Recollections of a Pittsfield Kid: When the bite is worse than the bark

“Recollections of a Pittsfield Kid” is a series of vignettes exploring the author’s youthful days in the Osceola Park neighborhood of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, during the 1950s and early 1960s. At the time of these adventures, the author was between six and 14 years old.

I experienced my share of injuries while playing at Osceola Park and its surroundings back in the 1950s, but maybe that’s just part of being a kid.

For example, when the park directors went home, several of us would take water from the drinking fountain and pour it onto the slide. The challenge was to see who could go down it standing up while it was so wet. One such day I fell off the chute and broke my arm. Another time I was attempting to field a ground ball and the ball took a bad hop and hit me in the forehead. Smarted a little bit at the time. I had oddly severe headaches afterwards though, and had to go home from the park crying in pain every day for about two weeks.

I once broke my collarbone when I ran hard into a metal clothesline and, in being repelled backwards and downwards, smacked my head against the cement pad on the ground. Not a good idea to play “hide and seek” in the dark. These incidents were kinda routine stuff for some of us.

Such memories are engrained in an obscure corner of my consciousness, but there was a particular injury that still rankles and perturbs me to this day. It was a real pain in the butt.

Some of you might remember the large German shepherd called Juggler. While he was in his front yard across from the park, he was constantly pulling hard at the metal chain around his neck hoping to break loose. He barked very loudly at cars passing by, and sometimes the kids taunted him which further tormented him.

One day I was walking with Rich Bombard through the Park while carrying an armful of sticks — for what reason, I have no idea. At the same time, Juggler either broke his chain or was released from it and was romping through the Park enjoying his newfound freedom. Unbeknownst to me, he was haphazardly headed in my direction.

As Juggler passed by me, he misinterpreted the waving motion of the sticks held in my left hand and apparently assumed I was about to use them as a weapon against him. Without notice, he snarled and lunged at me, his sharp incisors glistening in the sunlight and his eyes glaring. I instinctively turned my body away and he consequently chomped on my derriere at full strength. My agony was instant and continuous, with blood gushing from the bite wound.

I ran home and called out for my mother. She was a registered nurse and had various medicines and home remedies on hand for this type of situation. She would make me feel better in no time I thought; moms always knew what to do. She managed to stop the bleeding and then took action to prevent an infection. Sounds mundane and the story should wrap up here right? Au contraire!

I was 10 years old in 1958 and patients weren’t given localized numbing agents back then. The bandages and gauze pads did not have an image of Scooby-Doo or Yogi Bear on them, either.

My mother resolutely told me to lay on my stomach on the couch with my bare butt exposed. Have you ever heard of an antiseptic called Mercurochrome? It’s used to stop the growth of microorganisms on the skin. It is now banned in the US because of its mercury content. She knew what to expect next and I didn’t. My mother proceeded to pour the entire bottle of this purple-red liquid into my oozing, gaping wound.

What a difficult decision my mother made, knowing that she would cause me to suffer in the short term so I would be in good health later on. I think she was crying as she administered this concoction. God love her.

A surge of electrons fast-tracked through every nerve passageway to my brain. I immediately began screaming and writhing in torment in reaction to the medicine’s strong, stinging effect. My yell was so intense that it must have rattled the entire house. The discomfort and shock lasted for several minutes as I just laid there helplessly transfixed. How could this torturous treatment possibly be good for anyone?

Time may heal most mental wounds, but I still have a visible scar on my hindquarter despite the years.

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