To use a southern axiom, “The men of my family were tougher than nails”. My father’s hands were pieces of chiseled granite scarred and calloused from his years of labor and toil. He was a logger by profession, which is the second most dangerous job in the world, but becomes the most dangerous when one stubbornly refuses to wear his hardhat while performing it.
Through the course of my childhood he suffered more injuries than I can recount. He almost cut his leg off at the knee once with a misguided chainsaw, has been a centimeter from losing fingers on numerous occasions, and has dodged countless falling tress nearly pile driving him into the dirt.
My mother missed her calling as an ER nurse.
One afternoon she received a call at work from my dad. After being in the woods since the crack of dawn he and his crew called it a day at my father’s command. At some point earlier that afternoon a dead branch had fallen from above while he was cutting the tree it fell from and the limb had grazed his back at the base of the neck. There was no visible sign of injury nor was he in pain so he chalked it up to occupational hazard and carried on with his work. But as the hours wore on he began to notice something wasn’t quite right. The more injuries you endure it seems the more in touch you are with your body. Sensing that he might need to ‘have it looked at’, he drove himself and his crew the thirty miles back home and as soon as he got into the house was on the phone to my mom and they were soon off to the hospital.
The doctors in our small town wanted a second opinion after the x-rays returned and my dad was soon ambulance bound for Nashville forty miles away. They would later say that he had broken his neck in three places with the cap of one vertebrae literally sheered off. What was most astonishing for the physicians wasn’t how the injury could have been worse or the lack of more intense pain, but that he drove home with a broken neck. They were convinced had he turned quickly one way or another to look at traffic he could have injured his spinal cord becoming paralyzed and worst case killing himself. They kept him in the hospital overnight, placed him in a neck brace, and commanded him to stay home for six weeks, of which he complied with four before resuming his menacing vocation – minus the hard hat.
In addition to being strung together with barbed wire he was indeed a most stubborn man. A decade later that same stubbornness would cost him his life.
One might think that rugged constitutions are hereditary, I haven’t even begun to mention how fearless my grandfather was, and within my veins flow industrial strength blood. But nothing could be further from the truth.
I have been away from my country roots for far too long. Having lived in metropolitan Atlanta for almost 20 years I am completely acclimated to a leisurely lifestyle. That’s two decades of factory warranties – including oil changes, valet parking, and animal control. I haven’t mowed my own lawn since ‘03 and the sight of an opossum on my deck would scare the shit out of me. I will only camp if I have a blow-up mattress and can bring my own pillow, plus the campsite must be in 3G coverage so I can check email and listen to Pandora. And that most universal of manly affirmations, my tool collection, could fit easily into my son’s Fisher Price toy toolbox.
I only drink light beer and prefer it to be infused with some fruit-flavored serum, plus I need a towel to open the bottle because it hurts my hands without. My ex wife has a dog that still freaks me out and I continue to possess a fear of heights, and cats are Satan incarnate.
The most labor-intensive work I do is entirely voluntarily and I pay a monthly membership for it. The only time I sweat is when I’m on the stair climber and I need water breaks between every workout set. My most prevailing injury isn’t the result of a near death experience or being kicked in the forehead by a horse – it’s my lower back and neck – because I sit on my ass at a computer all day.
It’s probably better that my dad and grandfathers aren’t alive to see the pansy I’ve become. I don’t know if I could successfully explain to them why I moisturize. But if they were around to learn that I ride a chopper on some of the most perilous highways in the US they would immediately commend my dexterity. Apparently a rabid squirrel sends me screaming in terror but darting in and out of traffic on a rolling coffin has no affect at all.
It’s unlikely that my kids or grandkids will ever write about my rugged dexterity or recount stories of how often I cheated death. Instead they’ll talk about their biker dad who drank peach flavored beer and had great skin.