Learn why Herb decided to sit on a throne of thorns.
The Failure Prickly pear cactus is indigenous to the areas where Herb grew up. The leaves were about a half-inch thick and the size of dinner plates. Each leaf was protected by clumps of spines which were about 1.5 to 2.0 inches long. Associated with each clump of spine are some fine thorns which are barbed and which break off easily when they penetrate the skin. During times of drought, and in South Texas drought seems to be the norm much of the time, the spines and thorns can be burned off and the cattle will eat the leaves. Not only are the leaves nutritious, they also furnish the cattle with water.
Five-year-old Herb was following Kelly, Jimmy, Rikki, and Bill down one of the lanes on the Norquest farm. Periodically there were prickly pear cacti. While no one ever admitted that he pushed Herb into a clump of prickly pear, Herb was deeply imbedded into a large clump. Herb could not extract himself. Suddenly all joking stopped. This was serious. Bill was sent to the house to notify the adults. Jimmy, Kelly, and Rikki went to work extracting Herb from the cactus. While Herb would have you believe that he stoically endured the pain, in actual fact he screamed.
After pulling Herb out of the cacti, he was in too much pain to walk. Neither Jimmy, nor Kelly, nor Rikki was willing to try to carry him, because they were afraid that they would get stabbed by the spines sticking out of the living pincushion. So they dragged him.
When they arrived at the house, Herb’s mother and Kelly and Rikki’s mother (Herb’s Aunt Lydia) were on the front porch with bowls of water, washcloths, and tweezers. There in front of God and everyone, they undressed Herb (he was wearing only short pants) and laid him across their laps and went to work. The bowls of water and washcloths were to get rid of the blood so they could see the spines and fine thorns that needed to come out.
While the majority of thorns were in Herb’s butt, there were thorns up to his neck, down to his knees, and in both arms.
Kelly remembers his Mama (Herb’s Aunt Lydia) and his Aunt Louise (Herb’s mother) sitting out on the front porch with naked Herb across their knees, and with their tweezers pulling cactus spines from his bottom, as they nonchalantly discussed weather, family, happenings, etc. Kelly’s strongest memory was of how nonchalant they were about the whole situation.
Each prickly pear thorn had microscopic barbs. As each thorn was removed, the flesh was pulled away from Herb’s body until the thorn broke free, taking flesh with it or leaving the microscopic barbs in place.
Kelly, Rikki, Jimmy, Bill, and Marie (Aunt Lydia’s oldest daughter) stood around and watched without saying anything.
Then Ingie (Aunt Lydia’s number two daughter) came out and joined the group staring at Herb’s bloody behind. She wanted to know if Herb sat on the cactus on purpose. Aunt Lydia tried to hush her up, but she would not be quiet. For years afterwards she maintained that Herb did it on purpose so he could get attention.
Dixie (Aunt Lydia’s youngest daughter) joined the group and wanted to know if Herb would be OK. As each thorn was pulled, Dixie could feel the pain and cried more than Herb.
Herb ruined everyone’s plans that day because he was shoved into a prickly pear clump. The pain did not end with pulling the spines out that day. Pain continued for weeks as the torn flesh healed and as his body encapsulated the barbs that were left in his body to fester.
The Lesson Herb learned to never trust any of his older siblings or cousins; but deep down, he knew if they did him serious damage, they would try to get him home so he could be taken care of.
The Success Herb managed to never be shoved into a clump of prickly pear again. For most of the time that Herb was spread across the laps being tortured, he remained quiet. He found that it is much easier to endure pain if one is quiet rather than screaming.