Pale Faces

Garry's Outdoor Kicks & Grins - January 2023

Garry Bowers | December 26, 2022

As a kid, I was the victim of a hereditary curse my Mom called “face aches.” She said it was caused by telling too many lies. I have since learned it is a chronic inflammation of the superior sinus cavities—I had no idea some sinus cavities were better than others. Anyway, the condition became worse with age. By the time I was in high school, it became unbearable. I actually missed a couple of fishing trips because of the pain. Now, I didn’t mind missing school, baptisms or part-time jobs, but fishing? I took myself to our family physician.

After explaining my symptoms to the nurse, she said my condition sounded like a deviated septum. I didn’t have a clue what that was, but being a teenager, I was reluctant to show my ignorance in front of a pretty woman. I just said, “Thought so.” The doctor examined me and confirmed the nurse’s diagnosis. In a nasal twang that would have made Willie Nelson jealous and in conjunction with a lisp, he said, “You have a deviated theptum.”

“A what?” I inquired, incredulously.

“Deviated theptum,” he repeated, annoyed.

“What is that?” I asked anxiously.

“Crooked noth bone,” he whined. “Nothing to worry about. I have one, too.”

I usually don’t ask doctors a lot of questions. I am afraid of my stupidity and scared of their answers. But since he held a medical degree and I was tired of missing fishing trips, I pressed my luck.

“What do we do about a crooked noth, I mean nose bone?” I cringed.

“Operation,” the good doctor replied.

“Have you had it done?”

“Oh, noooooo,” he replied, distressed. “Much too painful.”

I got up and left.

At some point, a teacher told me my face aches might be the result of eye strain (which she obviously thought would also explain my poor grades) and suggested I go to see an opt-something-ologist. So one afternoon after school found me sitting in one of those little barber’s chairs in the office of a doctor she had suggested. I dutifully placed my chin in that little metal support and followed his instructions to read the smallest line I could on the eye chart on the opposite wall. I proceeded to say, “Acme Design Company. Omaha, Nebraska. Patent Pending.” He looked at me and frowned. Then he walked to the chart, leaned over, adjusted his own glasses on his nose and studied the tiny line on the bottom right margin of the chart.

He stood up and said, “You’re fine. That’ll be six bucks. Pay the receptionist at the desk. Get out!”

I said, “Six bucks!?!?”

Now in those days six dollars was a tank of gas or three dates at the movies with popcorn and cokes.

“What about insurance?” I pleaded.

He answered, and I swear there was evil in his voice, “I don’t take insurance!”

I started to ask if he would consider a chicken or a dozen eggs, but thought better of it. I paid at the desk. That exchange of cash was worse than the face aches. Pain is not always physical.

Later that year, I not only proved emotional pain can cause one to turn as white as the proverbial ghost, but such can occur simultaneously with physical distress. At some point, not yet recognizing my own intellectual and dexterous limitations, I took it upon myself to make my own fly rod. I was using a length of cane from a nearby woodlot, sufficiently dried according to instructions in the outdoor magazine. I had already applied the required two coats of shellac and was about to attach the eyelets in my dad’s tool shed. For this grand event, I had invited my new girlfriend to impress her with my skills as an innovative craftsman, not knowing, in the stupidity of youth, that females are not only disinterested in such processes, but bored to tears watching such processes.

Anyway, in the course of my unappreciated labors, I stepped on the pointy end of a finishing nail sticking out of a short length of molding, the uncleaned-up remains of my earlier failed project involving the construction of a lure display case. I instantly cured my date’s dreary monotony with a screech that made the neighborhood dogs cower with dread. She, of course, assumed I had become possessed, threw her hands up in front of her, and backed into the wall, eyes wide with pure terror. With the flexibility only a teenager has, I stood on my good foot and lifted my distressed foot to my knee to view the damage. Bad idea.

When I saw the piece of wood flat against the sole of my sneakers, I assumed I had driven the nail out the top of my foot. Not knowing that it was only one and a quarter inches long and the soles of my shoes took up an inch of that and the piece of molding took up another eighth inch. The nail was barely embedded in my foot. In my defense, the bottom of one’s foot is the second most sensitive part of one’s body. Being unaware that the skin was barely broken, I had assumed the worst. I became immediately sweaty and felt the color drain from my face. I knew I was going to pass out and grabbed the workbench for support, still standing on one leg.

My date had recovered from her initial scare, walked over and pulled the short piece of wood away with the nail intact. The pain immediately ceased. Then she did the unforgivable. She held it up in front of my face. Not a drop of blood. She shook her head, dropped it on the floor and walked out. Since she went to another high school, suffice to say, I never saw her again. Nor did I want to.

My loathing of pain and fear of doctors who were invariably associated with that pain was only just beginning. When I was a high school senior, I managed to drive a catfish pectoral fin halfway through my palm. I shortly found myself in an emergency waiting room in deep pain and dreading the needles that were sure to come. As a devout coward regarding anything to do with foreign objects entering my body and only minutes away from the actual event, my terror went into full bloom.

My knees began to quake noticeably and uncontrollable trembling overtook my hands and arms. Such was the severity of my shaking that the little bell by the nurse’s station started to tinkle lightly. People noticed. When my face turned the color of, oh I don’t know, the Clorox-covered handkerchief with which I was mopping my brow, a 90-year-old lady, a guy with both legs in casts and a pregnant woman got up and offered me their seats. Of course, the proper thing to do would have been to graciously decline their offers, but the little old lady looked like she was in pretty good shape.

In adulthood, I have learned that shame of cowardice is overblown. We are all scared of something. And it’s not just physical harm and pain. (And if you are a fan of the outdoors, you are going to experience plenty of that.) We are scared of being different, of failure, of events that are not even likely to take place. That is why we have antiperspirant, aspirin and insurance. We all fear. It helps run the economy. I am not ashamed of my phobias involving snakes or heights or one-eyed kindergarten teachers.

But I still have face aches. So, on the other hand, my Mom may have been right. Maybe I did tell too many lies as a kid.

For a copy of Garry’s new book, “Dixie Days”, go to and enter title and author. Soft cover – $12   Editor’s Note: Garry’s new book “Dixie Days,” where he reminiscences of a Southern boyhood fishing, hunting and growing up in the Deep South, is available at, $12 soft cover. Search title and author.

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