My family was living in Trieste. This was a time when Trieste was a Free Territory, contested between Italy and Yugoslavia. It later became the northeast corner of Italy.
My brother, who was 8 or 9-years old, took me to the park. I have always had poor proprioception, which is a cumbersome word just meaning that I was seriously clumsy. My sense of where my body was in terms of the world in general was just off by a bit. This particular day I misjudged the speed of a swing on its return journey and got a good whack in the head, knocking me out cold.
My brother, ever the boy scout, decided to leave me there on the ground under the swing while he made his way home as quickly as he could to seek help. Unfortunately for him, HIS sense of where his body was in terms of the world was ALSO somewhat off kilter. (I’m thinking there is a genetic factor in play here.) He had been to school in Switzerland and no less than three times he skied off of a cliff and broke one leg each time. He alternated legs, which I always thought was fascinating.
He didn’t run home the usual way; he went in a relatively straight line, which entailed climbing a wrought iron picket fence. Regrettably, he impaled his right hand on a picket. The picket entered his palm and exited at the base of his pinkie. It happened very fast, since he was in a hurry. Working his had loose of the impalement took a bit longer. When he freed his hand, his pinkie was sort of swinging loose from his palm. He held it with his other hand and ran home.
Here is where fate intervened. Both my mother and my father were home. This was very unusual because my father was almost certainly a spy and was virtually always away behind the iron curtain somewhere in Yugoslavia. (You young ones might have to pause now to look up both “iron curtain” and “Yugoslavia”.)
My brother entered the house, bleeding profusely with his right pinkie dangling loosely from his palm. By this time, I had come back into consciousness and followed the usual route home to our house, avoiding the perilous wrought iron picket fence. We arrived at virtually the same time, since it wasn’t necessary to dislodge any part of my body from impalement.
My mother focused like a hawk directly on my brother’s wound and picked up a paring knife.
“Let me just clean that up before we go to the hospital,” she said calmly.
“What do you mean ‘clean that up’ and why are you holding a paring knife,” my dad asked.
“Harry, his hand is messy. I need to neaten it up. I won’t have him going to the hospital all messy. I’ll just cut off that pinkie,” she said.
At this point my brother started running around the dining room table away from my mother, screaming: “Mommy, please don’t cut off my finger!” My mother was fast and got a hold of his shoulder, but she wasn’t all that strong, and my brother got away from her. I’m pretty sure that panic can make a person more fleet of foot. My mother proceeded to chase after him around the table shouting: “Woody, just let me clean that up.” My father was stunned at the sight of his wife brandishing a paring knife, and also somewhat upset by what she planned to do with said paring knife. He joined the fray and began chasing my mother around the table yelling: ”Rose, you will NOT cut off my son’s finger!”
The three of them circled the table yelling these unusual things over and over. Around and around the table they ran, reminiscent of the tigers circling the tree so fast that they tuned into butter. My mother wasn’t usually fast, but when it came to tidiness, she was driven. My father was not ordinarily a quick man, but he knew his wife and had reason to kick it up a notch. At last, my dad caught up with and disarmed my mother. She was irate. Not only did she not tidy up my brother before his hospital visit but now there was blood to clean up all around the rug under the table. My mother HATED messes.
My dad drove us to the hospital, but had to stop by the side of the road almost immediately. My mother had nail scissors in her purse and was reaching over the seat to my cowering brother in the back trying again to snip off his finger. It would have been so easy if my brother hadn’t cried out thus alerting my father. I myself bunched up my hands in two little fists because I feared she would just snip off one of mine if she couldn’t succeed with my brother. Those who knew her will understand that this was a real possibility. When my mother became frustrated, she got a really strange look in her eyes. It was a freaky kind of look.
My dad took my mom’s purse and emptied it on the side of the road. Finding no other sharp instrument, he put the nail scissors in his pocket; moved my bother to the shotgun seat and banished my mother to the back with me. This really got me worried. Who knew how strong my dedicated mother could be? I was afraid she might just try to tear off one or two of my fingers instead. I cringed in the corner, concentrating on keeping my little hands in tight little fists.
The doctors were able to sew back my brother’s pinkie and splint it. Today he has a couple of great scars and complete use of the finger.
It was serendipity that my dad was there at the moment of my brother’s injury. My brother would certainly only have 9 fingers now, perhaps fewer once my mother began “tidying him up.” My mother was a determined woman when it came to neatness. Savagely determined.