, about what I now see as a “bloody joke.”
It was during an era around 1950 when cutting firewood for the winter was common. It was also common for a gang of neighbors to work together to lay out the winter supply of firewood. The most common way for the crew to work was for some men to fell and limb the trees, others to drag the tree trunks and branches to the large circular saw, others to manipulate the branches through the circular saw, and others to split. the largest pieces of wood.
I will mention that a circular saw is one of the most dangerous gadgets ever invented. The circular cutting blade was driven by a tractor and belt and the blade rotated at an alarming speed with a similar menacing buzz. The blade was not protected and the users put their lives and limbs at risk every time they made firewood. The danger was known to all, but ignored by necessity.
However, before chainsaws were invented, circular saws were the most effective and efficient way to cut large amounts of firewood. Anyone who has spent much time cutting wood on either end of a crosscut hand saw will attest to that fact.
Anyway, that’s the background. Here’s the damn story of the practical joke. I was somewhere around 8-10 years old. The circular saw team turned to our neighbors. The team consisted of Austin, Harvey, Vance, and my dad, Czar E., plus a few other guys I can’t remember.
It was close to noon and the boys were getting ready to go to the communal lunch prepared by the wives of the crew. Vance, one of the younger members of the crew, spotted an ink berry plant, laden with ripe red berries, not far from the circular saw. Vance hadn’t been married very long.
The sight of the ink berry gave him an idea for a practical joke. He was wearing knee-high rubber boots and thick woolen socks. He started the prank by taking his knife and cutting off several bunches of ripe ink berries. Then he dropped them into one of his boots and followed the berries with his stockinged foot and crushed the ink berries until his woolen sock was soaked with what looked like fresh blood.
He told a couple of crew members to “help” him limp onto the enclosed porch. He then planned to tell his wife that the ax he was using to split the wood had ricocheted off the cut wood on his foot.
And that’s what happened. He told his wife the story and then pulled her “bloody” foot out of the boot to show her how sick she was. Needless to say, his wife, and all the other wives, were alarmed at all the “blood.”
The thing is, when the joke was revealed and all the male crew members started laughing, all the women didn’t see the humor in the joke.
It was quite small, but I still remember that there was a lot of social tension around the table during lunch that day.
Well, that memory buzz brought a couple of others to mind. One that I call a “very close call,” not to me, but to Burl, the bow-legged elderly rancher who was our landlord in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Burl and I were sawing through a pile of branches he had gathered for his winter wood supply. She insisted that he would be the guy closest to the buzzing buzz saw because he “didn’t want me to get hurt.”
Long story short. With the circular saw buzzing, a pile of wood gathered around Burl’s feet. Finally, he tripped over a piece of wood and fell into the saw blade. He caught himself just in time, but when he withdrew his cotton-gloved hand, the saw blade cut cleanly through the palm of the glove, but Burl’s hand had neither a scratch nor a cut. Burl paled and said to me, “Now THAT was close.”
The memory of the third buzz was not a “close call” for the recipient, but rather a permanent impediment. Gar Macomber was a nice old man who ran a business on his land on the west side of Bronson, Kansas. Gar sold garden plants and, as I recall, he also had a small blacksmith shop.
But, what I, as a little boy, remember most about Gar was his peg leg, not an artificial limb like you see today, but a pure wooden peg leg that he wobbled on. It was too little to understand the rudeness when I asked Gar bluntly what had happened to his leg.
He smiled wryly and told me that years ago he was cutting firewood with a circular saw and the saw blade came loose and instantly severed his leg just below the knee. I remember Gar saying, “It happened so fast he didn’t even hurt me. One second she had two legs and the next she had one.”
Gar’s story left a lasting impression on me about the dangers of circular saws.
I will close this week with a lament for the passing of two good people whom 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’s “Sunday Morning.”
Roger and I were friends who rarely saw each other, but our paths often crossed as public speakers. Roger and I were soul mates in our love of country life. RIP.
The second death 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 somewhere in our basement a Loretta Lynn vinyl record with the grooves worn by the needle on my turntable. RIP.
Words of Wisdom for the Week: “The difference between slow and lazy and thorough and thorough is whether I’m doing the work or someone else.”
Have a nice ‘un.