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Over the centuries, people have sent unsolicited, strange-but-true stories to the Almanac. Here’s an oft-repeated one.
My father lost two fingers in a wood-sawing accident in 1897. He kept the severed fingers in a small bottle of alcohol because he wanted to have them buried with him. He kept the bottle on a cellar windowsill. The window was screened with a clump of lilac brush. People seldom went into that part of the cellar.
During the summer of 1912, I threw a stone and broke a corner of this window’s pane. Since my mother had not yet heard about the traumas, the complexes, or the thwarted egos that a solid smack on the seat of the pants could create, I neglected to mention the broken window.
As cold weather set in, my father began complaining that his removed fingers were cold and nothing he could do would relieve them. My mother tried in vain to convince him that it was impossible for fingers in a 15-year pickle of alcohol to feel anything. He continued to complain, and she continued to pooh-pooh the whole idea.
One cold day, she went into the back cellar. Feeling a draft of icy air, she investigated and discovered the broken window. The hole was directly behind the bottle of fingers.
Without saying anything to anyone, she took the fingers upstairs and put them in a bureau drawer in a warm bedroom. My father never mentioned cold fingers again. A few days later, she sent the hired man to replace the pane of glass, so my father had no idea that the fingers had been moved.
Years later, she told us about the incident.
My father died in 1936. As we left the house to go to the funeral, my brother-in-law asked us which one had given the fingers to the undertaker. Not one of us had thought of them. Bill dashed back into the house, got the fingers, and surreptitiously dropped them into the casket as he walked past it for the last time.