Needle in her Hand

February 1935. Clabe had just sold the old Ford and bought the suit three months earlier, so he and Leora could “step out a little,” he wrote one of their Navy sons.

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.

needle (3)
Leora made a sketch of her hand when she wrote a letter to their Navy boys who were at Long Beach, CA, stationed on the USS Chicago. Letter dated Jan. 25, 1935, Dexter, Iowa.

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 was my very first blog post, April 2, 2015. I used Weebly for two years before getting fed up and learning WordPress.

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








  1. How awful for her. I’m sure the hand was never the same. I’m not sure why I haven’t explored your stories before, but I am enjoying them now. Maybe they were just being saved for this period of isolation! I have shared your website with some friends (of a certain age) who are enjoying them as well.

    • What fun! Welcome. I’m working on Leora’s Depression/Desperation Era stories of the 1930s. This will certainly be part of it. Got slowed down by a complete reverse shoulder replacement, but making headway with physical therapy!

    • It’s only been okayed in the US only since 2003, so very thankful to find an Iowa surgeon who does it every day! I’m the only person I know of who’s had it done! Thankful the physical therapist has worked with over a dozen of these.

  2. It was a different world for sure. I had patches on the knees of my jeans as a child. I can’t bring myself to pay for new jeans with ripped knees.

  3. […] Keith Chapler, who arrived in Dexter in 1933, also used it for Leora when he fished the broken needle out of her hand in early 1935. The ether used as an anesthetic made her nauseous afterwards. Since it was terribly […]

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