Monday, January 26, 2015

Diddy And His Digits

I'm celebrating my father this week.

In my latest book, Scrunchie-Fried, there's a story about my father and the accidents that led to the removal of both of his pinkie fingers. It follows below:

"Diddy And His Digits"

I never knew a man that had lost one of his fingers.

I also never knew a man that had lost the same finger on each hand in separate accidents.

What are the odds of that?

Okay, so I lied. I did know someone like that. That someone was my father.

My daddy, or Diddy as he was known to many was never able to wear a pinkie ring--for that was the finger that was missing from each hand. Come to think of it, I don't think he would have worn a pinkie ring even if he hadn't lost his pinkies. It just wasn't his style.

Dad was a country boy, born and raised on a farm along the rolling hills above the Ohio River. He was born in the community along Island Creek, went to school in a place called Mud Puddle and raised hell with all the other "river rats" in a small town called Manchester. He was drafted into the Army in 1958 and spent eighteen months in Germany. Yes, he saw Elvis a few times, but only from afar; they ran in different circles.

Harold (Diddy) Palmer spent six years in the Army and National Guard and upon his return settled into family life in the small town of Seaman, Ohio. Children soon followed and in 1974, my parents bought the farm on Cherry Fork Road. I remember the first time I ever stepped foot into that old brick house (I was thrilled that it had an upstairs.) and after a few hours of moving boxes it was time to stop for lunch. For lunch, it was the old Palmer standby--bologna sandwiches and a bottle of pop.

We spent over twelve years on the farm before Mom and Dad were forced to move south because of the job situation. Dad had worked as a pattern marker for the Hercules Trousers company since getting out of the Service and the factory closed down in the early 80s. They never had a lot of work; I can remember most of the times he was lucky if he got to work four days a week, some weeks it was only three days. The absence of both little fingers never seemed to hamper him in his duties as a pattern marker though, and that was a good thing.

Mom was a supervisor for many years in a male-dominated industry and worked for Robertshaw Controls Company. She was in charge of the pressure switch line and travelled to Haiti and Mexico several times when the company moved its manufacturing lines there. That said a lot about Mom because the late 70s and early 80s were not very friendly to women in the workplace. She did break down barriers though and did the same work as her male counterparts--she was just paid about 30% less. Astonishing, isn't it? Doing the same work but getting paid less than the person standing beside you.

The story surrounding the loss of his first little piggy was the result of an accident. Back in the day, about 1937, most folks used a large galvanized steel tub to do their washing in. The galvanized tub had multiple uses: it was used to water the cows, it was used to wash the dishes, it was used to wash the clothes and it was used to wash the people. If you were lucky, you had more than one tub to accomplish these tasks. I'm not sure if my grandmother had an extra tub or not but the tub in question was sitting on a table and my dad got a hold of it. The steel tub fell off the table and somehow my 2-year-old father grabbed the edge and got his finger sliced off. Ouch! I don't know if there was water in the tub or if he was waiting to be put in the tub. Either way, I'm sure it hurt like the devil.

Daddy was a few years older when he lost his other pinky finger. He and his brother, Harry James, were chopping wood; probably aged less than seven or eight at the time and dad's hand got in the way. The blade of the ax came off and landed exactly where dad had placed his hand, neatly slicing off the last two fingers on his left hand. Blood was everywhere. Mr. Stevens or Boots (depends on who you ask) was my Great-grandfather's hired hand and was the only adult around when the accident occurred. The story goes that Boots grabbed my dad, yelled at Harry to put the ends of the fingers in a rag and run like mad. Boots carried my dad over two miles into town to local doctor. They managed to sew the end of his ring finger back on, but sadly, the pinkie finger didn't survive.

Dad was a natural story-teller and one of his favorite stories was the story about how he lost his little fingers. Dad would hold up his hands, fingers outstretched and begin to tell the tale about his childhood accident. If there was any neighbor kids around he would tease them about only being able to count to eight and complain that his gloves never quite fit right. They would be wide-eyed and slack-jawed by the time they left our house. It's amazing what kids will believe, sometimes.

I can't say for sure if I ever knew how dad felt about losing his little fingers. I don't think he would have been discriminated against as a child. What would they have called him? Two-Pinkie Diddy. Even if they had teased him, he was such a scrapper that he could have fought back and as for the older kids that teased him, he could have just run away. He was the fastest kid around.

No, I don’t think he really cared. It was his unique story--one that not too many people shared, because back during that time, accidents rarely turned out that good. You either died from infection or bled to death.

Thank goodness, Mr. Stevens had his boots on that day…

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