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A lesson on pulling someone's leg

June 19, 2014 - Ilsa Matthes
I didn’t see too much of my uncle Mike when I was a kid. He’d show up at my grandmother’s on occasion, talk about things that my five year old mind either didn’t understand or care about, and then disappear into the ether for a few months.

On one of these visits he sat down in my grandmother’s living room and struck up a conversation with my grandmother and my mother about who-knows-what. Being the only child in the house at the time, I sat on the floor in the middle of the conversation and played with my Tinkertoys.

Eventually, I got bored. I wanted attention, and since I didn’t see Mike very often he was the logical choice. So I started to tickle his ankle through his sock.

At first he didn’t pay any attention. Finally he stopped and asked, “Are you tickling my ankle?”

I’m sure I giggled — I was five after all.

“Yeah,” I said.

He stopped for a moment and then said, “Pull my leg.”

Since all requests from adults are strange to five year olds and I had no concept of figures of speech, I didn’t question it. I put my hands around his leg and pulled. Nothing happened.

Mike leaned forward. “Here, let me help you with that,” he said — and then promptly ripped off his leg and handed it to me.

No one said anything as I sat there in stunned silence on the floor holding onto my uncle’s freshly removed leg. I didn’t know legs could be made of plastic, and I certainly didn’t know they were removable.

The spell was broken only when Mike told the room that wearing the darn thing was “itchy.”

I can’t remember exactly what happened after that. I suspect my mother had some stern words for her brother about traumatizing children.

The long-term effects of this encounter were positive. I learned later that my uncle had to have the leg amputated due to blood clots caused by smoking — which kept me from taking up the habit myself — and I got a fun (in retrospect) story to tell at parties.


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