It started with a slip on the ice.
The Injuries of Christmas, that is.
My father-in-law is at his curling club, a 200 year-old institution in the heart of Montreal. He’s moving down the ice, broom sweeping rhythmically, when suddenly he trips over a misplaced rock. Down he goes. A muffled “crack” as his knee strikes the ice. At first, he seems ok. But then his knee expands like a mutant balloon. So, for Christmas this year, he got a limp.
Ho. Ho. Ho.
Several thousand miles away, my daughter is reaching to shut the front door of a car. At the same time someone moves to shut the rear door. Unfortunately, my daughter’s thumb is unaware that it is in the trajectory of said “rear door.” It is soon aware of that fact and also that the door has locked. After a sleepless night and a trip to the hospital, she gets a surprise present: 3 drill holes, a swollen finger, and a black nail half covered in holiday nail polish.
And now, I also am bearing a gift from the Angel of Injuries. A matched set of useless opposable thumbs.
This began in the way of all my holiday injuries. By participating with my father-in-law in finishing up his “job list”. My Father-in-law is a man who loves to do outdoor manual labour. Its his way of gaining satisfaction, exercise and productivity in everyday life. It’s probably also a way of connecting with others. So, Christmas Eve, we were connecting. Again.
After breakfast, I found myself in the basement, pulling, tugging and sweating into my snow gear. Just like an astronaut getting into his space suit. Only they get help. And they are more comfortable. They can pee without taking their gear off.
When I was all zipped, tied and velcro-ed in, I ventured outside into the snow. As I trudged down the hill like the Michelin Man on steroids I thought bitterly about the forecast of a green Christmas. At this moment, with my breath smoking and steaming in front of me, I realized that I loathed the weather man. He was wrong. It was all white, everywhere I looked. I think white is nice… when I’m inside a house.
So I crunched my way down the hill with my father-in-law, stopping to gather equipment at the shed on the way. We arrived at the little clearing bounded on three sides by piles of wood. In the middle were 6 very large, frozen chunks of wood. This didn’t look promising. My father-in-law fired up the chainsaw and began making cuts in the top of the wood. Just so I could get started. No problem.
I inserted the iron wedge into the cut, tapped it snuggly into the wood and began to strike its shiny head with the sledge hammer.
Bing. Bing. Bing. Biiiiinnnngggg.
In slow motion, the wedge jumped high like a silver frog and arced over to plop in the snow. Uggh. I retrieved it and tried again.
With the same results.
Again. And Again. After 5 minutes I’ve now stripped off my coat in the sub-zero weather. My safety glasses are iced over from my locomotive breath. I’m sucking oxygen out of the atmosphere at a rate that threatens to destroy all life on the planet. My arms are aching. I can barely raise, let alone hold onto, the sledge hammer. In defeat I hand over the instrument of torture to my father-in-law.
Bing. Bing. Bing. Crack.
A big piece of the stump falls off. He picks of the axe and makes short work of it, splitting it into smaller, stove-sized pieces.
He’s 83. Huh.
He graciously says, “You got it started.”
“Yup” I agree. Its all I can say in my air-deprived state. Of course, I know I didn’t make a dent in it.
He fires up the chainsaw and we begin the process all over again. Eventually, we get to the sixth stump. It’s the biggest. And the most frozen. It looks like its made of iron. Like a cast-off from Sauron’s forges in Mount Doom. We both stand looking at it. I am done in. Stuffed and baked like Christmas turkey.
“Maybe we should leave this until spring” I say reasonably. A pause.
“Let’s just give it a little try” he says. I groan. But only on the inside. Can’t look like a wuss.
Bing. Bing. Bing…
I am no longer swinging the axe. I’m just flailing. Which is probably how the axe handle developed a large crack in it. Like magic.
My son, like some vigilant government inspector, notices that something is wrong. I explain that “These things happen.” What I don’t explain is that they happen when you miss and hit the wood with the handle. My pride is a tattered flag, fluttering in the breeze of my incompetence. I can’t manage to suffer any more.
Finally, miraculously, we split the last stump. It succumbs to our manly and persistent blows. Now we trudge back out of the woods and up the hill. Well, I stumble, rather.
Eventually, I feel better.
After a nap, 16 Advil and 45 minutes in the shower.
Then I start noticing something: I can’t do up my buttons. Or zippers. Or tie my shoes! My thumbs don’t work properly. I can’t seem to close the gap between thumb and forefinger tip. How will I get dressed for dinner? I don’t think the Christmas meal will be more enjoyable in the nude. This is like some bizarre twist on the X-Files. Someone else is in control. My musculi abductor pollicis have gone on strike. They are in rigor mortis. I feel like the Forest Gump of hand modelling. But my ignomy is just beginning.
I manage to fumble my way into my clothes and proceed downstairs. I ignore my mother-in-law’s need for someone to open some bottles and head for the living room. During cocktails, I stand before the fireplace cupping my drink with both hands. It looks like I am treasuring and savoring its warmth on this winter’s night. But really, I just don’t want to drop it in the state I’m in. Then comes dinner.
I have to use two hands to pull on my Christmas cracker. And I can hardly hold onto my fork. I feel like a penguin going to carpentry school. The flippers just don’t work so well. So I nonchalantly scoop my noodles, but they, of course, refuse to cooperate and spitefully flop onto my shirt. Thankfully, nobody notices. That’s normal for me.
As Christmas Eve winds to a close, I have trouble hanging my wife’s stocking up. And I forsee some difficulties getting out of my clothes. I wonder if anyone would notice if I wore the same ones tomorrow. Maybe, I can re-gift my thumbs to someone in the morning. Or maybe palm them off on the baby Jesus lying in the manger.