East Orange Life - Scratch  © 2000 Pete Smith

          "It's only a scratch", mom would say. I find myself using that same line, or something similar, quite often myself these days, with three boys of my own. I realise now, the terror hidden underneath those brave words. What we really mean is "Dear God, help me, he's bleeding all over the place" or "Please God, don't let his neck be broken".
     They used to say that the people at Mountainside hospital knew my mom on a first-name basis. Sort of like, "Hello Mary, which one is it this time? Why don't we take that bloody dish-towel away from his face and see what we have".
     I would never be able to account for all of our 7 brother's injuries and neither would Mountainside. As a matter of fact they are still probably sending medical bills to 26 Fulton St. Of course the injuries that I sustained are burned into my memory forever, as I'm sure is the case for all of us.
     Like the time I fell off the Helmstetter's garage roof and broke both of my wrists:
     There was a tree behind the garage, with a small branch that extended towards the edge of the roof. Someone, (I don't know who; there were always 5 or 6 of us playing together along with Tommy and "Boomer" Helstetter, plus a few other friends who played in the small patch of brush behind the garages known as "the back-woods"), figured-out that this thin branch was quite "springy" and if you sort of leaned out off the roof and at the same time grabbed the end of it, you would swing down to the ground, and the branch would pop back up to the edge of the roof, ready for the next nut-case. I can remember 8 or 10 kids standing up on the roof waiting for a turn.
     It was fun! Weeeoooo! Watch this one! You couldn't buy toys like this, and besides, we were experts at making-up our own games and activities, most of which were quite dangerous. (I remember someone dug a "tunnel" in this back-woods area; it was big enough to hold several people, and Bob tells about the time Meg Helmstetter's hair caught fire from a candle in there!)
     So anyway, I "swung-down" once or twice. The combination of fear and bravery was tremendous; having to grab that branch just as you leaned-out and began to fall. I wasn't sure whether I wanted to give it one more go but..."oh well, what the heck, I don't want to be a sissy". You see, here we had 7 young boys, with no real father figure, (our dad having died 2 days after the youngest, Vin, was born), and the combination of hot-dogs, brookdale soda, and testosterone, made for some pretty uncontrolled behavior.
     OK, so I'm gonna give it one last time. I'm standing at the edge of the garage; my knees are shaking; I fall foward and reach for the branch...and the branch is not there! I'm clutching at thin-air! So I fall, staight down, head-first with my arms extended, like superman, and hit the ground, breaking both wrists on impact. They weren't compound fractures or anything, but I did manage to crack both bones in my left wrist and one in the right. So, I knew I was hurt bad, and I think more than that, scared as hell because everyone was just standing there with their eyes wide, and their mouths open. So I started screaming at the top of my lungs to try and wake everyone up from the trance they were in, and what did they do? They all ran away! I'm walking around like a blind, screaming mummy, and they all take-off to go get mom.
     So anyway, I wound-up with a short cast on each arm, and got lots of sympathy for a little while. I thought I was pretty cool walking into 4th grade with a double sling...like:
     "What happened to you"?!
     "Oh, I was jumping off the garage roof", I'd say nonchalantly.      "How high was the garage"? they would ask.
     "Regular size", I'd say, acting as if it was 3 stories instead of about 8 feet.
     (Note: Mom might argue one point here, and say she waited until the next day to take me to the hospital, but I'm pretty sure she's thinking of the time I broke my elbow when we were tightrope walking on the headboards of the beds.)
     But anyway, all kinds of stuff happened to us back then. Vin broke his arm falling off the sliding board down at Watsessing park. I remember he just stared at us in amazement; he wasn't even crying. I'm not sure if he was in shock or just wondering what the hell we were doing. There were about 10 of us; everyone taking turns carrying him all the way up Colonial Terrace, running and yelling and holding his arm in the air. (You can see his cast in the famous "stairs" photo.)
     I know Rich (and maybe Bob) suffered a lot of stitches, beginning with a double hernia. I'm not sure if it was a "double" because they both had them at the same time, or what. Quite posssibly, because they are twins. (But we all know Bob is 3 minutes older than Rich.) Rich will gladly show you the circular scar on his forearm where they "skin-graphed" him.
     However, the one injury that stands-out most for me is Steve's nose:
     Innocently enough, Joe was standing on the 1st floor roof of the house, facing the backyard. He had a simple bamboo pole and decided it might be fun to chuck-it. We've probably all done something like this; throwing something without really the intending or expecting to hit anyone, maybe thinking, "Lets see how close I can come". So Joe chucks the "spear" and Steve is standing there in the backyard, and wham!, it hits him right between the eyes, in the bridge of his nose. "A 1/4 of an inch higher", we would brag, "and it would have hit his brain". I don't remember what happened next. I guess Steve was rushed to good old Mountainside. The scar is still visible 30 years later.
     And the injuries kept-on coming. Later on in life, Joe had some of his teeth knocked-out playing street hockey. Having had so much experience with injuries, someone, maybe even Joe himself, had the where-with-all to pick-up his bloodied teeth and bring them to the doctor so he could put them back in his mouth.
     Not too long ago Joe had an accident with his lawnmower, but I'm not even going to get into it 'cause it gives me the creeps just thinking about it.
     This is probably just the tip of the iceberg so to speak, but what the heck, "It's only a scratch".

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