The vet sewed his leg back on with a gun held to his head

The vet sewed his leg back on with a gun held to his head


norman lebrecht

August 10, 2018

Ever wonder where our Berlin-based string quartet diarist Anthea Kreston gets her resilience? Read this:

This week, I began my fourth season as the second violinist of the Artemis String Quartet. I arrived back in Berlin on Wednesday evening, after a month in the States – visiting our old small town in rural Oregon, seeing family and friends, teaching at Curtis and a final stop in Washington, D.C. By Thursday I was in full Quartet rehearsal mode, and on Friday, on the road for a three-concert tour as a part of the Schleswig-Holstein Festival, in beautiful Northern Germany.

I am alone for three weeks – Jason and the girls are squeezing every last minute from our once-a-year US visit. I have big plans for my remaining alone time – I run every day, am doing a full top-to-bottom house cleaning, studying German two hours per day (my tutor comes to work with me every day I am in Berlin), and hands-on practice minimum 3 hours a day. I have a lot of variety this season – in addition to a full Quartet schedule, this month I am playing in the Musethica Festival (a Marlboro-style festival with a different International location each session), and sitting concertmaster for Deutsche Oper. I have a lot of notes to get my fingers around (Quartet tour this week is Beethoven, Bartok, Schumann and the Schumann Quintet with Leonskaja), and we start new Quartet rep next week (Haydn Rider, Bartok 4, and Brahms 51/2).

One of the things that has always grounded me is growing vegetables. I am the granddaughter of an Appalachian farmer, and I grew up with dirt between my green fingers. EB Boston lived with us until he passed (when I was 6 years old), and for as long as I can remember, he helped me plan, plant and care for my own garden in the back, growing flowers and vegetables from seed inside during the cold Chicago winters. He had fallen, as a teenager, into the tractor at the homestead in Sulphur Wells, Kentucky. His leg nearly severed, the local veterinarian (there wasn’t a doctor) sewed it back on, with a sawed-off shotgun held to his head by my great-grandfather.

You see – he refused to do it – he didn’t know the first thing about re-attaching a human limb. But, it became abundantly clear, great-grandad wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. By the end of the year, using two canes, his family sent him on his way, with his 7th grade education – there were too many mouths to feed, and he was no use around the farm. And so, with his quick wit, effusive optimism, and natural opportunism, he set forth for the Windy City. He always walked with a cane – his right leg jutting out at kind-of a right angle (“that horse-doctor managed to connect enough of the right tubes to get me up and about”, he would say, rubbing the feeling back into his semi-cooperative leg). He was a killer on the poker table, could drink any man under the table, and would pack his pipe without looking down. He liked plaid (often wearing one plaid for pants, and another for a sports-coat, and made his fortune somehow between the card table and various inventions (rumor had it that he had something to do with the bandaid, Formica, and window air conditioners). At heart, he was always a farmer.

He bought a beautiful 80 acre farm in rural Wisconsin, an easy drive up from Chicago for us on weekends and long vacations. He set one of his friends up there to be the full caretaker, with the agreement that we/he could come to “work” the farm whenever he wanted – caring for the large vegetable plot, orchard and the full range of animals.

I am at my happiest when elbow deep in a vegetable garden – this year is our best garden yet in Germany. I have used an old ladder to trellis my tomatoes, and the zucchini are stretched almost to our front door. The apples are ripe, and I have plans to make cider and apple butter with the girls when they get back. Nothing brings me to my happy place like the smell of tomatoes on my hands after a good spell in the garden.



  • Robert Holmén says:

    “…he didn’t know the first thing about re-attaching a human limb.”

    He probably didn’t know the first thing about re-attaching an animal limb either. 😀

    It’s probably not something they spend time on in vet school since it would be exceedingly unlikely to ever be worth the effort or difficulty of doing… on an animal.

    If it was a horse, you’d shoot it. If it was a dog, you’d amputate it. If it was a pig, you’d eat it.

    Interesting that it worked at all.

    • Anthea kreston says:

      Yes – he said his father ran, carrying him with a belt wrapped – something to keep the blood in. He just ran. And the vet was a white as a sheet and said “they don’t even do that to animals”. Then out came the shotgun. He always took a very long time to start moving after he stood up – just to get some circulation back. And he also used to carry tomatoes in his pocket, and at restaurants, take them out when the waitress wasn’t looking, cut them up with his pocket knife, and compliment her on the gorgeous tomatoes when she came back, totally confused. He used to put pepper on melon and sometimes, just to make us giggle, gravy on chocolate cake.

    • Frank Finkelstein says:

      My grandfather, 14 years old and apprenticed to a phyician’s assistant/nurse practitioner (Feldsher) in 19th century Poland, had to amputate: someone had his arm caught in a mangle and was bleeding to death.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    Agriculture accidents remain a significant cause of child laborer injury and death to this day…

  • fierywoman says:

    Dear one! Protect your precious hands with gardening gloves! (yeah, I know …)

    • Anthea kreston says:

      I know, for weeding the nasty ones, I do (we have crazy ones that give us rashes here that have really tough roots – gloves and long sleeves) but for my veggies – I love the feel and the smell that stays in the creases of the hands….and I can feel where a stalk needs extra care….

  • Bruce says:

    “The vet sewed his leg back on with a gun held to his head”

    Makes it sound like the vet was forced to sew his own leg back on 😛

    • Robert Holmén says:

      Ya know… my first thought on reading that headline was of the Soviet guy who had to do his own appendectomy while trapped at a base in the Antarctic.

  • esfir ross says:

    Good tomato crop comes with very hot weather in Berlin.

  • Marg says:

    Yes, take care of those precious fingers! But how good to have this whole other side in your life to immerse yourself in. Gardening is so grounding.

  • Marg says:

    Pardon the pun. Unintentional!