My little brother held his arm as if it were a bone china tureen filled with hot soup, not that he’d know or care at all about what bone china is.
“I fell out of a tree up at the mission.” The Columban fathers had a mission a block from our house. It was acres and acres of deciduous forest. It was our playground, our happy place.
“I’ll call your father.”
She didn’t drive.
I don’t know what happened next. I don’t know where I went — probably to a neighbor’s or maybe (I think) my grandma was visiting — or where the bone was set, but my brother came home with a cast on his forearm.
“Simple break,” said my dad. “No reason for hysterics, Helen.”
“I broke my arm,” she stuck out her left arm so we could see the crooked bit. “It never healed right.”
“Helen,” sighed my dad, “there were no hospitals.”
“She sent David for Dr. Festy.” David being her older brother.
“Had to set it with boards in the kitchen, right? They did the best they could.”
“My poor boy. Mother gave me castor oil.”
“For a broken arm?”
“I wouldn’t stop crying.”
My dad shook his head and laughed. That was my grandma. What do you do on a dirt farm with ten kids, no car, no phone, two Percherons, a 7-year-old with a broken arm? From where I sit now, castor oil doesn’t seem that crazy.
“Well, it ruins our vacation,” said my mom.
“Why?” asked my dad.
“Kirk won’t be able to do anything. He has to be in a cast for three months!”
That did not turn out to be the case. Kirk did everything a two-armed kid would do except play Little League which he hated, anyway.
At the end of the summer, we went to Montana on the train as usual. The days were long, hot, sweet and filled with family. There were sunset games of Red Rover and lots of running in the tall grass of the pasture between grandma’s house and Aunt Jo’s. There were backyard picnics with fried chicken, red Jell-o mixed with fruit cocktail, potato salad and pie. The grownups sat in lawn chairs smoking in the darkness while we played monsters with flashlights.
One afternoon our cousins came over to stay with grandma and play with us. My brother was playing in the ditch (not supposed to because of the cast) with the two youngest cousins, girls, while I tried watercolor painting with out a brush — I was trying to use the bristly ends of some wild grass. It didn’t work. Kirk and my cousins came screeching in through the backdoor. Kirk had caught a sucker with his bare hands. This was a marvel, a feat previously only accomplished by my mom.
“Mom! Look what I caught!” He held the fish carefully in both hands.
“Where’s your cast?” asked my mom, turning pale.
“I don’t know,” said my brother, suddenly realizing how seriously he’d messed up. It turned out he’d been slipping that thing off for weeks when he didn’t want to wear it.
I still have an image in my mind of that tow-headed kid in the Hawaiian shirt my mom had made him during the months she and my dad were living in Honolulu and we were living with Aunt Jo and Uncle Hank in Montana. We’re in a doctor’s waiting room. The chairs are Chartreuse, the tile floor black and white. Kirk and my mom are called into the examining room. They get up and Kirk leaves the cast on the chair.