ON KIN AND NEEDLES
When I was a young boy in the early 30's, there was some concern about a potential epidemic in our part of Columbia County, Arkansas. The ‘powers that be' deemed it advisable that everyone be innoculated as a preventive measure. That was the first time I ever saw a hypodermic needle, and the memory of it has stayed with me all these years. Since that first encounter, I've been skittyish about shots and needles. (I still don't have no truck with people who wear white coats to make a crop.)
Some years later, I went off to join the U. S. Navy. The Navy got my undivided attention, real quick, about needles. It may have changed some since my time, but fifty-odd year ago, before a Navy ship would venture into foreign waters, every man-jack in the crew had to take shots against all the diseases that abounded where the ship was headed. When my ship sailed into the South China Sea in ‘52, with planned visits in various ports-of-call, we had to take nine shots for that trip.
I said all that to say this: It's bad enough to get your-own-se'f stuck with needles...but it's sump'm else to be caught in the middle of a situation and have to help other people get stuck; especially if the "stick-ees" are blood kin.
My older brother, Ben, was a career Army man. In the 1950's, he completed a tour of duty in the States and received new orders to Korea. He had to report there on ‘single status', because he had to establish in-country housing for his family before they could join him. Ben had five kids in pre-teen and young teen status at that time. They remained in Arkansas when he left, waiting for word to pack up and head for Korea.
But, the first word they received was not about housing, packing up, or traveling. Nooooo. The first thing they heard was how many shots they had to take before they could travel to Korea. (Until that time, I had no idea that any of my kinfolks was as skittyish about needles as I was.)
About the time Ben's wife received word about the requirement for shots, lo and behold, I come riding into town on a Greyhound bus...on thirty days leave from the Navy. When I learned that she was upset because there were no Army Bases close by to get the shots, I volunteered to help out. (I'd forgotten what they learnt me in boot camp: 'Don't never volunteer'.)
Finding a military base where overseas shots could be obtained was easier than I thought. I simply called the Navy Recruiting Office, and they advised me to contact the Naval Ammunition Depot, located 35 miles away. I did.
The Navy Hospital Corpsman at the Ammo Depot was a Second Class Petty Officer, and the senior medical representative at the facility. He confirmed that Army dependents were authorized to receive shots at his facility, as long as they brought the necessary authorization papers with them. I made an appointment for the following day.
Early next morning, me and my sister-in-law and her five young-uns piled into her station wagon and chugged northward. It was real quiet in the car during that ride. There wasn't any of the chatter kids usually make during a road trip...like: "are we there yet?" The closer we got to the facility, the whiter their knuckles got as they clung to various hand-holts in the car.
I was wearing my Dress Blue uniform, so when we got to the Naval Ammo Depot, it took no time a-tall to clear through the Gate, and locate the dispensary. We parked the car and filed inside. The kids walked sort of stiff-legged, and lagged back, whilst their mama fumbled in her shoulder bag for the six sets of documents needed to prove their Army dependent status.
After all the paperwork had been satisfied, the Corpsman looked up how many and what kind of shots they would need for Korea. When the Corpsman told her, my sister-in-law was flabble-gasted. Every one of them had to have FIVE shots a-piece! Merciful Georgia, I wanted out of there worse'n a tom-cat wants extry climbing gear...but I was stuck.
The Corpsman was a nice enough feller, and hit it off pretty well with the kids. The bad thing was, he had been short-changed, big-time, in the ‘horse sense' department. He got all the kids and their mama lined up in chairs in the waiting room and told them to relax; then he went into a back room. We figured he'd be calling in one person at a time to get their shots...but nawwwww. Unh-unh.
What that idjit did was...he prepared thirty hypodermic needles with serum. Then he laid ‘em on a white towel, side by each, on a wheeled trolley. He draped a white towel on top of all them needles, opened the door, and rolled the trolley right up in front of them big-eyed kids. Then, like a magician, he whipped off the top towel and...
...there lay all them needles (some of ‘em looked to be a foot long.) It appeared to me like there was a hunnert and fifty of ‘em, ‘stead-a thirty. I just ‘bout fainted my-own-se'f, and I wasn't even gittin' no shot. Great glittering gobs of goose grease! You never heard such a caterwauling in your life. Them kids was trompin' all over each other trying to git away from that trolley-load of boneyfide hurts.
I grabbed the trolley and shoved it into the back room and slammed the door. When I turned around, my sister-in-law had that Corpsman backed into a corner, with a finger shoved in his face. She was givin' him absolute what-for; as only an Army Master Sergeant's wife can do it. The Corpsman was rolling his eyes and lookin' for a ‘scape hatch. I took her by the elbows and dragged her away from the pore feller.
It took a good while to get everybody settled down, but we finally did. The Corpsman motioned me into the back room. I went. He admitted making a bad mistake in doing what he'd done, and asked me if I would do him a favor. I told him I already had--I had kept my sister-in-law from killin' him. I thought that was a pretty good favor...but he wanted sump'm else besides that.
He wanted to give me a shot, with the kids watching, so they could see it didn't hurt none. Wa'al, I won't tell you exactly what it was I said to ‘im, but you can bet your crawlin' tractor and a peck of sweet taters that it wasn't suitable for mixed company. He argued, and cajoled, and pleaded some more.
Finally, he hit upon the only thing that would work...he asked me if I wanted them fine kids out there to go be with their daddy. Well, dad-gum-mit! What could I say? I said okay. He asked when I'd last had a tetanus booster shot. I said a year. He said I was overdue. I said I didn't care. I still didn't want no dang shot. He ignored me and loaded up one of them syringes, and we went out to the other room where the kids was at.
I started joshin' with the kids about how them shots didn't really hurt (and other lies.) They watched, owl-eyed, as I shucked off my jacket and pulled up the sleeve of my tee-shirt. The Corpsman swabbed my shoulder with alcohol, then he popped that needle to me. Great Googa-Mooga! It felt like I'd been shot with a .30-06. I had the dickens-of-a-time to keep from hollerin'...but somehow I made it.
After he got done with me, I put my jacket on. Suddenly, the oldest boy stood up tall and straight and marched in there to meet his fate. The other kids helt their breath and waited. When he come out later, and hadn't hollered a single time, things went a mite smoother from then on.
After all the kids had got their five-shot quota of needles, without a single yell amongst ‘em, it was their mama's turn. Four of the kids wanted to go out and wait in the car, and I said okay. The youngest girl stayed with me, while her mama went into the treatment room. When the Corpsman stobbed her with that first needle, she let out a beller you could have heard down in Georgia! The string of cuss-words that follered caused me and the girl both to high-tail it for the car.
That was about the longest 35-mile-trip I ever made, goin' back home. All the way back, them kids (the same kids that used to think I hung the moon) stared at me like I was a Judas goat or sump'm. Their mama muttered under her breath:
"You just wait'll I tell your big brother what you done to us...".
Within a few days, they took off to join Ben in Korea. I headed for California on a Greyhound. Before she had a chance't to give my big brother Ben an ear-full, I wanted to be back inside of my U. S. Navy ship. I wanted protection...from the United States Army.