I’ve been leading a monthly memoir writing at church. I do the exercises, too, and recently I wrote about something that happened almost exactly thirty years ago this week. So here are my memories of that day. I’ve changed the names, because there’s no reason to give those names to intrusive search engines.
August —, 1982
During the summer, the lumberyard always hired someone extra to help out in the in the yard, and to help out stocking shelves in the store. Summers were busy, and there was always at least a truck driver, or one of the yardmen, or the stock clerk, on vacation. One summer they hired Bud, whose father worked in the building trades, and who lived in one of the streets back in behind the lumberyard. He was a few years younger than I, which means he must have been seventeen or eighteen. If you saw him, you’d describe him immediately as a good guy: he was always smiling and cheerful, he always worked hard and he was in great shape.
And Bud was also always late to work. One morning we were all standing around the time clock at 7:29, waiting for the last few guys to punch in at 7:30. There was no sign of Bud. He had been warned not to be late again. Suddenly we saw him running down the street towards the back fence. There was no way he could run all the way around the fence to the front door, then through the store (past the president’s office) to the time clock, by 7:30.
“He’s going to be late,” said Bill, one of the drivers.
Bud ran straight at the fence: six feet of chain link on a framework of four-by-fours topped with eighteen inches of barbed wire. He leaped at it, got his feet on the top four-by-four, gave a little spring over the barbed wire, hit the ground running, and punched in at exactly 7:30 a.m., grinning widely.
He was a lot of fun to work with.
One fine sunny summer morning, I was helping a customer load up his truck, I think with green hemlock S4S two by tens. All of a sudden we heard Bud yelling. Everyone heard Bud yelling: it was a horrible sound. Everyone in ear shot turned and looked, or came up to the front of the yard where the sound came from. What I saw when I came around the corner was this: The little yellow forklift slowly rolling backwards out of the bay. Bud was getting down off the forklift, and hopping on one foot. Obviously, he had been putting a pallet of paint into the second bay in the back of the main building. Bud was yelling because the other foot, the one he wasn’t hopping on, hung at an impossible angle from his leg.
Dave Dunster, one of our regular contractor customers, reached Bud before anyone else could, and made him lie down. I ran over to the forklift, and put on the brake and lowered the blades, thinking I didn’t want the forklift to get anyone else that day. One of the drivers ran inside to tell Robbie, the dispatcher, to call an ambulance. I went over to where Bud was lying; we were friends, and I just wanted to be there with him. Someone said the ambulance was coming. Bud said he the pallet of paint had started to tip over, and he leaped up on the forklift to try to hold it, but he forgot to put the brake on, forgot and stepped on the tire instead of the fender, the forklift started rolling back, and pulled his foot in between the tire and the fender.
He was lying back, and couldn’t see his foot. He was groaning a little, and he said, “How bad is it?” Because there wasn’t much bleeding, you could see the white leg bone sticking out, and really all that was holding his foot onto his leg was the Achilles’ tendon. So Dave told him it was going to be fine. We heard the sound of the ambulance — the fire station was less than a mile away — and pretty soon they came and bundled up Bud and took him to Emerson Hospital. Someone said they had already called Bud’s father down at his shop, and he would meet Bud at the hospital.
Bud’s accident was all we talked about for the rest of the day. We had to tell the story to all the regular customers who came in that day. “The forklift popped his foot off,” we’d say to the latest customer. “It looked just like biology class, you could see the bone and everything.” Archie, the part-time summer stock clerk, started to take up a collection so we could buy Bud a gift. “We’ll get him a Walkman,” Archie said, “so he can listen to the radio while he’s lying in the hospital.”
We went to visit Bud in the hospital. They had managed to reattach his foot. He was lying there in the hospital bed, looking pale, wearing one of those silly hospital gowns, and grinning at us as we came in. Someone asked him how he was doing, and he said that it hurt a little now and then, but the doctors said he wouldn’t even know the accident had happened except maybe he’d get a twinge on a rainy day. He was going to be fine, but he was kind of bored in the hospital, and he was glad we had gotten him the Walkman.
He didn’t come back to work at the lumberyard that summer, but he recovered completely and came back to work the next summer. Sometime in the late 1990s, I saw Bud at the annual Patriot’s Day parade in Concord. I was hurrying off to meet my dad, so I only had time to talk briefly. He had finished college, gotten a good job, was married, and they had a child. He was the same old Bud, with that big friendly grin on his face. I didn’t bother asking about the accident.