“Free Range” Kids

“Get me more spider webs.  I have to have more,” I yelled at Sister Molly.  She was in the barn and looking when she yelled back, “I’m scared they are going to attack me.”  Little brother Mike was sitting on the ground, holding his bleeding leg, while I tore his shirt up to make a bandage.  “G.I. Joe Comics” had described in detail how the army used “spider webs” to stop bullet wounds from bleeding and I was doctoring the gash in my brother’s leg with the same technique.  “Get more “spider webs”, he looks like he is going to faint,” I yelled, not remembering that my brother couldn’t stand the sight of blood.  Molly was crying when she came running with a thin handful of spider webs, which I promptly slapped to the deep cut.  “One of the spiders bit me,” she whined, as I wrapped Mike’s cut and we started across the field with our limping brother between us.

In those days, .. Moms merely sent us out un-supervised to play and basically went about their business, until lunch or dinnertime.  If we could get out of range of Mom’s police whistle, it was possible to get out of chores with the excuse that we couldn’t hear her.

We were down on the beach and out at the drop-off, which scared all of us because you couldn’t see bottom five feet away from where you stood in three feet of water.  The bottom dropped away at such a steep angle that you had to swim if you stepped off of it and Mike couldn’t swim when Molly yelled that he was running toward the danger.  The tide was so low that it raced along the edge of the drop-off and little Mikey didn’t have a clue.  With feet away from a disaster, Molly grabbed Mike and dragged him away from the edge, only to have stepped on a barnacle in her haste.

Barnacles hurt right away and infect easily, possibly leading to blood poisoning if left infected.  The “tell-tale” red line or lines running up your leg were a sure sign of blood poisoning, which could possibly lead to amputation.  Great Uncle Jim came close to having his leg amputated because of a stab wound from the needle-sharp bone, behind the dorsal fin of a four foot dogfish.   It was WW II, and Uncle Jim sold the livers of the dog fish to the US government and the oil they made from them was called “cod liver oil.”  It was 1942 on Tramp Harbor when this incident occurred.   All commodities were under tight controls and that’s possibly how the “dog-fish oil” was re-named.

Merthiolate burned more than mercurochrome and made me jump on one foot and squint my eyes as I yelled out in pain: “It hurts, it hurts!”  Adding insult to injury, mercurochrome   doesn’t burn as bad, but Mom didn’t have it.  I asked her why and she replied: “If it didn’t hurt, it probably wasn’t doing much good.”  Both antiseptics turned the skin red and my leg looked like someone had spilled the bottle that came with a cork and glass applicator.

Purple is a terrifying color for a 13 year old in the seventh grade, especially when it is all around your mouth, and you are afraid to look at the girls in the hall because you look dirty.  You had canker sores or some other strange disease of the mouth and Mom used gentian violet, painting your mouth purple to stop infection..  How degrading can a treatment be?  The purple liquid was also used to cure ringworm, which really wasn’t a worm, but the purple blotches on your face were a public indication that you had some contagious plague.  Other times, we were forced to drink cod liver oil “only on principle.”