Scars Keep The Record of Our Lives


If you want to get a lively conversation going among farmers, bring up the subject of scars. For some reason we glory in telling about the marks of maiming or near death that decorate our bodies like so many road signs along the trail of life. Hardly a one of us doesn’t have a crooked leg or missing finger, or a lost limb from getting tangled in a power take off shaft, the most dangerous (and handiest) thing technology every invented this side of the automobile. We all know of someone who lost his or her life trying to argue with power take off shafts. Perhaps it is the gravity of the situation that awes us into wanting to talk about it. I am only here today because once in my very stupid youth, I was lucky enough to be wearing a pair of jeans that were so rotten they were about to fall off from shear gravity. When the jeans caught in the power take off, they ripped completely off my body in a split second and wrapped tightly around the shaft. Better pants and my leg would have been wound around the shaft too. I remember standing there in my underwear, giggling like the idiot I was.

As a child, one of my fascinating past times was sitting in my grandfather’s lap while he rocked and sang. I was totally enchanted by his fingers. His middle and forefinger on his right hand were cut off half way down and I would search out the short stubs as he rocked, hold them in my chubby fists and stare up at him until he told me once more the story. He had caught them in the mechanism on top of the grapple fork which was used to lift great gobs of loose hay from the wagon to the loft. In only a few more years, I would be “setting the fork” and being careful where I set my fingers.

In our local coffee shops, farmers gather every morning to trade stories. The topic sometimes gets around to scars and then the bull really starts flying. I love to listen, unnoticed, from a far off table.

George: “I got a half inch wide scar runs clear up my side ribs plain as a sheep path. Bundle kicker on the old corn binder did it. It kicked me instead of a bundle.”

Bill:  “Worst ever happened to me was when I sliced into my leg with a corn knife. Bled like a stuck hog.”

Dave: “You can say what you want, but those old belt driven crosscut log saws were the most dangerous things on the farm. Uncle Tod backed into one in a careless moment, and in a flash it cut a chunk out of his butt half as big as a picnic ham.”

My only real contribution to a “show and tell” of farm scars is significant in a way I did not realize at the time. Dad was driving the tractor pulling baler and haywagon, and I was loading the bales on the wagon. I decided to pull the pin to unhitch the loaded wagon from the baler without alerting him— trying to save time, the old formula for scars. Just as I grabbed the pin, he stopped the tractor, unaware of what I was doing. The wagon lurched forward just enough to smash my forefinger between pin and hitch. We improvised a tourniquet and headed for the hospital in the only vehicle available, our old truck with top speed of 24 mph.

Doc Schoolfield, who began practicing medicine in the Kentucky hills and had seen everything, stared at the bloody mess for a bit, wondering whether to amputate or try to sew the finger back together again. “Might as well give it a try,” he shrugged. At the time none of us knew how important that decision was. A fingertip can be mighty handy to someone who ends up making a living by tapping on a computer. His repair healed wonderfully and today, watching my fingers dance over the computer board, I think of that wise old doctor and what a wonderful surgeon he was even if he never got the credit for being one.


I agree with Beth; it’s difficult to lose a parent, and especially a tragedy when they are so young, and healthy. That leaves a different kind of scar.

I have two hernia scars that I don’t even remember getting: I have to assume my parents told me the truth. I was just getting into ambulation in 1952, and my family was beginning to pick corn that fall. We had a one row pull type picker, and if you didn’t know someone who had a mounted picker, you had to hand husk the two outside rows to make room for the tractor and picker. I was riding in the trailer into which ears of corn were being pitched. This was back in the day that a “family farm” meant everyone was in the field. No babysitters then. Apparently, I managed to climb over the sideboard and fell out of the trailer, and by the time the tractor stopped, a trailer wheel had run up my leg and was on my chest. Thank goodness equipment wasn’t so big then, so the only real injury I had was the hernias. My parents said I got up and walked around OK, before they took me to the doc.

People who are now in their sixties or older can appreciate how dangerous farm machinery used to be. I can’t even imagine a group of people running a stationary threshing machine without someone getting hurt. I remember when farmers brought their tractors straight from the field to enter into “pulls”, and the sled weight was provided by people stepping onto the sled as it went by. The sled was only moving at 2 miles an hour. No one thought twice about it.

Oh, Russ, what a sad story! It’s hard to lose a parent at any age, but that was a real tragedy for your family — so sorry to hear of it.

I have a couple scars – chainsaw, band saw – that serve as reminders of what could have been much worse. My biggest scar isn’t visible on my body. On a bright, snow covered, zero morning in February of 88, my Dad and brother were grinding feed. Dad who was NEVER cavalier around equipment was oiling a chain and somehow slipped and fell into the pto. He was wearing heavy insulated coveralls. It spun his body several times before detaching his arms and throwing him clear. My brother saw it all, packed his arms in snow and called the squad. Even though I live 15 miles away, I happened to be helping a friend a couple miles from my folks and got their just as they were loading him in the ambulance. They tried to reattach his arms at the university hospital but 40 days and 40 nights later he died from the infection. He was not a particularly “healthy” eater but he was a good worker and had spent his adult life very in love with my mother. He was 59. The doctors said he had the heart of a twenty something and that was why he had lived as long after the accident as he did. I was well aware that he had a good heart. Occasionally I still need a “secret crying place” when I think about what I lost. Most days I am very thankful for what I had but the scar is there.

