I Killed The Nazi But He Smashed My Toe

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We were born in the 1930’s, remembered Pearl Harbor, watched our dads, uncles and cousins go off to the armed forces, grew Victory Gardens on our lawns, knew about tire and gasoline rationing along with sugar and wheat, had air raid drills sitting in the halls of our elementary schools with our heads tucked between our knees, and were thoroughly indoctrinated with the national wartime effort by sitting around the radio with our grandparents listening to FDR and his fireside chats.

Televisions were somebody’s fantasy and the idea of computers and smart phones were unheard of.  So we played marbles, mumbly peg, kick the can and softball.  But our overwhelming favorites were war games.  Why not?  Every hero we knew was fighting either Germans or Japanese.  We could not fly, nor did we have a boat, so when we fought Nazis we were Army infantrymen and when we fought Japanese we were Marines. A coin flip to start the game determined whether our nationality that day was American or one of the dread races that cursed the earth.

kids-1940On a given day, I was a US Army infantryman fighting the hated Nazis.  My theater of war was the loft in the garage at Nolan Read’s house.  My weapon was my special creation and feared by all who faced it.  I had the only repeating rubber gun in the neighborhood.  Everyone had single-shot rubber gun pistols, or rifles, but none had yet caught up to the technology of my five shot machine gun.  I won’t bother you with the engineering, physics or materials required for my gun, but take my word it was a fearsome weapon.

I climbed to the loft of the garage for camouflage behind a wash tub and an old chair.  The Nazi, a.k.a. Bill Brock came sneaking quietly into the garage.  His gun was poised to put an end to my day.  He searched each spot of concealment on the ground level before he came to the wooden ladder leading to the loft where I hid.  He was such a vulnerable target I did not even have to shift my position.  All I had to do was wait until his burr head, and floppy ears peered over the edge.  When I could see the whites of his eyes, I unloaded.  All five shots at point blank range—splat, splat, splat.  He screamed and fell backwards off the ladder to the dirt floor of the garage where he began his impersonation of a turtle on its back.  The fall, of course, had expelled the air from his lungs, and he had the fear of death in his eyes.  I took pride in my enemy’s pain and laughed at him as he crawled on all fours out of the garage and disappeared.

I waited long enough to be sure there were no other Nazis lurking around ready to ambush a lone GI with an empty machine gun and climbed down off the loft. I gathered my expended shots and made a few cautious steps to the door of the garage. When my bare foot appeared on the ground outside the door, it was greeted with a smashing blow from a croquet mallet.  Somehow the Nazi had been resurrected and experienced his revenge. Now he sat and  laughed while I suffered the greatest pain of my life—before or since.

When the shooting stars cleared my eyes, and my head quit spinning, the retching began.  I tried to stand but could not endure the blood circulating in my foot.  All I could do was lie on my back with the foot in the air and hold tightly around the ankle to keep it from throbbing.  Amputation without any anesthetic would not have been more painful.

After I threatened to choke him to death, stab the corpse at least a hundred times, cut out his liver and feed it to my dog, he quit laughing at me and disappeared again.  Within an hour, I could limp the three houses away to my house and conceal myself in the bathroom with a roll of adhesive tape.  I wrapped it tightly around the toe to cut off the circulation so I could stand the pain. I was ready to join the gang as we rode our bicycles to Sycamore Park for our scheduled soft ball game.  I limped badly, struck out three times and did not have to run, and made the afternoon.  But my trauma was not over—not by a long shot.

The toe remained in its sepulcher for the weekend, wrapped tightly in its adhesive shroud. My mother and dad left on a trip on Monday, and my sister and I were to stay with grandparents for the week.  Grandmother Scott was a compulsive cleanup person.  Nothing was ever dusty or out of place in her home.  She attributed it to growing up in a house with dirt floors and log walls.  About ten minutes into our stay she asked, “Why is the tape on your toe?”

“Oh, I mashed it and it just feels better wrapped.”

“It sure is dirty.  How long has it been wrapped?”

“Oh, three or four days, I can’t remember.”

“I want you in that bathroom immediately, and take off that tape and let me see it.”

“Aw, Granny.”

“Don’t ‘aw’ me, young man.  Get in there and do as I say.”

She stood in the door and looked over my shoulder as I began the laborious task of unpeeling the adhesive tape.  Each layer revealed more trouble.  I got down to the red infection and puss when she exclaimed, “Boy? Your toe stinks to high heaven!  Smells worse than rotten eggs!  Look at those streaks up your ankle. I hope we can clear it up before they have to cut off your whole foot.  Take off your Levis and put your foot over the side of the tub.  We are going to soak it for a while in hot water.”

“Yes ma’am.”  I knew I was in trouble when I saw it.

She came back in a few minutes with a box of Epsom Salt and generously sprinkled it in the water that was already too hot while she added more from the stove.  “When it begins to feel cool, call me and I’ll add some more.”  She left me sitting there with nothing to do except fidget and stare at the wall.

In a while she came back to say, “I’m going to move you to the back porch.  Your granddaddy will be home from work in a few minutes and y’all can talk while you soak it some more.”

“Isn’t that enough soaking? My skin is already shriveling up.”

“Don’t argue with me.  Anything is better than losing your foot.  Wrap it in this towel and come on to the porch.”

“How long do I have to soak it?”

“I don’t know, but I’ll know when it’s time to quit.”

Granddad laughed with me after he had asked how my toe got hurt.  Then he told me about his day at the railroad yards switching box cars.

Grandmother came back in about an hour, and I thought I was glad to see her until she began her medical treatment for phase two.  She propped my foot on a short stool to begin to purge away the puss and infected skin.  No, she was not gentle.  “Soft wiping will not get that crud off,” she said, “now sit still.”

After her diligent scrub, she put my foot back in a pan and filled the bottom three or four inches with kerosene.  “It will cure anything,” she said, “even snake bite.  And we’ll be doing this until all the red streaks are gone.  Tomorrow we will know if we have saved your foot, or not.”

Apprehension overwhelmed me as I asked, “What if we can’t stop the red streaks?”

Granddaddy could not resist.  He said, “You remember seeing her put a chicken on that chopping block out there with a hatchet in her hand?”

She cut him off before he could finish his ribbing by saying, “Hush, Ed, he is scared enough as it is.”

Grandmother was born in 1886 on the edge of the West Texas plains near Cisco.  There were no ER’s anywhere and no hospitals closer than a two day ride in a buckboard wagon.

They treated themselves with tried and true home remedies.  She was persuaded cleanliness; Epson Salt and kerosene would heal anything.  In a few days, the redness and puss were gone, and she began the final phase of the healing process.  The toe nail began to come loose, and she carefully lifted it enough day by day to clip off a piece with her scissors until she got it all off.

By the time my mother got home from her two week trip, it was a finished story we could tell her about.  The Nazi survived also, and we are still friends who converse by e-mail.

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