November full of cruel cuts

For this writer, it's time to stay out of kitchen, away from all sharp objects

Posted: Thursday, November 28, 2002

November comes around every year and every year is not a disaster -- just some Novembers. A few I particularly recall.

Like the one in the 1960s in Sitka when I was a young mother with two children and a third on the way. I had been grocery shopping on a cold, blustery November day. We got home and got the car unloaded, my 2- and 4-year-olds helping some, but whining for lunch.

I was hungry too. Remembering a new recipe for grilled cheese sandwiches I had just read, I grabbed a package of cheese out of one bag and tried to cut it open with the bread knife lying handily on the counter.

In a split second, I had nearly cut off the end of my left index finger. Holding it tightly, I dialed my neighbor with the little finger of my right hand. Even though my neighbor had just come home from having two wisdom teeth removed, she drove me to the doctor's office to have my finger sewed back on.

The doctor finished with two pieces of advice: Don't wait so long to eat next time, and don't traumatize the injury any further.

Two days later, still November, my 4-year-old daughter slammed that same finger in the car door. The doctor did consider that trauma, and he had to reattach it. He didn't think it would "stay," but 40 years later, it is still there. Thank you, Dr. Moore.

Fast forward to November of 1990 or '91. I'm working at Kenai Peninsula College and getting ready for a Thanksgiving potluck we were having. I searched high and low for a really good recipe to make for the potluck and finally found, on the day before the event, a simple moussaka recipe that looked very easy and would feed multitudes.

It called for two pounds of hamburger, which I just happened to have at home, in the freezer. Do you see where this is going?

It was frozen solid. Starting the recipe when I got home that night meant "shaving" the frozen meat off so I could use it. I was about half done when it happened.

Quick as a wink, that gob of frozen burger rolled just as I brought the knife down, and I sliced open the backs of three fingers on my left hand. Holding tight to the fingers to stop the blood, I rinsed them quickly under cold water, stuffed a box of Band-Aids and a bottle of peroxide into my pockets and fled over and around the snow berms to my neighbor's house.

She took me in her bathroom and doused my fingers with the peroxide and then bandaged them tightly. Thank you, Sheila.

I went back home to finish the moussaka. By then the meat had thawed sufficiently, and there were no more mishaps. Everyone who tried the moussaka said it was very good.

No stitches, but there are those three scars, which you'd think would remind me to avoid knives in November.

Obviously, not a good enough reminder. This NovemberI found myself in the kitchen with a really good recipe for baked acorn squash and a good sharp knife. That squash was so tough, a pile driver couldn't have gotten through it, but I managed to get it cut in half.

Then, I needed to cut each half again to make four slices for the recipe. I put the squash cut side down on the counter, made sure my fingers were out of harm's way and started sawing.

In the blink of an eye, the knife suddenly slid right through and into the heel of my left hand, which was holding the squash steady. Can you believe it?

We made a quick trip to the emergency room with a wad of paper towel to stop the bleeding. They asked me if I drank, and I said "no." They asked me if I smoked, and I said "no."

It seems my only vice is cooking and, obviously, it will be the vice that kills me!

This cut took nine stitches -- my sewing machine doesn't sew that straight; thank you, Dr. Hileman -- and a tetanus shot (ouch, did I really need that? It's only been since about 1956).

I was out in time to finish making dinner for the invited company. They raved about the squash recipe, but my husband says from now on, in the month of November, I am banned from handling sharp objects.

So I interpret that to mean he is cooking Thanksgiving dinner today -- and I'm not going to mention that I once hit a moose with my car in November.

Marilyn Wheeless is a nearly 20-year resident of the Kenai Peninsula. She is an active member of the Central Peninsula Writer's Group and Pioneers of Alaska, locally and statewide. She works at the Law Offices of Cowan Gerry & Aaronson in Kenai. She lives "almost" on North Road with husband, John "Ozzie" Osborne, two cats, a dog, a greenhouse and, of course, a kitchen -- which now has no knives in November.

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