Digits and Tail

My friend Betsy said to me one time, “Everyone’s family was dysfunctional back then. Get over it.” I was talking to her about some crap my Dad had done when I was a kid. In confidence. In a secret whisper. In her cube at work. She turned around from her computer screen as she was typing and laid down the law. That was 25 years ago.

I think about what Betsy said to me from time to time. I never much shared any more secret moments with her privately about my family. I would go in her cube when she wasn’t there and bite the heads off all her Teddy grahams that she kept in a baggie by her terminal. She asked me to stop, but I never did.

Yesterday, when I was surfing over to one of my random email accounts, I thought of Betsy. There, under the news column was an account of a baby with six digits on each hand and foot. I clicked the link, and it was a video of the baby and his parents on some daytime morning show. I thought of my Dad and the horrible arguments I used to have with him. I think Betsy’s household was dysfunctional in an alcoholic sort of sense that she could understand somehow. Mine? Well, it was downright freak show.

Dad was an obstetrician. He was delivering babies, but the problem with him is he was a problem. His moral compass was…well…let’s just say not pointing…true north, or south, or God …where the hell was it pointing? Anyway, even as a child, he concerned me. Plus he felt this odd need to report, “I delivered one with an extra finger.” My big deal was did it have a bone or not. See, I think if the digit had a bone, the finger could be useful. I mean if I were born with a finger with a bone in it, I would want to keep it. Dad and I disagreed on this like we disagreed on most everything. Dad thought anyone with a sixth finger was a freak, and he was remedying it on the spot before the parents could see it. Chop. Yikes. He infuriated me. The whole scenario didn’t make sense because if the baby was born with a sixth finger without a bone, all he did was tie a string around the boneless digit and it eventually fell off. Nasty. Then the poor parents had to watch the boneless finger wither and die, dropping off in the bassinette. Kerplunk.

And then there were the babies born with tails. The tails were boneless and rarer than the six digiters, which were pretty rare themselves. One night he came home, tired and ill at ease, “I delivered one with a tail that had a bone in it,” he said.

“Geez, really?” I said.

“Yeah, may have been an extension of the spinal column but I don’t think so. I removed it,” he said.

It was late. The lights were out. We were sitting in the den. He was eating a bowl of cereal, and I had been watching TV. I wanted to argue with him about chopping off baby parts with a bone in it. It was a functional tail, for Pete’s sake. “How long was it?” I asked.

“’Bout an inch. Maybe an inch and a half,” he said.

“Parents know?” I asked

“Nope,” he said.

I didn’t know quite what to make of that God act, cutting off the baby’s tail and not asking the parent’s consent. I sat there staring at him. He took his empty cereal bowl into the kitchen and went to bed.


6 Responses to “Digits and Tail”

  1. Well you finally got me! I don’t have a story related to digits and tails! I did have a dysfunctional Dad, but he rolled his Jeep on top of himself, dysfunction cured.

  2. LOL! Yup, that’ll cure the dysfunction a 2 ton jeep on it’s chest.

  3. I would think that back then it wasn’t an unusual occurance for Doctors to do things without giving it a second thought. I’m not saying they should have, but expect it happened more often than we know.

  4. My statement sounded really cruel and cold, but if ever a man deserved to die by his own hand — Dad was pretty much at the top of the list. I hope Godda is as forgiving as they say, if not, Dad is in a place hotter than Arizona fer sur.

  5. gallimaufrieswiththat Says:

    You did it! You wrote about the toes and tails!

    Fingers and toes he could get away with. There’s minimal risk (from a strictly medical POV — I’m not talking ethics) to doing what he did. But cutting off a tail? I can imagine some nasty infections arising from that little number.

  6. Well, one thing was certain it happened with him. He did some weird ass stuff. On his death bed he was bemoaning the fact that the head of the hospital reprimanded him for having a two headed baby in a jar of Formaldehyde in a filing cabinet. He got in trouble for that one. The parents had NO idea. He had some other weird stuff in there and called it The Museum.

    AZ, I think our Dad’s either went to Hell or God forgave them and sent them somewhere out of our hair. People ask me about him occasionally and I say the planet wasn’t big enough for the both of us. But I kind of think he’s still hanging around, because of all the weird things that go on like lights that dim and go bright and dim and go bright. My watch keeps resetting itself. Call me superstitious. He was always one for pestering me.

    Yeah, cut the tail off. We argued about that forever. I finally asked him if he had my tail cut off and he wouldn’t answer. He was like that.

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