Coffee with Mimi: The ‘Big Toe Incident’

Published 12:00 pm Monday, January 9, 2017

By Mimi Becker

Contributing writer

When I was about 10 years old, my grandfather remarried.  As my grandfather lived in Memphis, we didn’t see him often.  But, for this special occasion we would.

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My grandmother had died some time before.  My grandfather came from a large family and, through the process of visiting and catching up old friends and family following my grandmother’s death, he came into natural contact with our Aunt Dorothy.  Aunt Dorothy was the widow of a brother-in-law.  We actually already knew Aunt Dorothy — and that is what we called her, because she was, well, our great-aunt.

So, Granddaddy and Aunt Dorothy decided to marry.

Here, the story takes a bit of an unusual turn.  Instead of a ceremony in Memphis to which the multitude of far-flung family members would trek, Granddaddy and Aunt Dorothy decided to drive to Nashville for a fairly private ceremony officiated by his son, our dad’s older brother, the priest.

From Nashville, the newlyweds would travel to Stanford to spend a few days with us. I kid you not.  Granddaddy and Aunt Dorothy would spend the equivalent of a honeymoon with my family, which at the time included Mom, Dad and five children.  I was the oldest.  Ten years old.  There may have been a dog, too.

Preparations began.  Mom banished us to the yard, cleaned up a storm and laid in provisions befitting the occasion.  By Friday afternoon, all was ready.  The house was shiny and orderly, but outside were all those kids who would have made Mom’s efforts pointless.

Not to worry.  Grab your swimsuits, towels and toys.  It’s off to the pool.  If you aren’t at home you can’t cause havoc, right?

That summer, I had learned how to dive off the actual diving board.  Not just front ways, but I could do an inward.  You know — where you balance on your toes on the end of the board, your back facing the water, jump back and then dive in.   

Well, this time, as I called to my mom to watch, I went straight down.  I had gone too far out on my toes.  Looking back on it, I cringe to think how I could have caught my chin and this story may have ended quite differently.      

I swam to the ladder not really aware that anything hurt, initial shock effect and all.  As I climbed out and looked down at my foot, it was apparent that something was not quite in alignment and it was starting to hurt a bit.  I hobbled to the baby pool where my mom was watching the youngest child splash about.  Examining my foot, the assembled baby pool moms agreed a visit to the ER would be a wise precaution.

Off we go.  I have no recollection of what she did with the rest of our crew.  Dad was called and met us at the hospital.  After X-rays and consultation with the doctor, it was confirmed that I had two broken toes.  The big one and the next one.  Here is where the story becomes bizarre.  The broken big toe required surgery.  It seems the bone was broken in such a way that it had to be removed. 

Unbelievably, this injury required an all-out surgery, complete anesthesia, and an anticipated stay in the hospital of enough days that I would receive cards in the mail and kid gifts. Surgery was scheduled for Saturday morning.

Remember who is on the way from Nashville?  Yep.  No way to let them know, either.  ETA at our house — sometime Saturday.  A babysitter was parked at the house with the kids.  Mom and Dad are at the hospital with me.  Not to worry, Granddaddy had eight kids; he could handle a bit of chaos.  Hopefully Aunt Dorothy had a sense of humor and a strong constitution.

My dad worked at what was then the Cowden factory in Stanford.  Many of his employees were women for whom making blue jeans was an eight hour day job and helping to run the family farm consumed the rest of their waking hours.  One woman was always telling Dad that what his children needed was a pig.  Dad didn’t agree.  He apparently was not clear in his sentiments.

You guessed it.  Saturday morning, Lottie decided that dad’s kids were going to get their pig —  as a surprise.

The babysitter wisely determined the pig shouldn’t be in the house without parental permission.  It was decided to rig up a barrier at the top of the outside stairway to the basement and put the pig in there.

Truth be told, it was just a piglet.  Piglets are cute and little and not capable of climbing their way out of stairwells so it was pretty harmless and a source of fascination for all the kids in the neighborhood who had gathered to hang over the stair railing.

Granddaddy and Aunt Dorothy arrive.