She is old. And she tells a story of the old days. Back when the world was a different place. Electricity was a luxury. Suppers were cooked on iron stoves. Men tipped hats to ladies.
Things have changed.
She was a nice-looking child. I saw the photo that proves it. Big smile. Blonde curls. And like three quarters of Alabama at the time, she lived on the rural route.
As a young girl, her morning routine was feeding chickens, then helping her mother fix breakfast. She’d run outside, climb over the chicken fence, and gather eggs. Her mother warned her not to scale the tall fence, but nine-year-olds do not listen.
One morning, she fell from the top. Her fingers got caught in the chicken wire. It was serious and bloody. She lost two fingers and severed a tendon in her thumb.
Throughout childhood, she became good at hiding her mangled hand. Often, she kept a fist to conceal her missing parts. When she got old enough to like boys, they did not return the favor.
One year, her high school threw a Sadie Hawkins dance—where girls invite fellas. She cooked up enough courage to ask a boy. He turned her down. So she tried another. Same response. No takers.
Life went on. When she was in her twenties, she accompanied her father to the hardware store—a place men lingered to talk gossip. It was a pleasant porch, covered in brown spit.
That’s where she met him. He was sitting with the others. He rose to his feet when he saw her. He was eleven years her senior. A war veteran. Tall. Skinny. Sandy hair.
She kept her hands in her dress pockets.
He smiled at her. She smiled back. That weekend, he called on her—and in those days that meant calling her father.
He picked her up. They took in a movie. He gave her royal treatment. He was no boy, but a man. Different from others. Decent to a fault.
A few weeks after she met him, she’d worked up enough bravery to show him her damaged hand. She was certain he’d be repulsed and lose interest.
She showed it to him anyway.
He just shrugged and told her how beautiful she was.
She insisted to know whether her hand bothered him.
He didn’t answer. Instead, he told her about the War. About the winter his unit got captured. About almost freezing to death in a prison camp. About the frostbite he endured.
Then he removed his boot and showed her his missing toes.
When she finished, I asked whether her story was true.
She says people ask that all the time.