Laura, our second granddaughter, noticed the middle finger on my right hand when she was four. I lost the tip of that finger in an accident that happened shortly before my sixth birthday. There is still a fingernail, but it is thickened and horn-like. What remains of the first joint widens at the tip, so it is a bit bulbous. And instead of being the longest finger on my right hand, it is the same length as the index and ring fingers, giving my right hand a stubby appearance. Laura sometimes took my hand and studied the deformed finger, feeling it and examining it carefully. Then she would say, "Gramma, tell me the story about your finger." I told other stories more interesting than this one (at least to my way of thinking), but this was Laura's favorite. So we sat together on the couch and I would begin:
When I was five years old, my parents (your great grandparents) bought a pony for my brothers and me. You know my brothers, Uncle Ed and Uncle Jim. (Laura nodded knowingly). The pony's name was Dubbs. She was an Indian pony. That means she was bigger than a Shetland pony but smaller than a horse. Dubbs had a soft gray coat and big brown eyes. Her mane and tail were almost black. In the middle of her forehead she sported a white star. I am convinced that she was the gentlest, most loving pony that ever lived.
Laura always sighed over my description of Dubbs, and I was reminded how much she wanted a pony of her own. Really, it was a horse she wanted, but a pony would have sufficed. She sometimes told me that she didn't understand why her mother would not let her have a horse. "It could live in the garage," she told me, perhaps remembering that her great grandfather had built a stall for Dubbs in one half of our two car garage.
"Ginger, my pretend horse, lives in the garage now," she said.
"But a real horse would need a field," I told her.
"Well, we do have a yard," Laura countered, "and it has a fence around it. Did you have a field for Dubbs?"
"No, but there was a vacant lot across the street where Dubbs grazed after she finished the grass in our yard. Besides, we lived on the edge of town, near farms. You live in the middle of town."
"It's not fair,” Laura assured me. I agreed that life is not always fair.
"Maybe you can have a horse when you're all grown up," I suggested. "Yes, when I'm grown-up, then I'll have a real horse." Laura decided. This digression taken care of, we returned to the story:
We had an old Western saddle for Dubbs, complete with a saddle horn, like the ones cowboys use when they're roping cattle. I loved watching my mother saddle Dubbs, who had her own special pad and blanket that went under the saddle to protect her back. After the blanket was on, my Mom lifted the saddle into place. Next the right stirrup was thrown over the top so the saddle girth could be brought under Dubbs belly, fastened, and pulled tight. It's the saddle girth that keeps the saddle on the pony.
One October afternoon when I was riding Dubbs over by Boyetts' cow pasture, my mother called me to come home. She was going to drive to school to pick up my brothers and didn't want me riding the pony while she was away, even though Memaw, our grandmother, was at home to keep an eye on me. Mom removed Dubbs' bridle and replaced it with the halter. Then she fastened a weight to the halter by a length of heavy chain. This allowed Dubbs to move around the yard to graze. She could drag the weight, but it kept her from wandering very far. I begged to be allowed to stay in the saddle, and my mother agreed. It wasn't as good as riding around the dirt roads in our neighborhood, but at least I could pretend I was riding. When one of my friends came into the yard, I asked her to hand me the chain so I could pretend to have reins. So... the chain was looped around the saddle horn when the saddle girth broke. The saddle fell to the ground, taking me with it. I would have walked away from this mishap unharmed, except that the tip of my right middle finger got crushed between the saddle horn and the chain.
"Did it hurt?" Laura broke in. "Was there lots of blood?" She wanted to be sure these important details were not left out.
There was very little pain at the time, but my finger was bleeding – a lot! I ran into the house and asked Memaw to put a bandage on it, but please not to use iodine." She wrapped it carefully, using the widest roll of gauze bandage from the bathroom cabinet. Then she wrapped my hand in a clean rag torn from a worn out bed sheet. A neighbor drove me to the school, turned me over to my mother with a brief explanation. She waited at the school to take my brothers home home. I could not understand what all the fuss was about. I thought I just needed a bandage.
Our first stop was at Dr. Foster's office. Lewisburg was a small town and had no hospital. Emergencies were cared for on a walk-in basis, letting the regular patients wait. Dr. Foster gave my finger a thorough examination. "The wound is ragged and there are some crushed bones," he told my mother. "The finger will have to be amputated at the first joint."
Fortunately another doctor had recently moved to town, so my mother decided to get a second opinion. Dr. Foster did not approve, but that did not stop my mother. She whisked me out of his office in a hurry! Our second stop was Dr. Dishroom's office. I remember sitting on my mother's lap in a white room that smelled of antiseptics. Dr. Dishroom spent a long time cleaning and studying my finger, which by now was beginning to hurt. He thought that with daily care and careful removal of bone splinters, he could save the base of the nail and give me a useful finger. I liked Dr. Dishroom and his nurse, who spoke in a voice barely above a whisper and always wore her stockings wrong side out (stockings had seams down the back in those days). But I hated having the dressing changed and my poor sore finger probed for slivers of bone every day. I even had to go to this dreaded appointment on my birthday. To my great surprise, Dr. Dishroom gave me a beautifully wrapped birthday present before I left his office that day. It was a big box of assorted chocolates! I had to share them a little bit, but I got to eat most of them myself – just not more than two at a time and only after a meal! So the box lasted a long time.
Well, that's the story of what happened to my finger. As you can see, Dr. Dishroom was true to his word. He was able to save what was left of the tip of my finger. It looks different, but it is a perfectly useful finger. At the end of the story, Laura always re-examined my finger, feeling it gently, as if it were fragile. When she was fully satisfied, we moved on to other activities. But I could be sure she would ask for this story again the next time she came to play. And she would not allow me to omit a single detail! Her fascination with Gramma's strange finger lasted several years. In fact, it may continue to this very day.