Toenails Have a Purpose


As a young girl, I lived in a family of seven with a father, mother, three brothers and one sister.  We had a nice home in a good neighborhood with a good school district, food to eat and clothes on our backs. But it seemed that the other children in our neighborhood had things we didn’t have.  We didn’t have many toys, we only went on a couple of vacations over the years, we didn’t have birthday parties, we never ate in a restaurant, and my mother sewed a lot of our clothes herself.  My father worked hard as a Machinist who worked in a factory and, having been a child of the depression era, he lived a frugal life.

At the start of 3rd grade, he bought me a new set of crayons for school.  They were these imitation wax crayons that didn’t color as well as other crayons.  They weren’t what the other kids had, Crayola boxes of 64 crayons with the crayon sharpener built into the back.  But they were new and they were mine.  Being the fourth out of five children, many of the things that I did have were hand-me-downs. So having brand new crayons meant a lot to me.

One day our teacher, Mrs. Williams, who was very close to the end of her teaching career, asked us to split up into our reading groups.  There were cardboard containers on the windowsill that had soft covered reading books that were color coded to various levels of reading ability.  I was supposed to go over to get a reading book and then join my group at a round table at the back of the room.  But first I was putting away my crayons when two boys, Mark and Jeff (those are their real names, so if they ever read this they will know who they are . . .), took my crayons and threw them under a heavy wooden bookcase filled with books at the front of the room.  Of course, I started crying and tried to retrieve my crayons, but some had rolled too far under the bookcase for me to reach.  As the boys laughed, I tried to move the heavy bookcase to get behind it.

When the bookcase fell, it fell quickly.  All of me got out of the way except for the big toe on my right foot.  The heavy bookcase fell onto my toe and crushed it.  The sound brought Mrs. Williams running to the front of the room.  I suppose old Mrs. Williams, or maybe the boys, lifted the bookcase off of my toe but I don’t remember.  I do remember her carrying me to the nurse’s office and I could tell that her whole body was shaking as she tried to carry me.  The nurse called my mother, but my mother didn’t drive and my father was at work.  Instead, my mother sent my 19 year old brother to come and get me.  He attempted to carry me all the way home, but he had to put me down once or twice on my broken toe so that he could rest.  Ouch!

My mother called the doctor and he told her to soak my toe.  That night my toenail fell off and I learned that there is a purpose to toenails.  Toenails cover a million nerve endings and without a toenail, any time something touches your toe, your toe screams!  I couldn’t go to school for a while and classmates would bring my work home to me.  I remember doing workbooks with my mother at home and enjoying the time she spent with just me.

Eventually, I went back to school but I never did find all of my crayons that year.


When my daughter was ready to go to school, the school sent home a list of supplies that she would need.  The list included a box of 36 crayons.  Instead of buying her a box of 36 crayons, I bought her the New Crayola box of 96 crayons with the built-in crayon sharpener.  After all, you can never have too many colors!  Right?  Well, that’s what I thought, until one day she came home from school with a poor grade on a test.  When I asked her why she had done so poorly she said, “I dropped my crayons and it took so long to pick them up, I didn’t have time to finish the test.”

The next year, I bought her the box of 36 crayons that the school requested.  This brings to mind the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  Sometimes having too little or too much of something has its consequences, when perhaps all we need is “just right” in the middle.

Several years ago I was on a ladies Bowling league when I met an elderly lady who was on one of the teams.  It turned out she was Mark’s mother.  I told her about the crayons and the bookcase and she went home and asked her son about it.  She came back the next week and told me that he said he didn’t remember it happening.  I said, “That’s because it wasn’t his toe that broke.”    Author of The Tin Box Trilogy

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