File this one under one of those weird stories that doesn’t exactly fit into anything else, but here goes.
Picture it, the late 1920s. The country has just entered into a period that history calls the Great Depression. Jobs were scarce, money scarcer. In the San Luis Valley, what happened in New York and Washington seemed remote and not to affect them at all. Things had always been tight for the people who lived there.
I recall hearing stories of my grandfather playing poker to get lunch money for the kids. I also know as a fact we had a moonshiner or two whose illegal activities helped keep the family fed.
Hard times makes two kinds of people. The people who whine and despair of what’s going on, or those who subscribe to the philosophy of “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
And I recall a story of one of my uncles who subscribed to the later philosophy.
As a young boy, my uncle did his part by trapping. There was still a market for furs, and so he set out trap-lines. He’d get up before the sun and go check the lines. Sometimes he caught things. Sometimes he didn’t. Sometimes he caught things he didn’t count on (like an extremely irate skunk that sprayed him from top to bottom. He reeked for a month).
He had an old bolt action, single shot 22 that he took on his rounds, and that he used to kill the animal caught in the trap. He’d been doing this for a very long time.
He’d been doing it for so long he’d gotten a little complacent. He was checking a trap. It had been tripped, but nothing was in it. Animals are pretty smart, and like humans, they can figure things out. Like how to get the bait out of a trap without getting caught by it.
My uncle made a rookie mistake. He leaned the rifle against a fence post (it was loaded), and bent to reset the trap. As he was bent over, the rifle fell over and discharged.
He said he knew right away he’d been hit. He felt a burning blow to his inner leg. There was blood, but after he got over his initial shock of what had happened, he saw he wasn’t bleeding that much, and made a bandage from a rag and put it over the wound. Like the country boy tough guy he was, he finished his rounds, went home, and when Granny saw the blood, she of course freaked.
Now this was way before the advent of EMS and running to urgent care for every little sniffle. But Granny did pack it off, and they drove the buggy the fourteen miles into town to see the doctor. There was no X-ray machine in town, and the doctor felt it was too dangerous to really go in after the bullet. The bullet was up against the bone, and the decision was made to “Just live with it.”
And he did.
Years go by, and aside from occasional discomfort, it didn’t bother him. He said the only time it really seemed to bother him was in the winter time in Germany during WW II.
More years go by and now he’s older. He’s had children, been a businessman, and he’d almost forgotten about the day his rifle discharged, shooting him in the leg. He’s relaxing at home, and notices some pain in his leg. It’s almost directly opposite the bullet wound which had long since healed. He rubs it and feels something small and hard in the outer muscle.
Concerned, he goes to the doctor.
This time, they did an X-ray and what it showed was the bullet. Time and the motions of the body had worked the small bullet from one side of the leg to the other.
“Do you want us to go in and take it out?” The doctor asked.
“Is it endangering me?” my uncle asked.
He said he thought about it a little, and then said, “Nah, it’s been part of me for almost sixty years. Reckon I’ll take it to the grave.”
And he did.