My Grandma Mary was a small child during the Depression, growing up with her mother, three brothers and a sister on a subsistence farm in Pennsylvania. Her father was a miner who disappeared for months at a time then would suddenly pop up for a week or two until his sons ran him off. There was an abandoned construction site near the farm and one day my grandmother found her way there. Mary was playing “dime store” which consisted of catching grasshoppers, wrapping them up in Sears catalogue paper tied with corn silk, then transacting business with imaginary customers. One of the packages had hopped away and when Mary retrieved it, she discovered the blasting cap that she proceeded to strike with a rock. A thumb and first two fingers were completely blown off to the top knuckles on her right hand. The explosion also shredded the last two fingers on her left hand. Somehow her eyes were spared. She was four years old. My own daughter Sophia Skye is four years old and it makes me shudder to imagine my grandmother staggering across a pasture in search of her mother.
A country doctor was summoned. He amputated the remnants of pinky and ring finger on her left hand, stitched and bandaged the appendages. That was it. There was no insurance, no hospital, no physical therapy, no one to sue. The high school yearbook photos of my grandmother as the captain of her basketball team two years running attest to the fact she never made allowances for her disability. Grandma Mary once shared that following the accident she would wait until everyone had gone to bed then practice things that others took for granted like using a hair brush, eating with a knife and fork, or catching and throwing a ball with just the palms of her hand.
In every picture ever taken of her, my grandmother always has her hands folded together, giving her an air of serenity. Looking at her photo, one day I realized that she had created a way to only show her “good fingers.”
My grandmother became a beautician who operated her own shop for nearly forty years. Her business came by referral only and my grandmother could always tell when a new client hadn’t been briefed about her hands and the unorthodox way she wielded scissors and combs. She grew old with her customers and when they died she would be summoned to the funeral home to set their hair in preparation for eternity. Grandma Mary retired and closed her shop just before her 77th birthday. She died a few weeks before her 82nd birthday.
I think of my grandmother often. I miss her smile. I miss her hands. I wish I could kiss them.