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  • Both my grandfather and my great-grandfather accidently cut off their ring fingers.

    My great-grandfather was well-known in the Philadelphia area as “Uncle Walt.” He had a jug band comprised of old people playing washboards and spoons and musical saws that appeared regularly on The Mike Douglas Show.

    He entertained us kids with tricks. He could throw his voice across the room, and it sounded like it came from a bobble-head dog. We’d watch him closely, and then the dog would start to talk and we’d whip our heads around and look at it. The voice came right from the dog.

    But his best trick was to make his left ring finger disappear. The trick was to make the finger appear—holding the folded right finger at the joint of the left. We’d seen my father do this trick. Great Grandpa would separate the finger and then, “poof,” he’d display the left hand with the missing finger.

    “Bring it back!” we’d say, holding the stump.

    My grandfather, Pop Pop Sam, lost his ring finger to a circular saw. He said it was the worst pain of his life. This was after his beloved second wife died. He sold his house by the sea and his boat. He moved inland to meet rich, pretty widows.

    He met Millie, who worked for the phone company until she retired, and whose husband had just died. She waited a year before taking off her wedding ring and marrying Sam. They drove across Texas and mounted longhorns on the hood of their car. They visited Graceland and Vegas. Every year, they celebrated a 10-year anniversary, so they could reach 50 together. She died after 70 years of marriage with Sam.

    My father’s parents were divorced before he was a year old. He lived first with Pop Pop Sam and then with his grandparents, Walter and Ruth. He married my mother, who was 19, when he was 22. They've been married 49 years. He has a habit when listening to music of whistling softly and tapping the beat with the heavy gold band on his ring finger.

    photo: bobble-head dog from
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