A Brave Little Toe

I almost lost a toe once.

Allow me to explain.

My family didn’t farm when I was a kid, but we lived on an old rented farmstead littered with rundown equipment. The country life posed a certain element of danger — like the time I almost broke my elbow when I wedged myself between two hay bales while trying to jump from one to the other and back as quickly as I could; or the time I sliced my arm open on a rusty nail in an old chicken coop.

But the accidental near-amputation of my toe sticks out in my memory the most…

Among the rusty equipment that dotted our yard was an old wood splitter. The manual kind with an ax head on a huge metal wheel. The wood is placed on a platform so the operator can forcefully spin the wheel, bringing the ax head around quickly to split the wood in two (imagine something like The Price is Right wheel, but with just a bit more potential for injury).

My sister and our friends were playing with it one day when I was about 8 years old. (Don’t judge my parents. They didn’t know about most of the stupid things we did because we were good at lying.)

Like most 8-year-olds, I was brilliant… As I was standing on that platform spinning the wheel, impressed with my strength and focusing on how I was able to spin it so much faster than my sister could (thus making me better than her, of course), the ax head came crashing down on my right foot, which I had unknowingly placed directly in its path.

I’d like to say I handled this unfortunate incident bravely and calmly. But I can’t, because I didn’t. I ran screaming for my mommy.

It was a winter day and it might have been my cheap, secondhand (or third or fourth) snow boots that saved the day — and my toe. The ax had cut a slit through the boot and I could only imagine the horror that awaited me inside it.

My mother was calm when I came limping into the house trying to tell her what happened. Somehow, she got the gist of it through my panicked gibberish and sat me down to assess the damage. I didn’t know at the time, but she was terrified she’d take that hard rubber boot off my foot to reveal a bloody stump.

It revealed only a swollen, angry foot with a rapidly forming bruise between my second and third toes. I had gotten off light. I still had 10 toes.

The ax was dull from sitting in the woods for so many decades unused, through multiple winters.

So my toe would live to see another day — my brave little toe.

It’s funny now. It wasn’t then.

The next day, we were back outside playing, jumping from the hayloft into the snowbank below.

And the answer to your question is yes — I jumped better than my sister did.

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