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Square Nails and Deck Shoes

In 1963 or so there was an abandoned school house just a few yards from where I lived. Far enough away to be safe from the prying eyes of adults if we were careful, but close enough that we kids had to keep our exuberance under control so as not to be heard. The old yellow schoolhouse was “off limits” to us. We played there a lot, in complete secrecy, when we were children.

It was slated for demolition since it was in disuse for so long. As sad as I was to see it being demolished, I was also very curious about the demolition process. Over the weeks it took the men to dismantle the old yellow brick building I would hang around watching. I would hang around on the fringe of all the activity, watching, trying to stay out of the way. Actually, I tried to escape any notice at all for fear they would send me far enough away that I couldn’t see anything.

One evening my grandfather went back to clean up some tools because the weather was predicting rain for the next day. I went with him. I remember I was asking a million questions and balancing on the big boards that were lying all about. They were huge, wide boards that were easy to balance on for my small feet. But even so, I felt like the high wire walker in the circus. Then I found that they had square nails sticking up about two to three inches out of them. I had never seen square nails before, they intrigued me. I wondered if they were harder to hammer in because they weren’t smooth like round nails? I wondered how long were the longest square nails, and if I could find a way to have one or two of those old nails to remember the schoolhouse by? Hmmm….

I was wearing my brand-new navy blue deck shoes. They were marvelous shoes. They were a beautiful crisp navy blue with white soles and white eyelets and white laces. They were a bright contrast to the aged, dull, golden grey of the boards I was walking on. Then I saw it! A nail in my board. I looked around to make sure Grandpa wasn’t going to stop me before I could check out this nail more closely.

He was busy and not paying attention at all. I lifted my right foot up and set it down, heel first, right over that nail. Then I put the ball of my foot against the nail and pushed. Feeling the pressure from the sole of my shoe pushing against the ball of my foot, I wondered how much pressure it would take to get hurt. Snap! That nail just snapped right in half under my pretty navy blue and white deck shoe.

I had such power! You cannot imagine. It was a sharp and very satisfying, s-u-h-n-a-p. As I marveled over the wonderful power sensation that sharp but quiet sound gave me I noticed another. Toward the end of the board was another. Then the next board over had several nails also! Wow! I went skipping from board to board with their wonderful treasure of power giving square nails. Happy as happy can be…


…The one that didn’t go s-n-a-p.

Instead of that power giving sound there was a stomach turning, dull, squish instead….and a blinding PAIN! Oh, my goodness! I was immediately nauseous and I think I was struck blind for a moment because it went black all around me. I do believe I remember seeing stars in the blackness. Then this scream exploded in my ears and I saw my grandpa shoot straight up and whip around to look at me. That was when I knew the scream came from my throat. I couldn’t lift my foot off the board. It was effectively nailed to the board; who knew it was possible to nail in reverse?!?!?!?

My grandpa came running over, sized up the situation in a heartbeat, bent over and told me to hang on to his back and before I could utter the words, “Don’t touch it” he had taken hold of my calf and pulled straight up. there was no release of my foot but there was an agonized moan that escaped my clenched teeth. He grabbed a good hold on my ankle by wrapping his arm around the calf of my leg and he grabbed the toe of that pretty, navy blue deck shoe and pulled straight up again. This time my foot released the nail (or the nail released my foot) with a sickening sucking sound. Relief and screaming pain simultaneously but no blood. I couldn’t walk normally on my foot because it hurt like the dickens every time I stepped down, but I did manage to hobble on my heel to get home. Grandma helped me get my shoe and sock off, but still no blood as she raised my foot to look at the bottom where the nail had gone in.

There was a square hole in my foot the size of the nail, but still no blood. My grandpa told her the story and they both decided there should be blood…they took a closer look at the hole with a magnifying glass…and then he saw it…a chunk of my deck shoe sole had been driven into my flesh. After several moments of discussion, they decided the most prudent way to remove the rubber from my foot was to stab it with a needle and then hope the needle held while they pulled the rubber from the wound.

Reliving it while writing about it these 50+ years later still makes me nauseous. There was plenty of noise and tears while they worked to get the rubber sole out of my foot…the entire 3/4-inch length of it. Then there was blood. I remember feeling very faint, but I don’t recall fainting. Where is a good faint when you need it?

So… the moral of the story is that even very old metal is likely to be stronger than rubber and/or flesh…don’t stomp on it.








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