Splinter — A Stitch in Time . . . Travel
Lessons in Life abound.
The smallest experiences stitch us back in Time.
I found myself recently returning — from the tiniest splinter, stuck in my finger — back to my Malibu beachfront childhood. Gone, but not lost.
To Mom, Dad, Grandparents, Uncles and Aunties — so many years ago. Preserved in my memories. Preserved in my Soul . . . DawnSeeker
I somehow got a slender splinter embedded in the outside edge of my index finger. Right hand. Near the joint.
It must have come from feeding my horses’ their hay (sometimes prickly weeds find their way into the bales).
When it first happened, I tried to remove it with tweezers, but it seemed to go straight in, and the tweezers just made it worse.
So just leave it alone. Surely it will work its way out.
Over a couple days, a knobby, hard, painful welt appeared. It hurt every time my hand touched anything. Which is, basically, all day long.
Hand in gloves to do my horseshoeing work. OUCH.
Hold the reins to drive my horse and carriage. YIKES!
Something has to be done!
So I put on some wet clay and a Bandaid, as a poultice to draw it out.
Still hard. Still hurt.
Darn! I gotta dig it out. I gotta get out the sewing needle . . .
I go to my sewing kit. Open the folded tan-colored linen needle holder my Aunt Dorothea, now in her 90’s, made for me, decades ago.
Painted on the outer fabric: Small red hearts, seven in total, surrounded by the words, “A stitch in time saves nine . . . Dorothea”.
And now the Time Travel begins . . .
I remember, growing up, it was Dad who had the hand with the needle for splinter removal.
(Perhaps Mom just didn’t have the stomach for it. “We’ll have Dad get it out. He has such a steady hand when it comes to these things . . . “ )
Yes. Dad had a steady hand and a sturdy stomach for whatever needed to get done.
His steady hands knit together the fabric of our family, until his heart attach one night, when I was 16, leaving us to proceed on in Life without him . . .
My Dad, Bill Ulyate (Disneyland show name: Bill Elliott), top studio musician. His steady hand fingered his saxophones, his clarinets — Fox Orchestra — on the leading Hollywood TV shows and movies of the day.
(Dad played on the original TV show, Batman! South Pacific, The King and I, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and countless more.)
But not only that. After he got done with his day job at Fox, he booked gigs with his own Big Band, The Elliott Brothers Orchestra, with his brother, my Uncle — famous life-long studio trombonist, Lloyd Ulyate.
After the Park opened, Walt Disney searched for a hometown band to play at end of Main Street, at the then Carnation Plaza Gardens, in sight of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle :)) Walt hired The Elliott Brothers Orchestra, also known as the Date Niters, as the signature band at Disneyland!
So Dad’s steady hands entertained nightly, live at the Magic Kingdom, for more than a decade, until after Walt died.
Dad also fulfilled his love of flying and became a private pilot. His steady hands flew his own small airplane between those two jobs, escaping the torturous L.A. traffic below.
Dad lived at the top. Top of his field. Top of the world!
Dad’s famous line: “Just be the BEST at what you do and you can’t help but make good. There’s always room at the top.”
On one of those special days Dad was home — he worked constantly, and we rarely saw him — he’d pat me on the back and say: “That a girl, honey, you can do anything!”
How great and wonderful is that!!!
Childhood Memories of my Bigger-than-Life Dad:
Mom, shushing: “Dad’s sleeping. Quiet!”
Dad eating breakfast, always late, after sleeping in.
Dad’s awesome way of asking a favor: “Honey,” (Dad called everyone honey) “I sure would like something to eat. What have we got in there? Do you think you could make your old Dad a sandwich?”
(Which always involved mayonnaise. I hate it, to this day. Dad LOVED it!)
Dad with his boat. With his friends.
With Grandma and Grandfather and my Uncles, his brothers. All the Aunties and cousins. Big extended family gatherings . . . musical instruments and flashlights and parading down the street Christmas caroling at the holidays.
Dad’s make-believe “Frankenstein” with us kids in the Garden Room at the beach house, a coat hanger turned upside down, making his shoulders square . . . arms outstretched, moaning . . . big stiff footsteps . . . all us kids screeching and hiding and running — afraid of the “monster”, yet coming back into its range . . .
Dad taking me to the Bike shop in Malibu for my my new, shinny Schwinn Bicycle, silver and white.
. . . the only time he ever spanked me when I “got lost” and wandered off. It hurt more to have let him down, than the actual spank . . . and I never did that again . . .
Dad’s music room, filled with saxophones of all sizes. Boxes of reeds. His banged up red bongo drum. The framed picture on the wall of Dad playing his Sax, with Elvis on drums, at a studio wrap party.
