It occurs to me that you might get a better sense of my stories about growing up on the ranch if you knew a little bit more about me. Two things, especially, are important in this context. One, I was born small and sickly. Two, I pretty much had to do every stupid thing twice. First the small and sickly part.

I was born with a gamma globulin deficiency. My blood lacked immunoglobulin A, which is a type of antibody that protects against infections of the mucous membranes lining the mouth, airways and digestive tract. It’s the sort of thing that had I been born a decade or so earlier, I probably would have been weeded out by natural selection.

It meant that I was sick all the time and I never put on any weight. I also got lots of shots. I spent a lot of my early childhood nights with my chest coated with Vicks VapoRub (the foul-smelling goop in the little blue jar) and a humidifier humming in my room. I had bronchitis a lot and coughed many a night away. Middle of the night trips to the emergency room were not uncommon for me. (Since I’d had an older sister die of crib death a year or two before I was born, my mom was especially worried about me, so some of the trips might not have been completely necessary.)


I was so skinny that Mom told stories of older ladies stopping her in the store or wherever and asking her if she was feeding me. I was so skinny my younger brother weighed more at six months than I did at two years (of course, he was a chunky little thing).

All through elementary school, whenever the weather started to turn cooler, once a week I’d raise my hand in class and the teacher would send me out (probably gratefully, since I was kind of hyperactive and never stopped talking). I’d walk the half dozen blocks to the doctor’s office, get my shot and a sucker, and walk back to school (imagine that happening now, a six-year-old kid leaving school unaccompanied!)

I was also born pigeon-toed. The doctor told my parents they could buy me special corrective shoes, costing about fifty bucks a pair (that was a lot of moola back in the ‘60s) or they could just put my shoes on the wrong feet. (Guess which one they chose!) The downside was that Mom said she often had women stopping her to ask if she knew her son’s shoes were on the wrong feet (no word on whether they were the same women concerned about my feeding). I also apparently had to wear leg braces at night to straighten my lower legs or something. I don’t have any memory of that, though.

All through elementary school I was the smallest kid in my class. The skinniest too. Everyone, but everyone, was bigger than me. Glorious was the day when a new boy moved into town in sixth grade and he was actually skinnier than me!

I signed up for high school football standing all of five foot tall and weighing a grand total of 80 pounds. Yes, I got knocked around a lot. (Oh, I was, and still am, one of the slowest runners around as well. It’s possible to be less suited for football than I was, but it’s not easy.)

You know how elderly relatives squeeze your cheek when you’re a kid and say, “My goodness, you’re growing like a weed”? Well, when they did that to me it was all I could do not to punch them right in their elderly noses because no weed in the history of the world ever grew as slowly as I did. That used to make me so mad. (I did finally start growing around my sophomore/junior year in high school. Something like seven inches in one year. I put on close to a foot in high school.)

The point of all this is that when I relate tales about horses falling on me, bulls smashing into me, or cows trampling me, you can see just how unfair the contest really was.

Making it all worse was the fact that I didn’t seem to be able to learn a lesson about not doing stupid things until I had done them twice.

My parents were divorced when I was just a baby (and then remarried a couple years later) and for a while Mom, Kim and I lived in a house with a brick wall around the yard. Kim liked to get up and walk on top of the wall and apparently I was just wild to do the same thing. Shortly after learning to walk, I managed to climb up and copy her.

Unfortunately, on the outside of the wall, right where it made a right-angle turn, was a big prickly pear cactus. I did all right on the straight part, but couldn’t quite manage the turn and fell face first into the thing.

Which bought me another trip to the hospital.


in case you’ve never been lucky enough to encounter a prickly pear

A couple days later, fully recovered from the ordeal, I climbed up on the wall, made it to the corner, and promptly fell into the cactus again.

Some people are just slow learners.

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