I heat with wood, so I use a chainsaw, maul, hatchet and axe most of the winter. How did I cut the tip of my finger off? Chopping onions for chili! This was back in the Lorraina Bobbet days, so when the ER doctor said he didn’t think he could sew it back on, I insisted. “If you can reattach a man’s penis that’s been laying in a vacant lot for hours, you can reattach this finger that I just brought in!” Happy to say, although the fingertip always feels kind of numb and tingly, it’s on the end of my finger instead of composting somewhere!

On the first knuckle of my left forefinger there is an L-shaped scar. The long part is where I jabbed a chisel into it about a dozen years ago, and the short part is where the hand surgeon cut a flap so he could get to the tendons I’d sliced and stitch them back together. I’ve always been proud of that scar, not because it taught me always to watch where my left hand was when I was holding an edge tool (though it did) but because the chisel scar is neater and cleaner than the scalpel scar. I figured that clean, skinny little scar meant I had finally learned to sharpen my tools properly!

I read somewhere that medieval woodworkers said that cuts were a way for the craft to enter the body… if that’s so I ought to have a lot of craft by now.

I had a great-uncle (lived in Upper, Gene) who had a hook for one hand from a farming accident. You can bet that was a eye-catcher as a child. My own little scar from a farm incident (though couldn’t be called legitimate farming) was running through a cornfield that had been harvested. The stalks were all cut at an angle and my ankle came down on one of those shark stalks and sliced it like a giant paper-cut. Hurt like heck, bled like crazy and still have a scar from it!

It seems to me that a very close call or actual injury is (unfortunately) necessary to really ‘be safe’ with machinery or other tools. Well, that’s how it is for me anyways. I once grazed my leg with a chainsaw, enough to shred my pants, draw blood, and leave a scar. I still use a chainsaw, but you can bet that I handle that beast with respect!

All I can say while reading this and the comments is “ouch! and ouch again!”

I’ve been pretty safe around equipment — knock wood. But a neighbourhood kid wasn’t so lucky.

We had an old hand-cranked corn sheller, but my dad decided that was too much work, and improvised a direct-drive from the PTO shaft of our Farmall H tractor.

My pre-teen sister and her friend — who had lovely long hair — were shelling corn when an ear fell on the ground between the tractor and the sheller. My sister’s friend bent over to pick it up, and her hair got caught in the shaft. In half an instant, a chunk of hair the size of drink coaster was scalped from her head!

Mom cleaned up the wound and took her to the hospital for tetanus shots. The neighbours didn’t sue. And I believe the hair grew back. But it was pretty scary at the time, and must have made going back to school on Monday unpleasant for the poor girl.

The other major incident on our farm came to an unfortunate goat who was tied to the conveyor of a manure spreader when my brother drove off without checking. Remembering the broken neck and mangled body, I always do a “walk around” before driving off with newly-attached equipment.

It’s a wonder so many of us survived so long…


Good for all of us that you have your fingers. Love to read your stories. I once read,”who needs tattoos when scars tell a much better story.”

Looking forward to your new book in a couple of weeks.

The same exact ripping-off-of-pants happened to our hired hand sometime in the 70s. He was loading haybales onto the elevator and while I was straightening the bales, he disappeared from sight. When he stood up, he had a funny look on his face but no pants–only well-worn gray skivvies. His pant leg had caught in the PTO and his pants were totally ripped off. Had the pants not come from Walmart and been washed a million times or if he had had a belt on, it could have been a whole lot worse than being embarrassed in front of the woman of the house. At least he had underwear on …

My machinery accident doesn’t show, and didn’t happen on the farm, but rather on the other side of the world. I was conscripted for the Korean “War”, but the day before reporting chose to enlist in the Navy. So it was that I was on the bridge of a Destroyer firing at gun caves around North Korea’s Chinampo Estuary, at anchor behind an island, while the tide slowly turned us until our own “cannon” was firing over our shoulder. BLAM. The pilot house was an intensifying echo chamber. The concussion tore the cigarette from the Captain’s.mouth, removed his helmet, and shattered plastic in the pilot house.
For an interested bird watcher, the blast changed my hearing for the past six decades, providing me with a free concert in perpetuity provided by a flock of red winged blackbirds.
Later on my brain pitched in to offer a substitute for the missing hearing deficit, and to cover over the bird songs, a musical ear syndrome, where for days at a time the same phantom song plays continuously. After a month of an interminable Star Spangled Banner I went to the town hall and renounced my allegiance to the Republican Party — but that hasn’t helped.
Too late for earmuffs now.
BUT, counting my blessings, the race for White House occupancy is reduced to a comical silent movie.

As cautious as I am, the only real solice is that it all happens in the blink of an eye. And while the scars are their to remind us of our stupidity or how fortunate we were, thankfully the memory of pain is always a fuzzy, never-truly captured thing. Because if it was, I’d never get anything done.

I got my son a multitool from Lowe’s for Christmas last year. He’d been asking for one for months and I thought it would be nice to have one handy that I didn’t have to carry myself. I’d just reach over my shoulder whenever I needed it and have him hand it to me since I usually drug him around with me to work on projects.

December 26 found us in the ER getting the tip of his finger sewed back on that he nearly sliced off because he had the knife blade open at the same time he was trying to open something else. Momma said this was my turn to do ER duty since I’m the one who got it for him. The wound was pretty impressive but the scar looks tame. All the same, a valuable safety lesson, a scar, a story, and all for the low, low price of a $500 emergency room visit.

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