My Grampa, Melvin Alan Rose was a tough old bird. He was my Maternal grandfather. Raised during the Depression, he was a Jack of all trades, and a guy that knew how to hustle. That is how I remember him.
But this story took place long before I knew him, before I, or even my mother were born. In fact I am pretty sure it happened shortly after the birth of my Aunt, Theodora Jean Rose, in the Fall of 1941. Grampa was working as a Fire Watch for the US Forest Service in Northern California. He worked and lived up in that tower, completely cut off, remember this was 1941…
My Grandmother had driven out the 3 hours or so pre-Interstate Highway Forest Service Roads, mind you, to his Tower post for the day. She had brought his newborn daughter with and they were going to have a picnic, yes, that had been the plan.
Grampa had seen the car approaching the tower of course, and he was very excited to see them when they pulled into the clearing. Grampa was pulling stuff together, getting ready to climb the ladder down from the Observation area of the tower.
Keep in mind, this was a Fire Watch Tower, so it was a good 100′ feet up, maybe more. And the only entrance was through a trap door and ladder in the floor of the observation area which he had already opened.
Grandad had been waving out the window to them when they got out of the car, when his excitement got the better of him. he turned, and stepped through the opened trap door! 100′ to the ground, in one step…But for grampa’s reflexes.
You see, Grampa had been a bare knuckles boxer in the CCC. When I say tough old bird, I am really only seeing the grampa of MY memory, not the young man he was then, 26 years old.
In grasping for a handhold, he had literally punched through the plate glass observation window in front of him, shattered it. He had managed to throw his left arm, through the window, and was holding on to the window frame.
He managed to pull himself back up into the observation room, but at a price. His left arm, on going thru the window, was cut badly, and worse, his wrist and hand had come down on, and were punctured by, glass still embedded in the window frame. He was bleeding badly.
He grabs the pillow nearest him, and puts it on the wounds, wrapping a sheet around it. I presume he through down more bedding before going threw down the ladder, as they added to his dressings later. Cool and calm he was. Then he came down the ladder one handed. Bleeding to death(so said the docs later), and he remembered to grab extra dressing for his wounds!
As I said before, they were a good three hours from civilization. So here Grampa was, bleeding profusely, with a freaked out wife and a screaming child…. God I can just see it, poor guy… and poor gramma, I mean, she went for a picnic, not a horror movie!
They get to the hospital, and the first thing the doctors say is that he is lucky to be alive. The second is that he is going to lose the arm. That, was not going to fly, Grampa wasn’t having it. They were going to save it. The doctors swore he had lost too much blood to save it, but he insisted. As such, they weren’t that careful about it, thinking that they would be coming back to amputate it.
They were wrong. In fact, grampa’s arm was healing so well, that they realized they had to go back in a redo some of their shoddy work. They hadn’t been very careful closing him up, and they had to go back in, if his nerve endings were to heal properly. So they did, and again he was healing splendidly.
Unfortunately, it was 1941. We didn’t have many of the things we take for granted now. You see, part of the healing regimen was hot compresses. The electric heating pad wasn’t as ubiquitous as they are now, nor any of the other new fangled heating tools we have today.
Grampa was using boiling water to heat his compresses, and he was being very dutiful about doing them. The problem was the nerve damage. He couldn’t feel a good portion of his arm. The using of boiling water, too hot, because he couldn’t feel it, did even more damage, eventually killing all chance of nerve recovery, nor full mobility.
His left hand crippled, at 26. As a kid, I had no idea he had a disablity at all. Sure, he called it his pinching hand, but as a left handed kid, perhaps I was more aware that people had a good and bad hand.
I guess my grampa’s left hand being less capable than his right didn’t surprise me. I was ambidextrious, so I was good with both hands, and knew that was unusual from a young age. So grampa was no more handicapped than every body else out there that wasn’t ambidextrious like me.
Thing is, I wasn’t the only one that never noticed a disability. He volunteered with my Boy Scout troop when I was a kid. I guarantee that none of those boys, now men, would believe me if I told them he had been disabled. How could he possibly have threatened to “Break yer arm”, so many times? Ironic choice of favorite threat, I suppose..
He went on, after the accident to work as a Police Officer, Delivery Driver, and retired from the railroad, Southern Pacific. Lived his whole life able-bodied. No hints he had a disability.
Now I am not saying his disability didn’t hinder him, employment wise, it did. The most exciting fields with the Railroad were closed to him, due to the hand. He was stuck being a clerk, and he advanced as far as he could quite quickly, and was frustrated by this.
His career with Stockton Police department was similarly, affected. After many years on the force, they changed the standards for officers, and required requalification for MOST, officers. My grandfather, though confident he could pass the new requirements, was refused the opportunity to even try. His hndicap precluded him from even getting the opportunity to try.
The real thing it kept him from was participation in WWII. This broke his heart. He tried multiple times, to no avail. his disability just precluded him going at all. Didn’t matter if he could prove he could do everything needed, he wasn’t going. He did home guard, light patrols, etc. This is probably the beginnings of his Law Enforcement career. But it broke his heart, truly, not getting to go serve his country.
So employment opportunities laid bare his handicap, but nothing else in his life did. No, he, he was a fully funtioning, capable male, and he’d break the arm of any man that said different.
Well, oK, he did have one advantage he took…… He got a suicide knob on his steering wheel…. That is the ONLY privilege he ever asked for… No handicap plates, no nothing…. He sure loved giving young cops what for when they questioned his use of that knob…… Now that I think about it… I never SAW any paperwork authorizing that knob…. Maybe he just told the story so well…. He was a Hustler… but this story was about survivng… I’ll save his hustles for another story….