Tag Archives: childhood

Perils of an injury-prone childhood

My new blog friend, MJ Monaghan, recently wrote a post about “boys will be boys” accident he had when he was a child.

It reminded me of all the injuries and mishaps my brother and I had when we were children.  At the time, they didn’t seem to be so many or frequent, but in retrospect, we must have driven our parents crazy.  We were a walking (or not so walking) orthopedic ward.

My brother and I are the oldest of five children. When we were growing up, most of our mother’s time and attention was consumed by our three younger sisters.  Once we left the house in search of friends and activities, we were pretty much on our own, without the benefit or the burden of parental supervision.

We lived in a small and fairly isolated neighborhood that was surrounded by hills, woods and some old farm fields. There really wasn’t much opportunity to cause trouble. However, there were plenty of opportunities to cause damage to ourselves, and we took full advantage of them. From the time we were nine or ten to our early teens, we accumulated:

Me: Fractured arm, fractured foot, dislocated shoulder, stiches in my head (courtesy of a hammer wielded by my brother), and a cut leg that required stitches

Brother: Badly fractured humerus (upper arm), fractured finger, sprained ankle

These were all acquired in the course of playing sports, climbing trees or generally screwing around. Looking back on it, I wonder how many of those injuries started with someone saying, “I’ll bet you can’t…”

We kept our family physicians busy. In fact, one of our regular physicians was, not surprisingly, an orthopedic surgeon.

When I was in ninth grade, a bunch of us were “studio wrestling” in a friend’s front yard. One of our larger kids picked me up over his shoulder and dropped me. I landed on my right shoulder, It did not seem to be broken, but my arm just sort-of hung there. Seeing it was a Sunday, my mother suggested I go to school the next day and show the shoulder to the PE teacher/coach.

“Oh my God, son. You have a broken clavicle. Why haven’t you already been to a doctor?” he asked.

So I called Mom and gave her the report. She said she would call ahead to the orthopedic surgeon’s office. I should walk the few blocks down the street to his office and report to him. If needed, my father would come collect me later.

When I walked in the door, the receptionist just looked up and asked, “All right, Poolman, what did you do this time?” Let’s just say, we didn’t need an introduction.

As it turned out, I may have dislocated the shoulder, but it was back in place and there wasn’t much for him to do, except to tell me not to be throwing any balls around, or doing any studio wrestling for a while.  Eventually, my dad did come to collect me and, I assume, to pay the bill.

That was my last injury that required medical treatment until I was introduced to the joys and perils of motorcycle riding after I graduated from college. That is a story for another day.

An interesting flashback

I had an interesting telephone conversation with my brother earlier this week. He had driven from his home to Mechanicsburg, Pa., to spend a couple of days visiting my father in Pittsburgh. Somehow, they got the idea to drive another hour west to visit the town were we grew up — Wheeling, W. Va.

Some background here. While I usually claim the ‘burgh as my hometown, the truth of the matter is that my brother and I  grew up mostly in the Wheeling suburbs of Bethlehem and Elm Grove.  My earliest memories, at maybe four or five years old, are of Wheeling. My parents moved the family back to their hometown of Pittsburgh between my freshman and sophomore years of high school.

My brother described how they drove around our old neighborhood in Bethlehem — Mt. Lebanon Drive. I was able to follow him perfectly as he described what he saw and how it had changed, at least from his childhood memories.

“Do remember at the bottom of the “steep hill” there was a house on the left.”

“Yes. David Morris lived there.”

“Right!”

It was really quite a flashback.  We moved away from that neighborhood in 1967, when my brother and I were 12 and 13 respectively. Yet, we were both able to visualize and share a tour, as if we had lived there yesterday.

Part of that probably has to do with the nature of the neighborhood and the way we grew up.

This neighborhood was actually fairly isolated. It was located top of one of the many “mountains” southeast of central Wheeling. A single road originated off of a highway and wound its way up the “mountain” and along the hill-top ridge. It eventually split in two near the end. It was one long cul d’ sac.  There were maybe 45 homes in the entire neighborhood and most of them had school-aged kids.

Every direction out of the neighborhood was downhill. We and our friends used to roam all through the surrounding woods and old farm fields for hours at a time. As far as we were concerned, we “owned” the area and walked or rode our bikes everywhere. We would leave the house in the morning and not return until dinner time. We didn’t have swimming pools, carefully groomed ball fields or parks. We didn’t need them.

We also had no need of maps or street signs. We gave the various features our own names. Death Valley, Echo Valley, The Old Tank Road, The Moon, Mount Help, The Steep Hill, The Empty Lot, Old Softy, and so on.

On one side of the neighborhood, there was what appeared by be an aborted effort to start a new development. For whatever reason, after the developers had bulldozed and cleared lanes for streets, they abandoned the project. This left interconnecting strips of raw dirt, rocks, weeds and gullies where we used to hike, play “Army,” build forts and anything else that sounded like a good idea. Eventually, those areas were developed. What we called Death Valley, the Old Tank Road and Echo Valley is now “Baytree Drive.” Maybe I’m a little prejudiced, but I like the original names better.

My brother and I are both in our late 50s now, but when he described “Do you remember when we used to go down the Old Cement Road and passed by Mount Help…?” it made perfect sense.

At the time, we probably didn’t think our childhoods were as idyllic as they seem through the prism of 40-50 years. However, my brother and I both agreed that as adults, our memories of growing up there are pretty good.