Thumbin’ a ride

I slammed my finger in the door this morning. Oh, that feeling . . . it makes you want to scream at the top of your lungs and say things you know are not just offensive but wrong.

Granted, today’s injury wasn’t so severe . . . just a little smarting. But there’s a reaction, a flashback, that follows every time I get a finger in a jam. Slam a finger, remember the trauma . . . and the drama . . .

It was a hot summer, super hot. I was 10 or 11, I suppose. Days melted into nights in a never-ending cycle of chores and some summertime fun. I spent the majority of my time watching kids and cleaning house, while my mother helped the guys put up hay, move pipe, etc.

Then, one special evening, my mom announced that Grandma Onie was going to watch the brood so I could have some time off. My special reward? I was going to ride along with my mother to the hayfield. She would run through with the dump rake quick, so my dad could put up the hay in the morning.

“It’ll be fun,” she said. “You can ride out there with me and while I’m raking, you can jump in the creek and swim.”

It sounded like heaven. Not only did I get to go somewhere alone with my mother, I was going to be able to go swimming on that hot summer night! I rode my bike so fast to the house, I nearly wiped out at the bottom of the big hill. I dug out my blue swimming suit and a pair of shorts. This was going to be great.

Mom picked me up with the old, blue pickup and we were off. The sun was still sitting high and I swear it was still 100 degrees, although it was evening. We pulled into the field and she split the distance between the waiting equipment and the nearby creek, so neither of us would have too far to walk.

“Maybe I’ll let you drive home,” she said, giving me a wink.

“Are you serious?” I asked, wide-eyed.

“Why not?” she said, as she got out of the pickup. “Have fun, I’ll see you in about 45 minutes. Don’t go into any deep water, just stay where I can see you.”

I promised that I would.

I watched her run off, toward the waiting tractor. Then I got a brilliant idea. While she was gone, before I went swimming, it would be a perfect chance to familiarize myself with all the knobs and dials and workings of the pickup, before my driving lesson. I slid over to the driver’s seat. Knowing Mom would probably worry that I would accidentally put it into drive, I decided to close the heavy pickup door, so she couldn’t see what I was up to.

That’s when it happened. I don’t know exactly how . . . except that it did. I was already pulling the door shut with my right hand when I spotted that a piece of the rubber lining around the door frame was hanging loose. In a split second, I decided to use my left hand to pull that rubber piece back inside, so as to not damage it when the door closed.

That was a horrible decision. Not only did I get the rubber piece back inside by the time the door closed . . . I managed to slam my thumb between those heavy old pieces of metal.

At first, my mind blanked. There was nothing. Then searing pain. That was awful. And then panic.

I pulled on the lever to open the door and I pushed. But nothing happened. Again, I pulled on the lever with my right hand, while my left remained suspended in air, my thumb caught in hell. Push. Nothing. Push. Nothing.

Panic prevailed as the pain increased. I couldn’t even see the majority of my thumb — it was completely crushed between the door and the frame.

My eyes swept the field for the only person who could save me. She was far away now, on the loud tractor that made banging and popping noises. Her hair ruffled in the breeze as she pulled that old dump rake behind her, sweeping up the windrows.

I tried to pull my left hand free, but it wouldn’t move. Oh, the throbbing. Oh, the wailing. I heard myself make noises I’d never heard before.

I screamed for my mother. She couldn’t hear me. I tried to kick the door open, but it wouldn’t budge. I cried and railed about on that seat, scratching my bare legs on the ripped blue vinyl.

Then, I saw her turn the tractor around . . . thankfully in my direction.

“Can you see me?” I screamed.

I saw her look in my direction. I waved my free arm, yelling at the top of my lungs.

Oh my God, she waved back.

“No, no!” I yelled.

She happily waved and pointed to the creek, gesturing to get out of that hot pickup and jump into the nice cool water.

I then lifted my free arm into the air, noting the unbelievable pain in my other extremity. I yelled that my hand was caught in the door and tried to physically communicate the fact by raising my right thumb.

Oh my God, she gave me the thumbs up!

“No! No!” I screamed.

I wasn’t thumbin’ a ride! I wasn’t giving her the thumbs up! Her child was caught in a medical crisis, and she thought I was trying to mimic some character we’d seen in a recent Burt Reynolds movie about truck drivers and hitchhikers!

Painfully, I saw her again wave and hold up her thumb before she turned the rig around and started to move away from me again. Time stopped. I helplessly watched as she continued to move further and further away. As the dust rose up around her, the tears washed down my face and the sweat poured down my back.

I begged God to make her turn around. She didn’t. I screamed for someone to help me, but there was no one. I pulled. I pushed. Her promise of “45 minutes” was more than I could bear. Surely, I’d be dead by the time she came back.

Eventually, I saw her, in the distance, turn around and come back my way. I tried to get her attention, although she was probably too far away to see anything. I shook my head, I waved my arms. I stuck my free thumb in the air and was now sobbing so hard, I was shaking.

“Please, Mom! Please!” I screamed.

As she neared, she smiled and gave me the thumbs up again! I shook my head, saying “no,” as she stared at me. I pointed to my other hand, I stuck my thumb in the air.

“I’m not thumbin’ a ride!” I yelled. “My thumb . . . stuck in door!”

Suddenly, it seemed as if my prayers were going to be answered. The tractor slowed and the smile on her face started to dissipate.

Again, I waved and writhed. By then, I don’t know which was worse . . . the pain, panic or frustration.

Suddenly, the clouds parted and a stream of light from Heaven came down, as my mother started bouncing across the hayfield on that old tractor, exhaust pouring from the tall front pipe. The mother bear was on her way, she had finally realized her oldest was in trouble.

I watched her fly across the stubble, the old rake coming off the ground at times. Normally, that would have been a definite no-no. But at that point, neither of us cared.

She ran to the pickup as I screamed for help. “My thumb,” I gasped, as she uttered a few choice words of her own and tried to open the pickup door. I saw her put both hands on the outside lever and pull. Nothing. She kept pulling and swearing. Nothing. We both quickly realized that all the jerking was making things worse.

“Take a deep breath,” she said, looking me square in the eyes. “This is going to hurt, but it’ll only be for a second.”

I trusted her. I believed.

She counted to three, I took that deep breath. She braced herself by putting one leg on the clunker and ripped that door open. A rush of air cooled the sweat on my brow and my hand fell free, as I heard the creak of the old hinges move.

Blood ran down my hand, spilling onto my blue swimming suit. The pain was somehow worse at that very moment, but with it came relief, knowing I wasn’t alone.

As my mother examined the damage, all I could hear was the wind blowing, my crying, the old tractor trying to idle and the matriarch’s apologies.

“Oh, my God, I thought you were just waving at me,” she said over and over. “I thought you were joking around, thumbin’ a ride.”

Thumbin’ anything at that point was not going to happen.

When my dad arrived, pulling the hay cage, he made several diagnoses: if it turned black, the thumb was broken; the nail was completely gone, that was causing all the bleeding; the deep cuts along the back of my thumb — those could be remedied with a bunch of Band-Aids and maybe some electrical tape; and the hay rake was missing so many tines (from its violent trip across the field), he’d have to spend some time doing repairs.

We called it a day. I didn’t drive home, as originally planned. Instead, I sat next to my crying mother, her arm around me, as we rambled down the bumpy dirt road. And we both vowed to never use the saying, “Thumbin’ a ride,” ever again.


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