A painful return to my roots

In a previous post I described how ice hockey led to my love of leather work.  During the year that I worked at Tip Top shoe repair, I continued to play hockey on weekends.  One difference from earlier years in playing was that I had now given up my drivers license.  I’ve never liked driving, and it seemed like a complete waste of money and energy when you could ride a bike.

A skinny Art in the middle of the Lewis and Clark Trail bicycle ride. The dark patch on my rear end is the black dye from the bicycle saddle. Photo by Dennis Coello.

An ice hockey goalie uses a lot of equipment!  Combine that with 2 big sticks (one as a backup if the other breaks), and it is pretty hard to fit all of it onto a bicycle.  I unfortunately don’t have a photo of my big with my hockey gear, but I’ve included here a photo of me and my rig on the Lewis & Clark trail a year before Tip Top.  Similar setup for hockey gear, and the sticks are attached horizontally with the blades of the sticks hanging off the back…

Like my childhood days, I still needed to do repairs on my large goaltender leg pads.  If you haven’t seen these, they fit from your foot instep to a few inches above your knee and are about 12″ wide and 4-6″ thick.  Now I was excited, because I was a “leather professional” and would be able to do a really good job with the repair.

I went into the shop one Sunday when we were closed with both pads and a decent sized piece of leather I had bought for the job.  I decided that I would try to completely recover the bottom parts of the pads that rub on the ice and are always getting holes.  This involved cutting apart the bottom so that I could put a new piece of leather on (without sewing through 6″ of padding…).  First, it was a mess!  Deer hair was all over the floor, despite my efforts to try to keep it fairly contained.  But no worry:  I was alone and had all day to deal with it.

The problem came when I was using my hook and awl.  This is a sharp awl (basically a very fat needle) with a hook that looks like a fishhook.  It is pushed through leather, and on the other side thread is put over the hook and pulled back through the work.  If you’ve ever crocheted, it is similar.  While I was sewing a piece that was over 1″ thick of leather, some of it old and pretty hard, I had to push pretty hard.  Before I knew it, I was through the 1″ leather and right into my thumb!  Ouch!!!  It did hurt, but the real problem was that it was stuck.  Nothing I could do would free my thumb without a lot of extra pain.

The awl tip was embedded pretty far, and I couldn’t even see the hook part.  So there I was, alone in the shop on a Sunday afternoon, with no car and just my bicycle.  The only thing I could think to do was to call my boss, Wayne.  I figured that someone with Wayne’s experience would know exactly what to do to get the hook out of my thumb.

You need to remember that the large hockey pad was still part of the whole assembly.  Picture my left hand up in the air (because it hurt to put it down), attached to my hockey pad, with a red-handled awl sticking out the other side, and my free right arm holding the pad.  Wayne exploded into laughter when he walked into the shop!  After he explained that he had no idea how to get it out, he put me into his car and drove me to the Emergency Room.

The nurses and docs had the same chuckle when I walked in with Wayne.  They see a lot, but they told me that they had never seen someone who had sewn a hockey pad to his thumb.  They quickly (and surprisingly painlessly) were able to cut the awl out and sew it (the thumb, not the pad) back up.

Oh, the advantages of being a pro!

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