Green Valley :: Maple Sugaring (1972)
It is maple sugaring season in upstate NY. I will always associate that with the wailing of Nick H.
When the nights still freeze but the days turn warm, the sap starts running in the sugar maple trees. The trees are tapped. Sap drips into buckets. Gallons of sap are boiled down into a few ounces of amber syrup.
At Buck Brook Farm, making syrup was an annual ritual. The kids piled in the trucks to go on sap runs and a complicated processing factory was set up in the barn. Once the giant pan of sap started boiling, the idea was to keep it going 24 hours a day, adding more sap as the liquid evaporated. It was all a big Rube Goldberg machine to me. I can't for the life of me recall why there was a motor.
Nor can I recall why I wasn't assigned to the 24-hour rotation. Did I shrink back from something I thought "everyone else" knew how to do? Did my headmaster-boyfriend keep me off the list out of fake generosity? Whatever, I was left out.
"Everyone else" didn't know what they were doing, since Sue G fell asleep during her rotation, the pan scorched, and the whole operation had to start over.
I lurked around the edges.
Like I said, there was a motor. And the motor had a belt. And one quiet afternoon Nick H got his fingers caught in the belt and chopped two of them off.
I heard him scream and ran toward the barn. Where was everybody?
Nick came running out, yelling. "I cut off my fingers!!!" He must have had his hand in a towel. I walked him toward his house. Someone came out who could get him to the hospital.
He turned to me. "Go find my fingers! Get my fingers!"
I ran to the barn. There they were on the floor. Two finger tips. Dirty, lifeless little stubs of flesh. I ran with them to Nick.
The doctors did not re-attach Nick's finger tips. I wasn't part of the crowd who hung out at Nick and Faye's, so I wasn't part of the crowd who spent days mourning over his lost fingers. All I remember is Nick's wailing from that house, because the pain wouldn't go away.