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  • Writer's pictureTerry Groves

B.R.A.T.S. Benefits to Being a BRAT.

Living on a military base gave lots of opportunities for interesting places to explore. I won't go into them all, it would make a very lengthy blog entry, but you can expect more of them to come out in future musings.

In the 60s, Clinton had two dumps. One was where they had deposited the remains of old roofing materials, piles of shingles and tar paper in a lot beside the mobile home park. It offered wonderful opportunities for building forts and such but stunk pretty bad of tar in the summer heat and, you would get in trouble if you came home with said tar on your clothes, so we didn't play there much. It was fun to ride our bikes through as the haphazard piles of shingles offered humps and bumps that we found thrilling. However, there was also the ever-present threat of a punctured tire as the area was also littered with roofing nails.

The other dump was behind the ice skate arena. We didn't go there too often because it was on the base proper, not part of the PMQ area where we were free to roam as we liked. We were allowed to go to lots of places on the base proper, there was the library, movie theater, CANEX store, swimming pool, bowling alley, cub and scout halls. Sometimes we would sneak into the enlisted men's club, I don't recall its name, and buy french fries and sodas.

However, the dump was likely out-of-bounds. We never asked, didn't want to show any interest because that might result in us being told not to go there. We (me) probably would have ignored the instruction anyway, after all, I was a brat.

I recall one day I went there. I don't know why I went, I was by myself. Sometimes I would do things alone, just to experience the activity without any outside influences. And I liked just looking around, seeing things, and a dump was a great place to do this. I don't recall that the place smelled, don't really recall much about it. I don't know if household refuse was deposited there or if it was more of a nuisance ground for discards from the base proper. What I do recall is walking into it and stepping on a nail.

Stepping on nail

It was a long nail. In my memory it came right through my foot but in reality, likely only penetrated an inch or so. I was about ten, still in that stage when I would cry over things that hurt. However, this time I didn't. I remember that distinctly. Perhaps it was because, at first, I didn't feel it. I recall noticing a strange numbness in my foot and then, when I tried to take my next step, there was resistance. Then I felt something as I pulled my foot off the nail. It was probably shock that shielded me from feeling the injury immediately. I remember keeping a strange calmness about myself, I wasn't prone to that. In a family with five brothers, you needed to be vocal to be noticed. But this time I remained calm. There wasn't anyone around to hear me caterwauling anyway.

I remember thinking that the nail was probably rusty and I knew that that meant I might contract lockjaw. We had talked about that a bunch, always warning each other about the dangers of lockjaw, relating stories of kids who got it an then died because they couldn't breath because they couldn't open their mouths; like they couldn't breath through their noses. Or ones who survived, never to utter another word again. I know now those stories were all crap but that day, they resounded in my head and the volume was on high.

I limped back to my bike and rode home. I kept working my mouth, reassuring myself that my jaw wasn't seizing up yet. YET! During that trip I also wondered what story I could concoct that would sound believable since I didn't want my parents to know I had been in the dump. I was also worried about amputation. Surely stepping on a rusty nail might require amputation to prevent the poisons from the rust from getting to the rest of my body. I certainly couldn't cut an X on the wound and suck out the poison, like for a rattlesnake bite, and I was pretty sure none of my friends would be willing to do it either. I didn't have a knife with me that day anyway.

I walked in the house and announced that I was injured. When I told Mom what I had done she said something like "Well I hope you're not getting blood on the floor." I was shocked, a rusty nail in the foot and maybe about to have that food cut off, and she was worried about a little blood on the floor! Parents are sure weird.

And then the inevitable question came, "Where did you do that?" I am pretty sure I told the truth. As I had thought about it on the way home, I thought about other things that might have been on that nail. Like rat juice. Rats lived in dumps and rats had caused the bubonic plague. I felt it would be preferable to suffer the punishment for being in the dump rather than risk someone missing out on that diagnosis.

Mom took me to the doctor. The doctor just happened to live a couple of houses away from us. Thinking back, I am not certain if it was an actual doctor, perhaps it was a Med A since he lived close. We were in the enlisted men's part of the PMQs. Officer's row was a ways away from us and that is where I would expect the doctor to live. Regardless, this person had an actual medical examination room in their house. It even had one of those examination beds. He sat me on that bed and examined my foot.

He concluded it didn't look too bad and asked if I had had my tetanus shot. How was I supposed to know? We got shots all the time at school but I had no idea what was in them or what they were for. And we got more shots as we prepared for cub camps each year. The tetanus shot was for lockjaw so I was pretty certain that I better have one. He said he would give me one because extra couldn't hurt. Except when he stuck that needle in the bottom of my foot, it proved he was a liar. It hurt, A LOT! Then I cried.

I kept wanting to say something about the bubonic plague but I kept picturing his eyes growing wide and then him reaching into one of those white, sterile drawers and extracting a nasty looking saw. I could hear him saying something like "We'll just take care of that plague problem right now. Mrs. Groves will you help hold him down?" So I kept my mouth shut, telling myself that the tetanus would take care of everything bad, maybe even my math grades.

My silence seemed to work...but not for my grades. My mouth didn't suddenly lock shut, my foot didn't swell up and explode and it is still on the end of my leg. The shot and the cleaning were all that was necessary.

How many civi kids can claim they were treated in the home of their doctor, after hours and at no cost? Yes, being a military brat had its advantages. What unique benefits do you recall from your childhood?

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