Do-it-yourself Surgery, Part 1

1941 Ten Mile Creek Homestead

We lived in the Boonies and loved it. Wild as the woodland creatures around us, none of us had much for social skills. We played in the woods and the swift running creek that in most places would be considered a small swift river. Then we decided the off-limits abandoned mill pond would be a better swimming hole.

We didn’t mind that when we waded in, it had 2 feet of water and 2 feet of soft mud. Some areas had only a foot of water and 3 feet of mud. The bottom had sharp rocks and some random bottles thrown in by the former mill workers. At least most were deep enough that we seldom found them.

As we found the bottles, we removed them from the pond. Then one of us got the bright idea to build a raft. We crafted our raft from green alder wood, which was easy to cut down with an ax and shape. We built it on the steep bank that dropped off into the pond. It’s a good thing the bank was so steep. That raft was heavy. We finally managed to get it into the pond and it floated nicely. Well, it floated nicely until someone got on it.

The two youngest boys ended up using the raft the most. With both of them on it, it floated, but was about 2 inches under the surface. Due to the high amount of mud under the water which kept the pond a rich mud color, it appeared that the two boys were standing in shallow water holding a long pole, each.

The first time they tried poling the raft, the poles stuck and stayed in the mud. The boys could hang onto the poles and let the raft float on away from them, or they could let go and leave the poles upright, stuck firmly in the soft gooey mud. They finally figured out just how to pole gently to travel around the small pond.

Before we upgraded the mill pond to swimming hole, we used to rescue stranded salmon fry in drying puddles along the creek and dump them into the pond. They grew quite well and soon the pond was stocked with landlocked salmon and good fishing. The fish would freak us out when they bumped into our legs in the water. We managed to scare each other with tales of monsters lurking under the mud.

Somehow, I managed to step on a broken whiskey bottle in the mud and sliced the bottom of my left foot badly, leaving a large flap of flesh hanging. It was bleeding freely and I sat on a rock beside the pond trying to convince one of the other kids to go up to the house and get Mom.

Since we were not supposed to be in that pond, no one would go up and let her know I was hurt. I ended up having to trudge up the dusty road and tell her myself. The flap of flesh was totally caked in dust and mud by the time I got to the house. I was trying not to step down on the wound, but there is not many ways to walk without touching the bottom of your foot to the ground.

Mom tried cleaning the dirt out of the wound and finally decided it was too dirty to replace the flesh flap into the hole. She sat me down on one of the steps outside so we didn’t mess up anything in the house. Then I had to hold my own foot still while she cut the large flap of flesh loose from my foot. She used her sewing scissors as that was the sharpest instrument she could find. My foot would start jerking as she started snipping away the flap of flesh. It took quite a while as live human flesh isn’t easy to cut through. I was having a very hard time holding my foot still. If I let it jerk, I got reprimanded or smacked. She finally tidied it up fairly well and poured merthiolate into the hole. That stuff burns and certainly took my mind off what we had just did.

Mom made a bandage of sorts to cover the entire bottom of my foot as most of it was involved in the damage. I wore a couple of pairs of socks over it to try to keep more dirt out of it. It took several months to heal and at various times it would get infected and it was back to the merthiolate. I had to clean it daily with peroxide and rubbing alcohol which was one way to make sure I never went back into that pond.

Using Daddy’s Falling Axes

Dad by the Jeep

While we still lived near the Oregon coast, we depended on ourselves and our imagination to entertain ourselves as kids. The 5 kids belonging to our Dad’s Catskinner and wife spent most of their time with us, so there were several wild imaginations to cover just about any possibility.

Our Dad started out as a logger before chainsaws were in use in the woods so was a master at felling trees using a double bit ax or a two-man whipsaw. His axes were kept in shaving sharp condition and no one ever touched them. They were works of art, with the heads shaped perfectly and balanced to the nth degree for ease of use during an 8 to 10 hour day.

We first used a couple of Dad’s axes when we devised a new thrill ride. We had been climbing as high as we thought we could safely slide down the outside of cedar trees, but that was starting to seem tame. We then decided to draw straws to see who the loser would be that had to stay on the ground while all the rest climbed the tree. The loser then chopped the tree down with the others riding it to the ground, screaming all the way, then grabbing more straws to do it all over again. It was fun the way riding an extreme roller coaster is fun but didn’t last as long.

We were trying to figure out some way to warm up the creek we swam in so we could actually enjoy the process. The huge trees bowing over the stream seemed to mock our puny kid strength. I don’t remember just who decided we should fall some of the trees along the stream to remove the shade. We quickly decided to just fall all the trees. Those axes were so sharp it usually didn’t take very long per tree to see them fall against the other bank and we soon had the entire area covered in downed trees crisscrossing across the stream we had planned to swim in.

Finally one of the two older boys said he would get those trees out of the way. He climbed up into the tangled mess of trees, taking one of the axes with him. He soon stood up on one tree and started cutting the tree directly in front of him and it made a satisfying splash as it hit the stream. This stream or creek was considered a creek but most of the time it had enough water rushing down it to qualify as a small river. It seldom saw the light of day except through the leaves of dense forest overshadowing it. Taking a drink out of it could give a person a headache it was so cold.

Jerry proceeded to step back onto the tree behind him and cut the one he had just stepped off of and was making great progress on clearing the new swimming hole. The current was fast enough that the cut trees were immediately out of sight on their way to the ocean about 8 miles away with a 500 foot drop in elevation. As Jerry swung the ax, the tree under him shifted and he realized he was on the one he was chopping, it was the last tree to cut.

The tree started down, Jerry flung the ax and was also falling toward the water quite a ways below him. As he rotated, the sun glinting off the razor sharp edge of the ax kept glinting in his eyes. He imagined he was about to not only split the tree but his own head as he hit the water.

