I was raised by people who did not believe in doctors.
Doctors? What do you want to see a doctor for?
Doctors were for when you couldn’t stop the bleeding. Otherwise? You’ll be fine! Try rubbin' a little dirt in it.
“Pearl! Your father’s trying to kill me!”
I remember that day, the day my parents put a wood-burning stove into the basement, the heavy cast iron pipes running from the stove out through the walls to the attached garage and then out and up through its roof.
What do you mean, Why didn't they pay someone else to do it? When they have two arms and two legs apiece? Don’t be silly!
Of course it’s silly to pay someone to do the work that you yourself can do – until your mother yells for you, as mine did, claiming that ol’ Paul was trying to kill her.
He wasn’t really trying to kill her. She just couldn’t keep that cast-iron pipe up in the air while he attached the whatzit to the doohickey and what happened is what happens in a lot of situations: they drop it on her big toe, where, cleanly and with no effort whatsoever, the open end of the pipe cuts to the bone.
I help her to the kitchen, where she sits on the counter with her foot in the sink, the tap running cold as the blood swirls, clockwise, down the drain.
“Ooooh ,” she moans. “Your father’s trying to kill me!” Mom regains her strength just long enough to yell out “Dammit all, Paul!” before lapsing into the moaning again, studiously avoiding the sight of her own blood.
As an aside, there are two things my mother cannot abide: children with runny noses and her own blood.
Your blood? Oh, she'ss fine with that – might even make her laugh in that frightening yet adorable way she has when she is nervous – but her own blood makes her gag.
“We should probably take you to a doctor,” I say. I showed promise, even as a teenager, of knowing which end was up.
“What?" my mother says, coming out of a swoon. "Why?”
“That’s a lot of blood you’re losing there,” I say. “I’ll bet that could take some stitches.”
“Stitches, schmitches,” she says. Mom is nothing if not logical, often with a mysterious old-world accent. “I’m fine,” she says dismissively. “Kevin can help your father with the rest of that lousy stove. I'm out of it. Help me find something to use as a bandage.”
And he did. Kevin helped with the rest of that lousy stove and when it was done, Dad went to the store and bought Mom a pint of mint-and-chocolate-chip ice cream, the kind of treat that passed in our house as an extravagance, an apology, and a declaration of love.
And she shared it.
Because that's what family does: they take on ambitious large-scale projects, try not to bleed on the carpeting, and order up ice cream.
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