Dad taking me with him to pick up his Band coat at Disneyland’s Wardrobe . . . all the costumes, endless rows of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and every kind of character heads.
The time he enthusiastically introduced me to the original Tinker Bell, Tiny Cline, a circus performer and the first one to “fly” from the Matterhorn during the firework event.
Yet before Dad died, Disneyland was done. Studio work at Fox had shifted to more solo groups than big orchestras. And Dad, picking me up at Junior Achievement in Culver City one night, said these prophetic words: “Honey, things are always changing. The sooner you get used to that, the better off you’ll be.” (See my post: Ch-Ch-Changes!)
Waking to the sounds of Mom sobbing, 3 am, to the phone call from the hospital: “We lost him.” And the shocking changes that event threw us all into . . .
Splinter Removal Ritual
Now, back to the problem at hand — my little annoying painful splinter had to be removed!
And I flashed back to how it would go when Dad, and his steady hand, was called to remove my childhood splinters . . .
Location was always important: We have to be somewhere in the light, where Dad could see: Near a window. By a lamp.
Dad puts on his reading glasses, takes my hand, and inspects the job.
Mom goes off to find her sewing kit and brings a sharp needle.
For some reason, the needle always has a thread attached.
I remember wondering about this as a kid. We’re taking out a little splinter from a foot, from a finger. Why the thread? We’re not really sewing things, are we????
Then comes the match.
To sanitize the tip of the needle, Dad lights a match, holds the tip into the flame, turning it a bit, tarnishing it from silver to black.
He then waits a few seconds for the needle to cool.
I remember it all now as if watching a movie . . .
In the living room at the beach house. On the little table under the lamp.
My arm extended. My hand in Dad’s.
The warmth, the feel of his huge hands. Holding me gently, but firmly, with that calm “I’ve got a job to do” look.
Like a doctor. Like a pilot. Like a bandleader, setting the beat.
My job: Acceptance. No resistance.
This has to be done.
The anticipation of pain — This is going to hurt!
But I must not move. Must not squirm.
I can’t let Dad down.
After all, I am the one in trouble, and Dad is helping me out.
The initial pokes, the needle going across the top to break the skin.
Slowly. Methodically. Skillfully.
Dad’s steady hand.
Mom’s confidence in him.
MY confidence in him.
I try not to watch the operation, turning my head. Closing my eyes.
Doing my best to not pull away.
Sharp twinges of pain now as Dad deftly digs under the offending matter, gently, carefully coercing it up, out of my flesh.
Thank you, Dad!
A quick wash, a Bandaid, and I run back out to play . . .
So when I extracted my own splinter today, I got to re-live all this.
And since I was home alone, I got to play all the roles: Mom. Dad. Little-kid-Dawn.
Location: By the kitchen sink, lots of light, near the window.
Reading glasses, check.
(Times have changed since the 1950s and 60s . No thread on my needle. No match — just soap and water, then rubbing alcohol to sanitize my needle tip :))
Extend my arm.
My job: Acceptance. No resistance.
This has to be done.
I watch the steady hand of Dad’s daughter, Dawn, with that calm pilot’s “I’ve got a job to do” look.
Take off the top skin. Not too bad. Doesn’t really hurt.
Dig. Gently. Under.
Not bad — no real stabs of pain . . .
Get it! Go under. Try again . . .
There it is! Tiny, reddish-brown.
Amazing something so small can cause so much trouble!
Yes!!! I got it!
And I realize, once again, my gratitude to Dad.
I may have only had 16 years with him, but Dad still flows through my blood. My being.
Thank you, Dad!
Thank you for the confidence you instilled in me.
Thank you for the example you lived.
Even though I lost you young, I HAVE you. In my attitude. In my thought process. In my very DNA.
You shine through me. Through my daughters — and now my grand-daughters.
You instilled confidence in all of us. The ability to pony up and get a tough job done.
You gave us a work ethic. A sense of humor. A love for Life!
Beyond just the ordinary. Beyond just getting by.
You found your Passion — for music, airplanes, entertainment, the family you loved . . .
You left us all with so much.
It’s like you’re patting me on the back again, laughing and saying: “That a girl, honey, you can do anything!”
Perhaps I truly can :))
And just think — all of this Life re-lived, on the count of a dumb little splinter!
~ Childhood Dreaming ~
Here’s the next musical generation in Dad’s lineage — my daughter, EllaHarp, and one of her musical compositions.
Dad, you must be so proud!!!!
Yes — I hear your laughter now :))
“That a girl, honey!”
For insights into the lives of horses, please visit Dawn’s sister blog: Soul Horse Ride
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