I Quit, Cold Turkey

Two weeks ago, on The Office (Episode: "Take Your Daughters to Work Day"), Dwight Schrute--who I think must have been the student that teachers feared was most likely to bring a gun to school--tried to bond with some kids by reading them stories from his childhood.

Well, it didn't work. Maybe because Dwight sort of has that creepy I-could-kill-you vibe, but probably because the story he started to read was somewhat frightening.

It was called "Little Suck-a-Thumb," and it comes from a book called Strewwelpeter, by Heinrich Hoffman.

This terrifying story is about a little kid that sucks his thumb. His mom tells him that if he doesn't stop, a mean man will come and SNIP his thumb right off. But the kid doesn't listen; he keeps sucking his thumb and one day the mean man comes in and snips BOTH his thumbs off. The end.

Okay, so I might have laughed when I read that story. I have a sick sense of humor and I'm not apologizing for that. However, I feel a kinship with the kid in the story, and here's why --

When I was three years old, my mom took Joon and me out west to visit her family. I have flashes of memories from that trip: the velvet neon Kiss poster in my uncle's room that scared me so badly I wouldn't set foot in his room until it disappeared; pulling baby bottles out from under the kitchen sink; learning to tie my shoes; and deciding that I would never, no never, stick my thumb in my mouth again.

I met my Great-Uncle Allan for the first time on that trip. I remember thinking he looked like Santa Claus (but then, I thought all old men looked like Santa Claus back then). He'd been a POW during the Korean War; he'd cut his thumb or something, and rather than wait for it to heal, his captors had just cut it off. (I didn't know this until I was much, much older).

Uncle Allan was the first person I ever knew who didn't have a thumb. I was fascinated by the pink skin that covered his palm, by the smooth stump where his thumb should have been. I would run the fingers of my right hand over it while my left thumb was stuck firmly in my mouth.

I guess Uncle Allan thought he would break me of my thumb addiction. He stuck his hand out in front of me.

"See that?" he asked.

"Mmmhhhm," I murmured around my thumb.

"Know why there's nothing there?" he demanded.


"When I was a little boy, I used to suck my thumb every day," he began. "I'd suck it every chance I got. Sometimes I wouldn't EAT because I didn't want to take my thumb out of my mouth. And you know what happened?"

My eyes got wide, and I leaned forward on his knee. "What?"

"One day, I started sucking my thumb. And I was sucking, and sucking, and sucking ... and then I sucked it CLEAN OFF!"

I was a quiet kid back then. I don't know if I said anything; I think I must have scrambled off his lap and run to my mother. I vaguely remember holding my thumbs together to see if my left thumb was smaller than my right--my way of testing Uncle Allan's story for truth.

We stayed out there for a week, and I have only a few memories of it, but I do know this one thing for sure: I NEVER sucked my thumb again.

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