Digging for Gravel – Part 1
I moaned in pain, so much pain that my eleven-year old body could barely move.
“I know this is rough buddy, it hurts us almost as much as it does you,” the nurse said softly.
“The hell it does,” I weakly sputtered, or thought I did. My groggy mind froze; did I just cuss out loud? In front of my mother? My mother the preacher’s wife? Mom stood by my gurney, blinking back tears as she watched several nurses wield stainless-steel wire brushes on my back. Even the pain killers couldn’t stop the pain as they raked out the gravel ground deep into my skinny flesh. Nor could those drugs stop the worry of me cussing in front of Mom.
Then it didn’t matter, I blacked out. My ear lobe was torn, I had a concussion and gravel was embedded from my left upper shoulder to my lower back.
Our church had just concluded their first week long, home-grown, overnight camp for kids, and my dad, the Pastor, was driving a big farm stake-truck with side-racks, hauling the last load of borrowed things back to their owners.
My dad loved church camps. At his first pastorate—Country Roads Bible Church—he and mom organized one in a grove of pine trees with large, peaked army tents. Hiking, swimming, softball and other games were held along with devotions and Bible study. When he accepted the pastorate of the Main Street Bible Church, the board and members got excited about the idea of their own church camp. One member in the congregation offered the use of his muck farm where he raised vegetables and had several old vacant migrant worker shacks, an outhouse and a well. The buildings were cleaned out, the outhouse limed, the well tested and sanitized, a dining tent set up and the women and retiree’s organized to bring out three meals a day. For swimming, we campers—all boys that first year—were hauled to a local lake, usually in the back of the same truck Dad was driving.
Dad pulled into the driveway of a church member’s ramshackle farm, shut off the engine and climbed down from the cab. The truck was piled high with mattresses, camping equipment, folding tables and other gear stuffed under, over and around a picnic table sitting on the truck bed. My buddy, Bruce, and several of his brothers rushed out of their tattered house as their mother, Henrietta May, blessed with six rambunctious boys, stood in the doorway wearing her worn house dress and ever present, sweet patient smile.
“Hey! Pastor Don,” one of the boys yelled out, “where’s Bill?”
“He must be up on top hiding from you, climb up there and look for him, then you can hand some stuff down.” My dad chuckled.
“Uh, Pastor Don? He’s not up here. Really. Pastor Don! Bill is not up here!”
Dad took one look at the top of the load and noticed the missing mattress. His heart pounding, he ordered the boys to climb down, jumped back into the truck and began retracing his route down the dusty gravel farm roads. Several miles back, he noticed a mattress in the ditch. Then he saw me, unconscious, lying in the shade of a garage that sat close to the road. He remembered his last joking words to me as I clambered up into the load, excited to ride in the back, high up, no shirt on, “Don’t let that top mattress blow off.”
Apparently, that’s what happened, a gust of wind lifted the mattress, which in turn knocked me off my perch. I wasn’t riding on the mattress, but suspect I grabbed for it or lunged for it when it started to lift and lost my balance. I landed on my left shoulder and head, and plowed through the gravel before crawling out of the roadway into the shade of that garage.
I was unconscious during the above actions, but have heard it repeated enough times from Bruce, his brothers and my father to be able to see it in my mind. I also don’t remember Dad finding me, lifting me high into the truck cab and driving me the three miles back to our small-town doctor. I vaguely recall being in the doctor’s office, aware of my mother who rushed the block and a half from our home, the parsonage on Main Street. I remember sensing her fear and concern when she heard the doctor tell someone to call for the hearse and somehow realized I was going for a ride in the back of it – to the hospital, not the cemetery, which meant I might live.
Part 2 – next week!