Running the Joists

March 16, 2015 at 5:50 pm | Posted in 1950s, Australia, Health, Memoir | 6 Comments
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When Dad had finished the framework for the two extra bedrooms, we would walk out of the kitchen door – the only external door at the time – and across the floor joists. Dad had laid boards across the top of the joists, to the side of the house next to the garage where our uncle’s family lived. If we wanted to go out the back to the pan toilet, we could go that way. Or we could go the shorter way, which involved stepping from joist to joist, to the back of the frame, then jumping down to the ground. You can guess which way we kids preferred to go. Before long, we were racing across them as if they were a solid floor.

Wooden floor joists

Wooden floor joists

One day, having been cooped up for hours by incessant rain, I was eager to get outside to play. The joists were still wet, but that didn’t stop me from skipping across them at top speed on my way to the back yard. I was almost there when my foot slipped off the second-last joist. I couldn’t save myself and my legs crashed between the joists. But my momentum carried me forward, and my upper body landed fair on top of the two-inch wide hardwood timber frame. The air rushed out of my lungs and I was left gasping. I flopped across the joist, staring down at the bits of rubble, scraps of wood and dark wet earth, scared and disoriented, the pain in my chest making it almost impossible to breathe.

I must have groaned or called out, or Dad heard me when I fell, because suddenly he was there. He asked if I could speak and I dazedly shook my head. He carefully picked me up and carried me inside. By the time he’d placed me on the bed I was breathing again, but my chest hurt. After a quick conference with Mum, Dad took me out to his work truck and we were on our way to the doctor’s surgery. Dr Needham didn’t think any of my ribs were broken, just badly bruised, but he said I should be strapped up, just in case. I wondered what kind of strap would go around my chest. Was it like a big leather belt? Would I be able to move?

The strapping turned out to be a wide strip of sticking plaster, just like Mum or Dad used to cut from a roll to keep the lint in place when we’d cut or grazed ourselves (there were no Band Aids then). However this plaster was much wider. Dad helped Dr Needham stick it in place right around my skinny chest. It covered me from my armpits almost to my waist and was very uncomfortable, pulling on my skin whenever I moved – which I tried not to do anyway, because it hurt my ribs.

Strapped ribs

Strapped ribs

I had to keep the plaster on for several weeks, and it soon became very grubby. Underneath, my skin became irritated and itched like crazy. I wanted to scratch but couldn’t. The edges of the plaster frayed and bits of fabric tickled me as well. How I hated it! My ribs soon felt fine, and I kept asking Dad when it could come off. Finally the day came when Dad could remove that hated plaster. Slowly, inch by inch, he peeled it off. My skin was red and tender, and felt strangely cold without its covering. But at last it was gone and I was very thankful.

While I’d been strapped up, Dad worked hard to get the room finished. He got the corrugated iron roof on and the floorboards laid in quick time. Now nobody could slip on those joists again. And when the building was all done, we had two more bedrooms.

(c) Linda Visman

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