I could hear the tap, tap, tap of his shoes hitting the tile floor. He was breathing heavy, two packs of cigarettes a day will tend to do that to you. He was 54 years old and he was laboring to keep up with the young orderly that was pushing the gurney. The tunnel smelled like disinfectant, it divided the children’s wing of the hospital with the main building. They were headed to the operating room with a five-year old needing plastic surgery. I don’t remember any pain or discomfort, I just remember the clicking of those heels, tap, tap, tap…and my father’s hand enveloping my good one.
I was an early walker, starting at nine-months…walking from one piece of furniture to the next. It was in 1962 and my mother was sewing in the front room of our house. My sister Junene was five-years old and we were playing in the kitchen. Somehow I got to the den unnoticed by my mother, it was surprising that I could move that fast! The den was off-limits as it had a Sixties model space heater with an open grill-flame in front and a hot metal top. I don’t remember this but it has been related to me that Junene let out a scream when she saw me standing there. My little hand was burned and stuck to the top of the heater. My mother ran to the horrible site and grabbed me…running and screaming with Junene across the street to a neighbor’s house.
Mrs. Sibley drove us to the hospital. I had surgery soon afterwards on a third degree burn that took up most of my right hand. The doctor performed a skin graph, taking skin off of my left thigh and repairing my right hand. He told my parents it was a very bad burn, he could save my hand, but the damage was extensive. Looking back now, it sounds like a good medical malpractice case, why didn’t they take skin off of my rear-end?
Several years passed and my mother recognized a problem starting. My hand was beginning to “draw up.” It was difficult to extend my fingers or lay it flat on a table. It had also began to cause me pain. My parents found an excellent plastic surgeon this time and a second operation was scheduled.
My mother and I checked into the children’s hospital for a four night stay. I remember the first day very well. We played the card game Old Maid all afternoon and the nurses treated me to unlimited Popsicles. I was told the next day that the orderly would arrive to take me to the surgery. My mother couldn’t handle seeing me to the operating room, so Jim, my father took the job.
Tap, tap, tap…”you are going to be okay sweetie” my dad said, patting me on the head. Remember I said, you told me I could go to Edison’s after this and get anything I wanted, right? “That’s right Julie, we will talk later, I love you.”
I remember waking up from the fog to a circle of familiar heads above me…and a bandage on my right hand like a boxing glove. I have never had issues again with my hand, although the scars remain.
Edison’s was a department store in downtown Fort Worth with many floors and an elevator man just like you see in the movies. The basement had bargains, first floor housewares…I watched intently as the light kept moving up until finally the number five was illuminated. My mother walked over to the doll section and motioned for me to follow. I had received an Easy-Bake Oven that Christmas, with a complete kitchen set. Good grief, now she wants me to have kids! Funny how parents of the Sixties propagated the gender stereotypes without even seeing it in their own actions…my mother was a pretty progressive and strong woman. Yet, there was Jewel holding Betty Burp-Up in her left hand and pointing to her cute outfit enthusiastically with the other!
I waived her off with my white boxing glove and continued on in my quest to find what I had dreamed about at the hospital. I could pick one toy for the surgery and I was getting an extra pick as a preëmptive bribe for getting the stitches out, 65 of the them, in the near future. Jewel grimaced and followed me over to the “boy” isle, but not before picking up a Easy-Curl Quick Hair-Setting Kit..Julie? No!
I left the store that day with a huge smile and satisfaction like no day had brought me in my brief five-year life! I had selected a Kenner movie projector and an M-16. My mother had given in and let her little girl walk out of Edison’s department store…with a plastic assault rifle.
The movie projector was just cool, I set it up in my faux kitchen and watched 8mm cartoons on the wall as my chocolate cake cooked in the Easy-Bake. The M-16 was left leaning against my dishwasher…always on the ready.
I actually wanted the rifle because the neighborhood boys all had variations of the same gun and we took turns killing each other. The winner of the game was always the kid that could make the most dramatic “death scene.” I knew that I excelled at the game. I would ride my bike past my neighbor Rod’s house, as he riddled me with gunfire. I would crash the bike into the yard and run around in a dance of pretend, writhing pain before collapsing by his father’s 67 Buick. The “automatic” aspect of my M-16 enable me to take out most of the neighborhood as they rode past my house. Rat, tat, tat, tat…it was the slaughter on Oak Street…, I was dubbed “Julie One-Hand.” Rod said it sounded like a villain on Batman, one of our favorite TV shows.
After an afternoon of gunfire and theatrics, four or five of the neighborhood boys would end up back at my house. The Easy-Bake oven would be fired up….that meant the light bulb inside would be flipped on, and the “cakes” would be served all around.
Yes, the little tom-boy served the “men” cakes and juice after combat. My mother would take a peek in my room and smile. I remember her being happy when I played with the kitchen set…I didn’t know then, but I do now…I was choosing my battles. You have to know when and where is the right time to make your points. I would continue to play with that kitchen set until the following Christmas. I had my eye on a GI Joe that came with a complete tent set and a miniature M-16…just like mine.