My Dad had come back to the house early that day for some reason, heard the chopping and arrived on the scene just in time to see Jerry, the ax and the tree hit the water. The roar my Dad let out scared the rest of us into scattering like quail. Jerry surfaced, saw my Dad and promptly dove for the bottom of the pool. By the time he ran out of air and surfaced again, my Dad reached over the bank and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, picked him up and said “the next time you surface, you better have that ax.”

Jerry did.

Family Fun

BrokenTop
Broken Top Mountain, near the Three Sisters Mountains where we camped

Mom probably had a right to be a little upset. She not only had her own 3 children but the neighbor’s 5 to look after up in a remote area of the Cascade mountain range in Oregon. She didn’t know how to drive so Dad dropped us all off up there and was supposed to be back in a couple of weeks to pick us up. We only had a small Jeep, so after stuffing all the camping gear, food and kids in it, there wasn’t much room for wiggling around. This was well before the lightweight tents and sleeping bags of today. Tents were heavy duty canvas, requiring heavy pipe poles to hold up. Anyone touching the side of the tent if it rained caused an instant leak. Now we were well into our third week on the mountain side with no grocery store in sight, now cash on hand to pay for it if there had been. After all, why would Mom need her purse out in the woods?
We had already done all the usual things we did out of sight of the tent and Mom.
Found the quicksand bog – check
Took turns jumping off the log into the quicksand – check
Saw who would chicken out and beg to be pulled out before the quicksand got completely up to their chin – check
Finally pulled the irritating one back out just before the quicksand covered the mouth – check
Found the old time log bear trap – check
Cleaned out the debris in it – check
Checked out the trigger device – check
Released the log door so the one that triggered it could escape – check
Tried to talk the irritating one into trying it – check
By this time, Mom was getting a little irritable, she had thrown in a 25 pound bag of split peas in the groceries and we were down to eating those, three times a day. We had picked every berry that we could find, tried to capture fish with our bare hands and chased a deer that wandered by but we couldn’t catch it. Still no sign of Dad.
I don’t know if the neighbors had noticed their children were missing yet or not or just were enjoying not having them around, but no one seemed to notice we were overdue.
Finally, Dad showed up. Things were very quiet and tense and he even took us to a café in Sisters, Oregon for a burger each which was unheard of. The several hundred mile long ride home was made in almost total silence. The atmosphere was so thick it could have been cut with a knife. My parents never argued or raised voices in front of us, but we all knew something wasn’t too kosher in the Jeep.
Nothing was ever said in my hearing, so I have no idea how that played out in private. The next year when we went for out annual camping trip, we smuggled a gun under the load.

My Autobiography

Book Cover

My book is now available at the link at the bottom of this post.
6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on White paper
302 pages
R.E. Stowell
ISBN-13: 978-0692260326 (Custom Universal)
ISBN-10: 0692260323
LCCN: 2014914191
BISAC: Biography & Autobiography / Personal Memoirs

I was born 9 months, 2 weeks after Pearl Harbor, so it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what brought me about. My father wanted to leave behind a male heir when he went off to fight. I didn’t turn out to be male and he didn’t get to go fight. He never quite forgave Uncle Sam or me.
I didn’t know it, but my childhood would give me the skills I would need to survive and to thrive in Alaska, many years later.
If you want to read about the perfect Alaskan woman, you have the wrong book. This book is about me.
CreateSpace eStore: https://www.createspace.com/4910851

Roll Barrel, Roll

House we were building

Having the five extra kids around all the time gave us someone to play with, if nothing else. Since they were around all day every day, Mom claimed she raised them but they did go home at night. The oldest boy considered himself too adult to play with us, and the next oldest thought he should be Boss as he was older than the rest of us
. We found an old barrel with the top cut out so decided to use it as a toy. We would roll it up the long slope of the hill the grave was on, near the house, then take turns getting in it and the rest pushing it off the hill and we would ride it down. The bossy kid decided he wanted to try it, so we stepped back and let him, after we had pushed it back up the hill. He rode it down and walked off. We pushed it back up, he ran up, pushing us out of the way and took another turn. Uh-huh, we saw how this was going to work out. We pushed the barrel up the hill yet again and again he ran over, pushing everyone out of the way. This time when he started rolling, we were all on the other end, nudging the barrel to go to a certain spot, then stopped it and upended it open end down into a huge green grass cow pie. Then we all took off to get out of sight before he managed to get turned back and out of there. He spent the afternoon taking potshots at us with his .22 rifle, so we took the barrel to the large creek, cleaned it up and took it up the hill across the creek beyond the sawmill.
The donkey wasn’t running to bring logs down from farther up and drop them over the edge of the large hill down onto the log deck for the mill, so we decided that would be the perfect hill to ride the barrel over. We were trying to decide who would get to go first when the two youngest boys said they should get to as both of them would fit in the barrel together. We finally agreed and they climbed in and we all donated our coats for padding as the day was warm and it was hard work getting that barrel up there.
We didn’t even have to push the barrel, it took off on its own and dropped a bit over 10 feet before it hit the first time, then bounced and hit much farther down the hill and so on until it bounced completely over the log deck. Someone at the mill had noticed the barrel coming and they were all watching when it rolled to a stop out in the middle of the mill yard and two extremely dizzy little boys flopped out.
The rest of us disappeared during the barrel’s trip down the hill as we finally figured out the boys might actually get hurt. The men had never seen the rest of us and the boys tried to say it was their idea and they took it over there, but they were only about 7 years old at the time and no one believed them. The rest of us were over at the house apologizing for killing the boys when the mill boss brought them home. We were all in some major trouble and the barrel disappeared, never to be seen by us again and the older boy got his rifle confiscated.