The Joy of Teaching My Grandkids to Count to Three By Bill Detmers

I am 81 years old and was born with a deformed right hand and deformed toes.

When the nurse brought me to my parents, she had me wrapped tight. As my mom started to open the blanket the nurse said she had bad news, that my hand was deformed. My parents, being good Christians, looked at my hand and said it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t adjust to it and lead a normal life. I had four fingers, the index finger growing from the side of the middle finger. My hand was open half way down.

As you can see from the old photo, I was playing in the dirt just like any other little boy. Being the 7th of 7 children, I was hauled around by my sisters.

In 1942, doctors sewed the open area up and removed the index finger. My parents taught me to never be embarrassed by my hand.  As I grew, I was given chores around the house. No favorites for this kid. Growing older, I delivered newspapers, mowed lawns with an old hand push mower. I was the motor.   

I played softball with a ball glove that had fewer fingers to allow me to use it better.  In basketball, I had some trouble dribbling the ball with my right hand because the fingers were not straight and flexible.  I played on the team every year that I tried out. My doctor was concerned I might break my fingers since they were crooked, but it never happened.

I learned to do almost anything with that hand. In high school my principal told me I couldn’t take a typing explaining I would slow down the class. However, the typing teacher got me into the class and I carried almost all A’s.  I even helped type the school newsletter.

After high school, I met my first hurdles because of my physical difference. For example, I tried to join the military and was turned down by both the Navy and Army because I didn’t have a “trigger” finger on my right hand.  Next, I applied for a major manufacturing company office job but I was informed they didn’t hire the handicapped(this was in 1959).  Then I applied at a major insurance company and worked for them 35 years. Only one manager questioned my ability to do my job because of my hand, but higher management overruled him and I did my job.  My job was working on computers and later became a Senior Systems Analyst, which required a lot of keyboard work.

When my wife and I started dating she wouldn’t walk on my right side because she didn’t like the way my hand felt.  As the romance continued she got over the idea.  Now, 62 years later, three generations of my family, found my hand of great interest, at least when they were young.  For example, they all learned to count to three on my hand. When my son was little, he wanted to take me to school for show and tell. Needless to say I declined.

Over the years I have met many people. Even shaking hands with me, many of them were too polite while others never noticed. I contribute this to confidence in myself that I have always worked on and achieved.

Thanks to my parents, I have no problem when someone asks, “What happened to your hand?” Maybe they are being rude, but I have always handled it. I learned that I could do pretty much everything that others with a more “typical” hand could do, with just a little extra hard work. Looking back, I think my biggest weakness was that I could only count to eight on my fingers.


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