Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Tractor Accident (9)

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In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next few weeks. And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some "zeds". Or "zees" depending on what part of the world you hail from.

The tractor accident is probably the vehicle event most synonymous with David. For many of us at least, for there was a fear at its occurrence that he would die as a result of his injuries. Years later I was surprised to discover that for many of his friends it had slipped from their minds. David never spoke about it so even his children seemed oblivious to what was a major event in the district. And all the more so for Rodney White being killed in a rolling truck that fell of a road at the Limestone works at Dunback. Or the sheep-truck disaster at Dunback at the Macraes Flat Road intersection. Accidents in a farming community can get the whole district focused and on edge. David’s was one of those. It was the talk of the high school for weeks and weeks. On the day, Warren Thurlow – his family farmed the property adjoining the Patons, grabbed me at school and told me there had been an accident. I am not sure how he found out – mobile phones were twenty years away. David had been thrown out of the tractor on a steep piece of country. He rolled down hill and the blue Ford rolled after him. The tractor was fitted up with a T roll bar which crashed against his body as it overtook him, crushing his pelvis and leaving him severely wounded. Mrs Paton told us later how she had always insisted that Jack and the boys always be in for meal times exactly when they were supposed to. Minutes after not arriving Jack went looking for him. (I had always thought it was Mrs Paton that hunted him out but family told me recently it was Jack). Drawn to a crowd of cattle he found him rolled up against a fence – David’s bellows of pain had attracted the cattle over. Some said later that some of the cattle had tried to lick his wounds. Part of the legend I suspect but something I want to think happened nonetheless. He survived a long trip to hospital. His recovery became the stuff of legend as well. Not only did he meet his future wife there (I suspect the meeting may have happened earlier but the relationship at least came about during his convalescence) but there is the story of nursing staff finding him gone from his bed in the middle of the night. He was not supposed to be able to walk. They found him in the pool swimming with the deadweight of his inert lower body being hauled through the water by his arms alone. Whatever the truth of that, he was always a strong and enthusiastic swimmer.

In fact there was a strong physicality to David. He was always fit and well and energetic. Wet or cold was better for him than heat and humidity. One May school holidays I was staying with him. The nights were clear and cold and the days bright and brief. He had recently caught a wild pig and locked it up in the woolshed. This big brute of a sow (isn’t it always a sow?!) had a couple of piglets. For a while she was happy with her little prison but after a few days started to eat her way out. If you don’t know pigs you need to know they have a “jaws of life” capacity to chew through almost anything. The light timber of the woolshed was disappearing very quickly as she tried to escape. She had to be stopped and David decided the most sensible way to do that was to build her a more spacious home. That late afternoon, under a grey sky and in sub zero temperatures we set about building a new sty against the back fence of the yard. The daytime temperature, if it rose above zero, probably never made it beyond one or two degrees. The green eucalypt timber, deemed tough enough to beat this pig, was frozen through, not a drop of moisture or sap other than it was additional binding on the hand held saw. We dropped posts into the ground and rammed and tamped the earth into place. It was too cold to mix cement. The light vanished and the temperature sagged a little more. I was wearing a brand new woollen shirt over underwear, and underneath a jacket. Still, I froze. David wore gumboots and an unbuttoned shirt but did concede a woollen beanie. A red and yellow one. But nothing else. Then we painfully cut lengths of timber to create the floor – joists and slatting. Planks for her enclosure. The hours passed and the temperature still kept dropping. Finally, after about five hours we had constructed a pigsty to house the sow and her two piglets. Trouble was she had given up her escape and had settled down to sleep, and flatly refused to budge. The next most dangerous thing to a wild sow on the loose is a wild sow that you have prodded loose. Besides, it was too cold and she was happy nestled under her pile of straw and hay. So we figured we would leave it until the next morning to move her to her new digs.

We retreated to the house where it took an hour to warm up but having done so we had dinner and sat down to watch television in front of a coal fed fire. Asked to fetch another bucket of coal I opened the back door only to have two or three feet of powder snow fall into the hallway.

Next Chapter


txdave said...

Blog looks good, altho internet readers usually respond to shorter posts, smaller bites, especially with complicated topics.

More visuals always a plus, see wht I mean:

good luck


The People History said...

It is great when somebody takes the time and effort to pay tribute to somebody who has been an inspiration to them

well done
from steve

PS Blog looks good to

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