Do you see that boy and the left? That wasn’t me but it could have been me. When I was a boy, my only pair of shoes had to last all year. That was why most of the time, I ran around barefooted. It was that way with a lot of us kids back then.
Most of the streets of Oxnard were not paved, they were just dirt. During the rainy season the city workers would go down to the beach by Point Mugu and turn over the sand with plowing discs. They would gather the clamshells and crush them, and then spread them over the streets.
Most of the time the city streets were soft and did not have too many rocks. There were still a lot of horse-drawn buggies and wagons, so I had to watch where I stepped. Road apples we call them. When I got home after a long day of fooling around, I would just hose down my feet and I would be as good as new.
The countries in Europe were fighting each other. It was called the Great War. The United States was not involved that war, but everybody knew that we would be, and soon. The newspapers were making a great effort to induce young men to volunteer to the Armed forces. They had Posters of Uncle Sam pointing a finger directly at you. The caption would read: “The U.S. Government needs you in the Army.” Or, “I want you.”
I stopped to look at the poster in a store window. I was on my way home from the grocery store, I was carrying a shopping bag full of things my mama wanted. The Chinese man there always gave me a piece of candy as I left his store. He couldn’t speak English, and neither could I, but somehow we got along.
I started to hear music from a marching band. The drums got my attention first. They were loud and echoed off the city buildings as the band marched by. The musicians were in uniform and I was amazed at how they could march and play music at the same time. The world was full of wonders.
Right behind the band, a car drove by. It was moving slowly and had flags on the side. The car had a soldier standing on the running board on one side, and a sailor on the other side. Both the soldier and the sailor were blowing bugles. I stood and watched. I waited to see if anything else interesting would come along. No, that was it. Drumbeats and the music faded away and street went back to normal.
Although most of the streets in town were not paved, there were wooden channels at the crossings, that is to say, at the corners, to carry away the storm waters in the rainy season. They were made of 3″x 12″ Douglas Fir. The top of these channels were exposed and flush with top of the street. The steel rims of the buggies and wagons had caused many splinters to rise on the surface of those wooden planks.
I was at the corner of 4th and B Streets walking the two blocks back to our house on C Street. I made a sudden stop to allow a car to pass by.
It didn’t hurt at first. I looked down and saw that I had stepped into a long slender splinter. It penetrated my foot next to my big toe and it came out at my heel. It broke off leaving the splinter in my foot.
I crossed the street, sat on the corner and tried to pull out the splinter but I could not. It was stuck and there was nothing I could do, so I limped home. I still had the groceries to take back home.
My mother started crying when she saw what I had done. She tried to remove the splinter but it was too deep and she could not remove it.
“¡Hay Dios!” She kept repeating between her frightened sobs.
I started crying myself. Once I got home I really started to feel it. It seemed like minute by minute the pain was getting worse. I lay in bed crying until my brother Bobby arrived home from work at about 5:30. He worked at the lumberyard downtown and rode around town on a bicycle. He picked me up as if I was a baby and put on his handlebars. He took me to Dr. Swift’s office downtown near the Plaza. For many years Dr. Swift was the only doctor in town.
Bobby carried me inside. The old doctor pointed me to a side room where he set me down on the table. He looked at my foot then went into the other room.
I was lying down now, looking up at the yellow ceiling. The walls also were painted with the same glossy paint. He had a medicine cabinet, painted the same color as well.
The pain was getting more intense, I starterd breathing hard and moaning. It seemed like a long time had gone by when Doc Swift finally returned. He had a pan of cleaning solution and placed my foot in it. It hurt! It burned! It Stung! All I could do was sit with my mouth open wide and gasp and for air.
“¡Paciguate!” Bobby whispered to me. “You don’t want the doctor to think that Mexicanos are cry babies.”
I looked at him between breaths and shook my head no.
After a while, Doc Swift told me to lie down and then he told my brother to hold my leg down firmly.
I looked down and saw that he had a doctor’s knife in his hand. He started to cut my foot open. He started cutting and at the heel and continued to cut until he had a slit that exposed the splinter.
“It’s okay to cry, boy.” Doc Swift said. “This happens a lot here in town even with grown-ups. Even the biggest of the men cry and shout and say all kinds of things when I do this.”
I wanted to be better than those big, brave men, so I kept my moaning to a minimum. Finally, he washed the cut he made with a brush and soapy water, then removed the splinter.
I woke up from my nap about the time that Doc Swift finished wrapping my foot in white gauze. I don’t remember being sleepy. In fact, it hurt so much I don’t know how I could have fallen asleep at all.
I slept through the night like Rip Van Winkle. I felt my mom shaking me awake. She wasn’t crying anymore like last night, in fact it was business as usual. She shook me awake.
“Time to go to school, Mijo.” I had a lot of nicknames in my time and Mijo was one of them. It is short for “my son.”
I thought I would get out of school this time, but no. I got myself dressed, but this time my mama made me wear my shoes.