Childhood vacations consisted of camping or visiting grandparents in Michigan. Sometimes we camped with grandparents or other relatives.
The first family vacation I remember was a camping trip to Cowan’s Gap State Park. I was six years old. My sister, Deborah, was three, and my baby brother, Nick, was six months old. Mom was newly pregnant with sister, Sharon. While there was a baby and an expected baby, the focus did not seem to be all on babies, yet, like it would soon become. It was exciting to be camping.
Our family camped in a square, heavy canvas tent, secured to the ground by metal stakes. I remember the distinct canvas smell and expansive space.
Cowan’s Gap State Park had a sandy beach area for swimming. There were also rowboats for rental. I know this because they seemed so exciting, and I really wanted to ride in one. The answer was no. They cost extra money which was something my Christian school teacher father and stay at home mother did not have.
My mom’s late-seventies style consisted of blouses, wrap-around skirts, and navy blue Dr. Scholls Exercise Sandals. These sandals were wooden with a toe-grip under the single adjustable strap. The action of walking in them provided exercise for the legs, hence the name.
We were at the campsite, and I was running around wearing mom’s exercise sandals with bare feet. I dashed behind the tent, and as I circled and rounded the right side, I didn’t clear the perimeter. My left ankle raked against the edge of a metal tent stake, slicing it open. There was a lot of crying and blood.
Dad took me to a small medical facility for care. I sat on a table in an exam room under bright lights. The doctor said, We just have to squirt some ketchup and mustard on your ankle, and then we will stitch you up.
I felt safe and at ease. It was funny to think about squirting ketchup and mustard on my foot! I got six stitches and clear instructions for their care ~ especially not to get them wet in the lake. This was disappointing. Swimming was my favorite activity.
As a consolation, Dad rented a rowboat and took me out in it. He also put my foot in a bread bag on the last day, so that I could go near the water without the stitches getting wet. I felt special.
Weeks later, after returning home, it was time to remove the stitches. This was done at home using my mom’s sewing stitch ripper to break the thread before pulling it out. I remember the funny, tickly feeling.
I wore my scar as a special badge for many years. Looking at it reminded me of how brave I had been on that table getting ketchup and mustard squirted on it, and how fun it was to ride in a rowboat with my dad.
This story illustrates how a traumatic childhood event became a memory of care because the trauma was tended well. There was no yelling at me in a panic or lecture on why I should not have been acting like a child. I understood about not renting a rowboat, since I knew why we couldn’t. It made the subsequent rental more special, because my disappointment in not being able to swim was noticed and cared for with kindness. A creative solution for going near the water on the last day was thought of, again, making me feel special.
The removal of the stitches at home could have been traumatic if I were fearful and being coerced forcefully. Instead it was explained and tried and did not hurt, as my memory of the tickly feeling reveals. It felt adventuresome. In hindsight, I also know it was much less expensive for my parents to remove them at home, but that was not made an issue to me at the time. Because of how my parents cared for me in this situation, I am able to look back at this childhood story and feel loved and safe at six years old.
As you think about stories from childhood, what comes to mind? What tales are told of you, and how do they feel?
Tomorrow I embark on Certificate Training, Level 2. I will share a story of childhood trauma that was not tended well. I will hear stories of others with the goal of learning to listen to and engage with stories of heartache to foster healing and hope.