My dad, Carl C. Isley, told this story on himself and I’m not sure why except maybe he wanted me to have a better understanding of how he grew up. Not that I didn’t believe it but later I asked my Grandpa about it and he retold the story with much more detail. Dad was born in 1921 and when this event happened the country was in the depths of the great depression. He was 9 or 10 years old and like most of us at that age we always think we can do more things than we are really capable of doing. Like when my 10 year old brother knew beyond any doubt he was big enough to shoot the shotgun because if his brother, me, could go hunting with the shot gun so could he. Over the adamant objections of my mother outside we went with the shot gun and one shell. While dad gave instructions on the proper handling of a shot gun and the best manner to shoot said gun I procured a bucket to serve as a target. The moment of truth arrived amidst continued instructions, “hold it tight against your shoulder, look down the barrel, hold it tight, and squeeze the trigger.” BOOM, down he went with dad grabbing the shot gun simultaneously. Two things happened as the result of that demonstration; it was a long time before my brother ever mentioned shooting the shot gun and the target bucket still would hold water.
The story about the carbuncle starts with my dad pestering his dad about being big enough to drive a team of horses in the field. “You need to let me help because I’m big enough now,” he would say. Finally, grandpa relented and promised that he would let dad run the roller in the corn fields. Farmers don’t roll the corn field anymore but, when they farmed with horses as the corn just began to break thru the soil they rolled the field with a big device just like the lawn rollers we use today, only about 6 feet wide with the rollers probably 24 inches in diameter with a seat on top. You drove the roller over the field compacting the soil supposedly to retard the weeds from overtaking the corn plants.
Grandpa said that after the corn was planted dad checked its progress every day to make sure it was growing in anticipation of the day when he would be able to roll the field. About the time the corn was planted a boil started to develop on one cheek of my dad’s butt. Boils are painful even today; a staph infection that now is treated with antibiotics and generally is no big deal. But, in 1930 there were no antibiotics and only home remedies. Drawing salves or slices of onion were applied to the boil and hopefully the boil would come to a head and rupture and then the core could be removed and the area would begin to heal.
My dad knew that if he told his mom or dad about the boil he would not be allowed to drive the roller. He had his heart set on driving the team with the roller proving that he was indeed big enough. Because of no treatment the boil did not go away. Instead it developed into a carbuncle. A Carbuncle if you don’t know is a boil with more than one head, extremely painful and dangerous because of the possibility of sepsis.
Finally the day arrived to do the job! Dad told me that the carbuncle hurt so bad he could hardly walk without limping. But, he persevered and helped harness the team and hitched them to the roller. He climbed carefully up on the steel seat and kind of sat on the good cheek and with final instructions from his dad he started the job. Everything was going good and he was probably feeling about 10 feet tall driving the team of Clydesdales around the field.
If you know anything about southeastern Shelby County you know that the last great glacier left an overabundance of rock in the area. Big rocks that continuously, due to the freeze and thaw of the winters, come to the surface and must be carted off by the farmers. Well Grandpa missed one and when the roller hit the rock the tongue broke and my dad was thrown in front of the roller and the roller ran over dad mashing him into the dirt.
Grandpa was standing at the gate of the field watching proudly as his son was handling the team of horses exceedingly well for a youngster when he saw his son pitch forward and then heard the sound of the roller hitting the rock. He had seen the roller roll over the boy and saw the team of Clydesdales begin to walk in a circle because the tongue had broken and were soon to run the roller over the boy again. Whoa! Whoa! he shouted to the horses as he ran to the scene. Finally he arrived to the horses just in time to get them stopped before they completed a full circle. He went to his son still lying face down in the dirt and saw a large blood stain on his son’s backside. He told me that he just know his son had been mashed. Slowly as my dad seemed to awaken grandpa gently removed his bib overalls to check the damage. And, there it was. A ruptured carbuncle. Puss and blood everywhere. A very nasty looking site. It was obvious that my dad had not been mashed and would probably be OK and now concern turned to a bit of anger and grandpa grabbed my dad upright and spanked the good side of his butt and marched him to the house for his mother to take care of the carbuncle. Needless to say it was a long time before my dad ever mentioned driving a team in the field again.
Thanks for listening,