Only a thumb

The driver's ed teacher tilted his plastic chair back on two legs. He sipped coffee out of a styrofoam Dunkin Donuts cup.

"I remember this one guy," he said, "Larry Miller. Anyone know the Miller's up on Rooster's Fork Road up in Lonaconing? Larry used to work at the PVC plant down there in Hyndman, and the guy lost his four fingers driving forklift."

Oh, we thought, pens poised over note paper, this was going to be some grisly tale about not paying attention while you're driving, resulting in horrible disfigurement. Tasteless, but in keeping with the general tone of the class so far that week.

"Yeah, he used to keep his hand up here on the side rail as he worked, and he drove into a bay with the door not all the way up and it sheared his four fingers clean off. Just left the thumb."

The class winced. Oh, we thought, it's a lesson about overhead clearances. A bit odd; not sure how often that comes up in the real world. And a bit of a stretch, with the forklift. But okay, the teacher is working with the material he has. He's teaching from his life. Can't blame him for that.

"Yep, just a thumb on that hand. But man, eventually that thumb got so strong. You'd see him coming out of Martin's with four bags of groceries and two gallons of milk just clutched in that thumb. Or coming out of Lowes holding two drywall buckets with just that thumb. Got so strong."

He sipped his coffee.

"So Larry's got this son Phil, and Phil's just got his license, just off his permit. And one evening Larry gets a call from the cops, 'Mr. Miller, we're suspending your son's license for reckless driving. Would you come down to the station and pick him up, please?'

"And the first thing Larry does when he sees his son in the police station is to whap -- !" The teacher made a flicking-striking motion with his right thumb. "Right in the chest. Knocks the wind right out of him. He was so mad."

We waited for the story to have an ending or a lesson or something, but the teacher just took a sip of coffee.

"Yep, hit him right in the chest," he said. "That thumb was so strong." Our pens continued to hover. He took another sip of coffee. "So funny."

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