My earliest memory is not exactly a pleasant one.
It was probably March of 1952 and I was about a month shy of my third birthday. We were living in a house on N. Front Street in Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania, we being my parents and me. My father was at work on his father’s farm about a mile or so outside of town, and my mother was doing laundry in the room in the rear of the house.
On waking up that morning, I came downstairs and sat in a chair in the middle room looking at a book of some sort, when my mother went outside to hang up a load of wash in the back yard.
Somehow I must have gotten it into my head to be helpful, because I put down the book and went into the rear room where the wringer washing machine was agitating away with a fresh load of wash. I must have pushed a step stool up to the washer because otherwise there was no way I could have done what I did next, which was to pull a garment out of the washer and push it into the wringer.
Alas, when I did that, the fingers of my right hand got caught in the wringer as well. And as the wringer did its thing, it pulled my arm along until it had pulled it past the elbow, where it really couldn’t go any farther, and meanwhile I was screaming my little head off…
Well, my mother heard me screaming and came tearing inside where she did one of the smartest things she ever did. If you look at the picture of a wringer washing machine, you’ll see a bar on top of the wringer. That’s the release, and that’s what my mother yanked, and that’s what set me free. The doctor later told us that many people’s first instinct is to try to pull the arm out, and that can lead to serious damage, so kudos to my mother.
Anyway, the next thing was to get me to a doctor. Since my father had taken the car to work, my mother called my aunt Irene (my father’s sister), who drove up in her Nash and took us to Womelsdorf’s Dr. Light (I believe that was his name; he was not our regular doctor but he was the nearest). He put my arm in a sling and recommended applying cocoa butter to the affected area, that area being just above my elbow where my arm had suffered the most; it left a scar, a scar that remains to this day, although it has faded a bit over the years.
I believe I had to use the sling on my arm for about six weeks, and truth to tell, I actually felt sort of proud wearing it. During those six weeks, I had my third birthday, and we moved to the other house on my grandfather’s farm, where we lived for about five years.
But this story does have a coda.
Sometime later, I’m not sure just when, but probably not more than a few weeks, my aunt and uncle Jane and Allen were visiting us, and I think I was showing them the basement of our farmhouse. That’s where the wringer washing machine now resided. And it just happened to be doing a load of laundry. And for some misbegotten reason I decided I needed to demonstrate to them how I had caught my arm in the wringer. I had pushed the step stool up to the washer before they knew what was happening. Happily, they stopped me in time.
Cue the clown music.