My Momma always used t’say I was rough on things. And after awhile, my Daddy started saying the same thing. They called me by my middle name, and said, “Dudley, you’re rough on things!” Well, I was a very energetic little boy. Things had a tendency to break around me.
I grew up on a dairy farm in Prince Edward County in South-Central Virginia during the 1960s. I lived in a house built in the middle of what used to be a big pigpen. “Hogs,” they called ’em back then. When pigs got big they called ’em hogs. “Hawgs.” As in “Hawgs!” You could even see the straight line of trees where the old woven wire fence used to run to keep the hogs in the pen. Otherwise it was all green grass, daffodils, shade trees, pansies, irises, and vegetable gardens.
It grossed me out a few years later, though, when I got my hands on a couple of Daddy’s college textbooks on parasitic worms and other nauseating diseases associated with domestic livestock. The books showed the most graphic and horrible pictures, and I found them quite fascinating – until I realized I lived inside of an old pigpen.
My house back then was small. I could run from one end to the other, and often did. The front door opened from a small, cozy front porch into the living room on the almost-east side of the house. That flowed through a big wide walk-through into a dining room, which opened into the kitchen, which opened onto an enclosed back porch where the washing machine was. All the bedrooms, closets, bathroom, and the den were on the sorta-west side of the house. I could run all the way from the front door to the back door and back again. The full length of the house. As hard as I could. Fast!
Drove my Momma crazy. “Dudley,” she would yell, “Stop slamming the front door! Either go out and play or stay inside and be quiet.”
“Yes Ma’am!” I shouted and deciding to stay inside, charged through the house as fast as I could, my little feet drumming across the floors. That drove my Momma crazy, too.
“Dudley!” she scolded again. “Stop running in the house! Go outside and run.”
Oh, boy, but I was having too much fun.
The back door was all glass, one huge pane of glass set in a cheap aluminum frame. There was no outside back porch. Years later my father would add on to the house in every direction, and our house expanded several sizes. Now, however, the back door opened onto a long, steep flight of concrete steps. My mother had planted little shrubs ringed by flowers on both sides.
On the right side of the cliff-like steps, immediately as one goes out of the house down the steps, stood a huge, oval, cylinder-shaped tank for heating oil. Momma used to complain about how gosh darn RUSTY and UGLY that heating oil tank was, too. Dad would just remind her how lucky we were not having to cut, haul, split, stack, and bring in firewood.
A round, metal-ridged faucet handle on a spout controlled the flow of heating oil through a copper tube that fed into the furnace hidden in the crawlspace. The oil tank was mounted high up on a four-legged metal frame, high enough so an adult could stand on the steep steps and crank the faucet. Wedged between the tank/frame and the steps was a mangy old boxwood bush. Another bush sprouted on the other side of the oil tank, too. I would play in there under the oil tank a lot with my friends and siblings. We pretended to fly in a space ship, prowl in a submarine, zoom around in flying saucers, command a giant robot, or drive an army tank into battle.
One time when I was a small boy I got to roughhousing around on those steps, fell, and crashed into the boxwood bush. On the way down I slammed my face on the hard, metal handle. Hung my eyebrow on the rim of it. The round, sharp-rimmed handle tore a gash right through the chunk of flesh and muscle and hair that composed my eyebrow. A flap of hairy skin hung over my eye. Blood poured everywhere and began to thicken. I bet I killed quite a few Demodex parasitic eyebrow mites, too. Parasites are fascinating little buggas. Hate ’em too.
I was stunned after ripping open my eyebrow, but I was so bloody Momma freaked. And that is all I remember. I don’t recall if it got stitched up, but I think I got another tetanus shot. I still have a scar faintly visible inside the hair of my eyebrows. I wonder if Demodex mites can burrow into scar tissue.
It just made my mother more determined than ever to stop my running and horsin’ around. Except there wasn’t much if any good training back then in how to be an effective parent, so yelling and spankings from a stand of angry love was what I got. And I kept charging pell-mell through the house.
One day, I think it was a chilly spring day; I started racing myself from the front door to the back.
“Slow down!” Momma yelled.
I ran faster.
“Stop that running!” Momma shouted.
I ran even faster!
“I SAID STOP THAT RUNNING!”
I raced through the house so fast I couldn’t even stop. I slammed into the glass door.
CRASH! And glass exploded. The back door shattered. And I shot forward and tumbled down the steps into the yard.
Momma screamed. Now she came running.
“DUDLEY!” she screamed again as screams turned into mad shrieks and angry, mile-a-minute babble.
I got up and stood there at the bottom of the steps in an altered state. All around me lay a sea of broken glass glittering dark and dirty in the sunshine and dirt. When my little boy body smashed into the big glass pane of the back door the glass burst outwards. Shards of glass covered the steps, the boxwood bushes, the flowers, and lay strewn far out into the yard. It was astonishing.
And I knew I had to be dead.
To my amazement I still breathed. I looked down. I’m hard-of-hearing in both ears but I could still hear my mother scream. There was an ocean of bright red blood everywhere…but there wasn’t. I felt my face, patted my self all over, and stood there in some kind of mystical daze. There weren’t any marks on me at all. Not a single scratch. No blood at all. Wow! I had blasted through a pane of glass, broke a door, and fell down concrete steps over glass. And it wasn’t safety glass either, but the deadly, old-fashioned gut-skuttering kind.
Daddy came running down the path from the cow barn. He’d heard Momma’s piercing scream all the way up there. His eyes got real big when he saw me standing in the yard with all that busted-up glass scattered across the grass. The broken door hung open toward the oil tank.
My parents quickly checked me over to make sure I was all right. I had all my eyeballs. No arteries gashed. No slivers embedded in my liver. Still had my little-boy genitals, and all my toes, too! Aye, it was a miracle! A miracle from God. Some guardian angel was watching over me, and I bet I kept him or her pretty darn busy. Nor, to my surprise, did I get into trouble this time. My parents were quite upset about the broken door, and all that glass had to be picked up, and it was. They were just grateful I was still alive. I really could have been dead.
“You could’ve cut your damn fool head off!” Daddy said.
No one understood how I tumbled down the steps over such a mess of broken glass to land in the yard with barely even a bruise. Word of this miracle got around the neighborhood. Folks would come visit to just marvel at me. And they all warned me to be careful, too, as they nodded their heads.
Divine intervention or just plain luck, it proved to be one of a number of close calls I got myself into. Sometimes I gaze up into space, at nothing in particular, and go “Thank you, O Guardian Angel!” Now, truth be told, I don’t know if such entities exist, can’t prove it with math, but I sure can feel ’em.
The sharp edge of death brings clarity to life.
William Dudley Bass
29 January 2009
7 March 2012
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