One summer day

What I think I remember is standing in the coffee shack, or maybe next to it, waiting for a customer to come out in the lumber yard waving a yard ticket. Or maybe I was waiting on somebody. Wherever I was standing was someplace out of sight of the bay in the back of the building where the loading dock was for paint and hardware. The paint and hardware was kept on the second floor, so you had to drive the pallets of paint or hardware into the bay, and then raise them up to the second floor loading dock, which could be a little tricky at times.

I definitely remember when Scooter started yelling. Screaming is more like it. Everyone within earshot heard it, and knew instantly that something had gone wrong. I was around the corner fast enough to see Scooter hopping on one foot, while the other foot dangled, hanging by the Achille’s tendon, the white end of the bone showing. The forklift was slowly rolling backwards behind him. Scooter had gotten his foot stuck in the forklift somehow, and it had ripped his foot off. There wasn’t much blood.

Jack Crane got to Scooter first, and made him lie down. Someone else ran inside and called the ambulance. The little yellow Clark forklift was still slowly running backwards so I ran over and turned it off, put on the parking brake, and lowered the blades.

A few of us gathered around Scooter. Jack was holding his head. “How bad is it?” said Scooter. “Am I going to lose my foot?” Scooter was just eighteen that summer. Jack told him it was going to be O.K. I looked at the foot hanging there, and wasn’t so sure; but I wasn’t going to say anything like that out loud. In between saying it hurt, Scooter said he was lifting a pallet of paint up to the loading dock, when some of the cans started to shift, so he stood on the tire of the forklift, but he hadn’t put on the parking brake, so it started to roll back, and had caught his foot. He was crying, and kept saying it hurt, and you could tell he was wondering inside, would his foot be all right?

The ambulance came really quickly, and they took Scooter away. After they were gone, we talked what had happened. I could see it in my head, see just how it must have happened. When those five-gallon cans of paint started to shift, he should have stepped gently on the brake and come to a stop while slowly lowering the blades, because when a forklift starts rocking if you lower the blades you can often stop the rocking. And then keep lowering them slowly: if a few cans of paint fell, well then they would fall, but the less distance they had to fall the less likely they would break open. But Scooter had a tendency to act quickly, before he thought everything through. He quickly got up out of the driver’s seat to try to brace the cans, and to reach them he stepped farther than he meant to and stepped on the tire of the forklift. But he hadn’t put on the parking brake, and the forklift started rolling back, and his foot got caught between the fender and the tire, and — God almighty, what a horrific image that was.

I was the first one who had to use the little yellow Clark forklift after the accident, and I didn’t much like doing it. We talked over what had happened again and again, convincing ourselves that we wouldn’t have done what Scooter had done. The more we talked about it, the less vivid was that image in our minds, Scooter’s foot being pulled — even today, my mind backs away from that thought. We kept talking about it, and even though no one said so, we all knew that there but for the grace of God went each one of us.

They managed to reattach Scooter’s foot. He was in the hospital for quite a few weeks. Of course we took up a collection right away, and Art went out and bought Scooter a Sony Walkman, so he could listen to music while he lay in his hospital bed. I remember going in to Emerson Hospital with a bunch of the guys from the yard to give it to him. He gave one of his big goofy grins when he saw what it was.

This happened twenty-five or thirty years ago. I can’t remember if he came back to work that summer, but he was pretty much completely recovered by the time came for him to go back to college. Scooter came back to work the next summer, and then he moved away. I stayed in town, working at the lumber yard, and since Scooter’s father was a carpenter I’d see him around, and every once in a while I’d ask how Scooter was doing; he was always doing fine. Finally I moved away.

About five years ago, I went back to town for the big annual parade, and who should I run in to but Scooter, standing there watching the parade and looking about the same as he had twenty years before. I was in a rush to meet my dad somewhere, so I couldn’t stop to talk; all we did was say, Hi, hey good to see you! Then we said, Take care, good to see you! — and as we did I thought about his foot but didn’t say anything.

Every now and then, that accident comes back into my mind. I happened to think about it this afternoon, for no good reason, while I was out taking a walk. When that happens, then for just an instant I relive that day: summer day, blue sky, sun shining down, Scooter yelling, the ambulance, then standing around talking about it and getting back to work and finishing out the day just like every other day at work, until finally you punch out and go home.

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