The baby’s name is Paul and his little fingers, wrapped around one of mine, are chubby and dimpled. He is named for my brother. When I gaze at Baby Paul’s little fingers, another image comes to mind. It is of a woman crying. The woman was my mother and she has been dead so many years now that I would have to stop and figure out exactly how many years it has been; but those tears—they are still alive in my heart. I can see those tears so clearly, dripping gently against the fingers of another little boy so many years ago. That little boy, four years old, was in her arms. I, three years older, was standing alongside the rocker feeling very sorry about my little brother and about my mother’s tears.
Paul and a cousin a few years older had been playing outside together a few days before. Every few minutes, my mother would go to the door and holler for Paul. The cousin, Abel, was a venturesome boy and mother would not trust him to keep Paul in the yard, although he had promised to do so.
When Paul came running on his little short legs, Mother would say, “Stay you near the house Paul,” with her little twist of an accent because for her, English was a second language.
The boys were playing mostly in the orchard at the back of the yard. There Abel spotted a low hanging branch that was almost parallel to the ground. Rushing off to the washhouse, he returned with a length of rope and swung it over the branch. Then with Paul’s little back for a stool, Abel climbed to the first fork in the tree, then up a little more and onto the branch. There he tied each end of the rope in knots around the limb. The boys were very proud and excited about the swing they had just created; but of course, sitting on that rope was not very comfortable.
We need a board, said Abel. Off they went in different directions until Paul ran back to the orchard, hollering, “I found one. I found one.” The neighbor was a carpenter. From his refuse pile, Paul had rescued the perfect board.
When Abel reached the swing, Paul was trying to fit the board onto the rope, but of course it kept sliding off. “I’ll be right back, Paul,” he said. “I know how to make a swing.” And in all of his seven-year old wisdom, Abel did have an idea how that was done.
He returned with an axe from the woodshed and proceeded to chop at the board to put in the notches he could see in his mind’s eye. The board jumped away. He tried again. The board jumped again. “Here, Paul,” he said, “You hold it.” And Paul did.
And that’s how Paul came to lose one of those beautiful little chubby fingers. One was sliced endwise from nail to upper knuckle. Medical knowledge was not what it is today. The doctor could do nothing but amputate the finger of the terrified little boy.
My mother blamed herself and shed many, many tears over her baby’s precious little hand; and now, as I look at another baby Paul’s little dimpled fingers, my heart grieves anew for Mother and for the little boys who learned an awful lesson that day.
I say a small prayer for my great-grandson. “Lord, keep him safe and let him grow up unscathed.” Then I raise his chubby fingers to my lips and kiss them.
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