Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 17, 2014

A day in spring can provide some life-changing moments to a young farm boy

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Whether you’re Irish or not, happy St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve been struggling for two weeks to find something to write about in this column. Our community has experienced extreme weather changes in recent days, unspeakable tragedies and more. I set great stock by my wife’s opinion, and after talking about all the things that have troubled me lately, she said simply, “Write something uplifting. Spring is coming. Write about that.”

I don’t know how my family survived the winter of 1958-’59. Dad was laid up with a heart attack. Mom was selling Avon. My sister Peggy was gathering eggs to sell, and I was running a farm with eight Herefords, two Holstein cows, 30 sheep, 30 chickens, four dogs and one horse called Mack Senora. I was 9, and a little overwhelmed by everything that was going on with the family.

Although I was busy I was still a kid, and as such, I was still prone to doing things that would probably be better off left undone. We had a spring over the hill behind the barn where I used a hose to flow water over to a tub where the animals drank. After dad’s heart attack, a water drilling company drilled four holes to find water and sink a new well above the house. Dad called them “golden post holes.” The spring water ran slow, but it was steady enough for the animals.

I was spry, quick and agile in my youth and during one of my regular walks down to check the spring and make sure the hose was still connected to the tub, I stopped to watch three or four chipmunks — ground squirrels as my wife calls them — playing on a log near the fence line of our small apple orchard. Dad taught me how to build a fence there, but he had his heart attack before we got that far along so there wasn’t a fence there.

I love watching wild critters, except maybe crows. The chipmunks were having a blast on the log and since I was a regular appearance walking down the old fence line to the spring, they didn’t seem to care that I was watching. I inched close enough to reach out and grab one that I could hold and pet. Something possessed me to reach out for one of the cute little fellers. It turned out to be an unwise decision. The chipmunk I selected to be my little friend was reluctant, so he bit into the skin of the thumb on my right hand and locked on.

The reason that I knew he was locked on was because I reacted like any 9-year-old would and threw my hand in the air with the chipmunk holding on for dear life. I had no idea that a furry little critter like a chipmunk could inflict so much pain, but this one appeared to be a Zen master at it. I swung my arm around and tried to brush the chipmunk off against the log, but he was totally connected — body and soul.

Of course, I was familiar with Alvin & the Chipmunks Christmas record, but I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. Eventually, I whacked the chipmunk against a tree trunk, which rattled him a little and swung him back to my left hand where I grabbed him and pinched his surprisingly strong jaws between my index finger and thumb. With just that little encouragement and all the pressure I could assert, he released his grip on my thumb and it started bleeding profusely.

I forgot about checking the spring, and dashed back to the house leaving droplets of blood along the way. When I look at my thumb now, the scar is such a tiny thing — no  more than a half-inch long — but back then, it seemed huge. Mom was used to patching me up, so she didn’t think it was a big deal. I, on the other hand, was smarting a good bit from the bite. Mom didn’t scold me, but she did say that she thought I would have known better than that.

I still couldn’t believe that I had been quick enough to reach out and grab a chipmunk, although I confessed to mom that it wasn’t the first time I tried. “As long as it’s your last, it will be OK,” Mom said. I think she felt sorry for me, but she didn’t say as much. She put mercurochrome and a Band-Aid on it. I had a tetanus shot the year before after I stepped on a nail. She probably thought that between me and the chipmunk, I was the more likely candidate to have rabies, so she didn’t take me to the doctor that time.

Later that summer, I had a terrible incident with a hornets’ nest in a log, and I can honestly say that I have tried my best to avoid stepping on nails. I also learned that the spring of the year is a time when a young person should be on the lookout for ways to expand his or her horizons and experience new things. I discovered a new threshold of pain that day that I was previously unaware of.

One of the side benefits of the events of that afternoon in spring is that I can sing the chorus of the Chipmunk’s “Christmas Song” pretty close to the way it sounds on the record. I have tried to sing it during our Community Christmas Tree concerts for the past two or three years, but Don Whitt put the kibosh on that idea. I did also learn one additional thing that I have kept with me throughout my life. I always wear a pair of thick leather gloves any time I plan to pet a chipmunk. That’s a rule that everyone can live by.

Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at