I heard this story first from my mother, by phone, when I lived in Philadelphia.
“Your father was up on the roof and he drilled a hole through the middle of his hand.”
“Is he OK?”
“Sure, he’s fine.”
“Did he need stitches?”
“No, he didn’t even go to the doctor.”
Years later – because there were other mishaps to cover – I asked him exactly how that had happened. He said “I was working on the TV antenna attached to the chimney, and I started to slide down the roof, so I fastened my hand to the chimney with the drill.”
More years go by. It finally occurs to me to ask,
“How did you get the drill out?”
“I reversed it.”
Don’t think my father was hapless, he wasn’t. He was a do-it-yourselfer and he’d been through the depression and in World War II and it took a lot to scare him. His mishaps were merely a function of how much stuff he did around the house. He built the bedroom furniture for himself and my mother. When the kitchen was about 15 years old and they thought it was out of date, he ripped apart the original cabinets (where they rested for decades in the basement along with the top of Aunt Gerrie’s Hoosier cabinet, his stereo, his Gretsch guitar with tube amplifier and his workshop). He built an entirely new kitchen from the floor up; it was so up-to-date that it was out of style in two years.
He installed the central air conditioning, after a couple of summers when he strung plastic tubes from the ceilings all over the house to transmit the cool air from the one window air conditioner they could afford after they moved from their home town in anthracite country to a tract house three mountains south in the suburbs of Harrisburg. He finished the basement, he put on a new roof, he built boxes to accommodate my astonishing collection of plastic bricks, when we were younger he had used a discarded National Guard industrial sewing machine to make clothing for my dolls – I especially remember the Queen Elizabeth doll – he made a long red silk dress for her, out of parachute silk. He reupholstered the living room furniture, and everyone else’s living room furniture.
One day a few years after he drilled his hand, he cut off the first joint of his left index finger with a circular saw, and he did go to the emergency room for that. His only problem was “I can’t make bar chords with this stump.” He spent a couple of years trying to make extensions for his finger so he could make bar chords, but eventually he was able to make them with his stump.
I was never able to go back to the house after he died, but my cousin Dale found and brought me a little cloth-bound book he had kept during WWI. You couldn’t call it a journal, it was more of a log:
May 10, 1943 Sailed for North Africa
May 23, 1943 Arrived Oran
July 6, 1943 Sailed for Algeria
July 6, 1943 Sailed for Sicily
July 10, 1043 Invaded Sicily
And so on and so on
April 29, 1944 Arrived in Plymouth
April 30-May 2 Maneuvers
June 2, 1944 Left for Torquay
Jun 6, 1944 Invaded France; landed 4th Div Omaha Beach
June 9, 1944 Left France (shot hand)
He never talked about D-Day until after he saw the Spielberg movie “Saving Private Ryan.” That stirred up some memories he wasn’t happy to be having, and it’s the first time I’d ever seen him cry. “They were crying and pissing their pants and begging to stay on the boat, but I pushed them off!” “They were getting shot before they hit the water, but I had to keep pushing them off. I had to go back and get more.”
He told me about his hand then. I think he was ashamed that he only got his hand shot. “What did you do?” “Nothing. I kept driving the boat. By the end of the day it had stopped bleeding, so I didn’t even need a medic.”
By the time he died, my father’s hands were one big merged liver spot, but they were still strong and wiry, and still knew how to do almost anything.
In 2001, with his radiologist, age 79