It was his pinkie finger that took my breath away. I literally gasped when I saw it. The man himself was fairly nondescript, on TV talking about something—I have no idea what—wearing a billed cap and casual outdoorsy clothes. He was a middle-aged man that I noticed out of the corner of my eye while tidying up my living room. For some reason, the peripheral scene suddenly captured my full focus for a second or two—and then I gasped as his hand came into view.
There was his littlest finger, different from the rest; not just smaller, but crooked, bent at the knuckle joint midway, frozen in its misshapen stance. He couldn’t straighten it if he tried—I know that, because I tried to straighten my father’s pinkie countless times throughout my childhood, convinced that if I just pushed down on it gently enough or maybe this time, firm enough, I could make that finger straight again. It fascinated me.
When I finally realized that no matter what I did, it wasn’t going to budge, I did my best to replicate that finger’s look with my own small pinkie. I would ply it this way and that—perfecting the twist and bend, marveling at how close to my father’s it was—until I let go and it quickly sprung back to a straight line once again. I would sigh and start all over again.
And when this rogue finger found its way to my television screen recently, but on the hand of an ordinary stranger, I couldn’t help but be shocked. One, because it belonged only to my father, and two, because I realized in that split second that of the many times each day that I think of my father, who died in 2001, not once in recent memory—or not so recent memory—had I thought about his crooked pinkie finger.
Had I forgotten it—and if so, how many other things am I forgetting that were such indelible parts of who he was? Was I more shocked to see that finger or that I had almost forgotten about it? And it pains me to say that I don’t remember why it was crooked to begin with. I know there’s a story associated with it that I once knew—and now I don’t.
And while I may not have given it much thought lately, the one thing I know I haven’t forgotten is what it felt like holding my father’s hand, what it felt like to be a little girl, struggling so valiantly to make that finger straighten—and the patience my father had (and he wasn’t known to be a patient man) in allowing me to keep trying again and again. He didn’t tell me it wasn’t ever going to happen. He let me keep trying until I figured it out for myself.