My grandparents were all dressed up to go out, to a wedding maybe? Or a funeral? Clabe was in a three-piece suit, Leora in a dark dress and a hat with a little feather.
“Mom, do you know where your folks might have been going in this old picture?” I asked.
“Yes. Mom was going to have a needle taken out of her hand.”
I knew the needle story. Grandma was visiting us once when I was a girl and showed us that she couldn’t flatten out her right hand. We were cautioned never to leave a needle stuck in the arm of a couch.
Grandma told how she’d forgotten about the needle she used to repair things in the small town of Dexter, Iowa, then parked it in the bib of the apron she wore over her house dress. Her tub washer was broken so she scrubbed the laundry–for nine people–on a corrugated metal washboard. She felt a stab in the palm of her hand.
It happened so fast, she said. And it had broken off so she couldn’t get a hold of it to pull it out.
They had no extra money for a doctor but, Depression years or not, she needed one.
Dr. Chapler numbed her hand and fished around for the needle but couldn’t find it. He sent her home, said to soak the hand in hot water, and he’d get a time set up for x-rays at a hospital.
Leora didn’t think about how hot the water was. She couldn’t feel it. It burned the skin on her hand, so now they had to wait until the burn healed.
The day the picture was taken, Clabe and Leora were waiting for a ride to the hospital, which was an hour away.
The fragment of steel was located on the x-ray, but the doctor still had trouble finding it. When he managed to cut it out, Clabe said that her hand looked like a piece of meat.
Yes, in the picture, I can see that she’s holding her hand behind her. That’s the only clue.
“But why would they get all dressed up for that?” I asked.
Well, during those Depression years, Clabe had two sets of clothes–overalls and the suit. And Leora’s choices were her housework dress or this good one.
This story is also told in Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression.
Our American Stories, June 2021– an 8-minute story