Trees, Bones, and Traction

I was recently inspired by my great friend, Caz Greenham’s blog post, Growing up in the fifties… Really, you should read her memories. Go here and read hers first, I’ll wait.

Wasn’t that a nice post? Now you’re back I’ll tell you that my growing up days were eerily similar to Caz’s. Thousands of miles and a year or two apart, yet quite alike.

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

Summers, out of school, and free, free, free! I think I’ve told you I had three brothers and a sister. I, and my brothers Tony and Michael, were all born a year(ish) apart so naturally we were thick as thieves and always up to some mischief. Honestly, I don’t know how Mother survived. We were up at the “crap of dawn” to bolt down something for breakfast and then out the back door like a shot!

There were caves to explore, trees to climb, and empty swimming holes that needed to be populated. Growing up in the country, surrounded by hills and forests we were in constant danger from imaginary dangers. Today it might be wild Injuns while tomorrow it could be the same African natives who fought with our hero, Tarzan.

There was an abandoned house just a few minutes’ walk from our place. It was falling down, nearly and filled with ghosts and field mice. But, thanks to the movies we occasionally saw at the Allison Theatre in Piedmont it was populated, or surrounded, by Indians, Nazis, and sometimes Elliot Ness and his gang of thugs after our illegal whiskey.

One game we never tired of was “riding trees down”. In this game, you must choose a tall, slender tree that will bend willingly after you reach the top. Pine trees were the best. We’d each choose one and climb as close to the top as possible and begin to sway back and forth, going further and further down with each swing. When the tree finally bends near enough to the ground, we’d jump off and watch it snap back to its (somewhat) original stature. Up to that point I don’t think we’d ever ridden anything more daring than a small Ferris wheel at the carnival, so this was a truly thrilling ride!

One fine summer day we were climbing trees just for the view. For that we chose more sturdy trees with thick, strong branches. Tony chose a sweetgum tree. The sweetgum, for those of you who are uninitiated, is fairly loaded with ammunition in the form of spiky green fruits, not quite as large as a golf ball, but every bit as hard.

This particular tree was fairly slim and Tony decided to see if he could ride it down. Back and forth he swayed, getting the best ride ever thanks to its great height. I thought I heard the tree groan and make a tiny cracking sound. Before I could open my mouth to sound the warning, the tree-top snapped and down went Tony, still riding the tree. Suddenly his left arm was caught in the crotch of a branch and we heard another snap. It was the sound of his arm breaking.

Michael and I got down from our trees in what seemed like milliseconds and saw, to our horror, a point of jagged white bone protruding through the flesh of Tony’s arm, just at the elbow. To say we were freaked out would be an understatement of monstrous proportion! But, we managed to half-carry, half-drag him the 200 yards or so back to the house.

Luckily, Dad had just arrived home from work and both he and Mother ran out of the house to see what all the screaming and hollering was about. Mother’s face blanched as all the blood rushed from it. Dad’s face hardened and his lips compressed into a thin line. Neither of them asked what happened, they just sprang into action. Mother ran into the house to throw on some pants. Women didn’t go out in public wearing shorts in those days! Dad started issuing orders. He and I lifted Tony into his truck and off they went to the Emergency Room.

The hours passed like days as we waited for them to come home to bring us some news. Finally, we heard Dad’s old truck lumbering down the driveway and rushed to the front door to wait for him. He sat down at the kitchen table and told us that Tony’s arm was broken at the elbow and he’d have to stay in hospital for awhile because he needed to be in traction. Of course we hadn’t the slightest idea what “traction” was, but we had a very rude awakening the next day.

I’ll never forget walking into that room in Baptist Memorial Hospital in Gadsden, Alabama that morning. Tony looked so tiny, lying on the white sheets of that hospital bed. His arm was encased in a plaster cast up to his biceps and there was some sort of steel apparatus with a rope attached to it and iron weights at the bottom, near the floor. So, this was traction!

Mother then explained that our brother had spent the evening before in surgery having a pin attached to his bones in order to hold them together to heal. He would be in that hospital bed, struggling with those weights and sometimes excruciating pain for six weeks. I spent nearly every day and night with him, as did Michael. Our youngest brother and sister weren’t allowed visits because they were under twelve.

My poor little brother was finally released from hospital… in time to start back to school! He had though, become somewhat of a celebrity as he walked through the front doors in a cast that covered him from shoulder to waist! That was a rough summer. I think it was around 1966 or 67.

Stay tuned for more memories… seems the well of anecdotes has filled after writing this.

Jim Tony Michael 1962 001

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