Cuts, calluses, and cracks. Skin the color of sandy loam. In later years, joints like walnuts, fingers like roots.
For farmers, the hands have it. They are an open book, field notes written in flesh, living proof whether the farmer farms for fun or profit.
After ten years of farming (for profit, if you can call it that), these hands seem natural to me, as much a part of the landscape as bark on old trees. The nurse at the urgent care center thought otherwise.
Having finished stitching up my right thumb, the doc told her to clean me up. With gauze and alcohol, she began wiping blood and dirt off my hand.
“Is this cut from the accident?” she asked, as she scrubbed my forefinger.
“No,” I said.
“What about this one?”
Didn’t she understand? This was farming. Something slips. Bites. Falls. You curse. Bleeding stops. You move on.
Except today it wouldn’t stop.
“My God,” she admonished. “Your hand is full of cuts.”
The way she said it, like I was reckless — or stupid — set me on edge.
I studied my hand, spread out on the blue pad like a dried up starfish. Then hers beside it. So unnaturally white and soft and sterile, not unlike the gauze pressed against her flawless thumb.
Suddenly self-conscious, I noticed more cuts – the mud on my boots, the rip on my blood-stained shirt, the sour smell of spent grain I fed the pigs that morning. Should I have changed before I came here? Surely not. I was bleeding badly.
“Like a stuck pig,” the doc had said, annoyed he had trouble stopping the “bleeder.”
I wondered why he choose that metaphor. Was he trying to relate to me? Did I have pig manure on my jeans? Or were all the pigs I have raised and stuck and eaten finally getting back at me?
Six months ago, one of those pigs brought Steve, my daughter’s boyfriend, to this very clinic. A part-wild boar with a bad attitude, he had hit him from behind, his tusk tearing Steve’s pant leg and a hunk of flesh deep enough to require eight stitches.
The entire staff came in to have a look. At this strong, handsome farm hand bleeding at the thigh.
Steve grew impatient: “Will you quit gawking and sew the damn thing up.”
Afterward, I teased him. Called him a lucky Son of Adonis, after the Greek god who died from a boar wound…to the thigh.
Now here I was, his boss, bleeding too. Only none of the nurses came to gawk. My story was just one more embarrassment.
I could have cut myself when we skinned that boar. Or when I extracted his tusks and presented them to Steve for his birthday the night before last. But no, just a broken cup hidden in the suds of liquid Dove.
Yes, I cut myself washing dishes.
Steve, a Minnesota native, has gotten lots of mileage from his cut. Went to Texas and survived a 400-pound hog attack, he tells his buddies. He’ll carry that scar around for life. Proudly.
As for mine? Who knows where it came from. That page in the open book must have fallen out.