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Charity begins at home—and so does almost everything else, come to think of it.

Thursday was Howard’s birthday. Except for that, it was pretty much the week from Hell.

A few figs from thistles…
by Howard A. Tabor


Wednesday morning something was wrong with the shower: no hot water and very little cold. Tuesday had been a night of fitful sleep, there was a raging storm outside, and the last cinnamon-raisin bagel displayed unwelcome flecks of blue-green. I was in no mood to cope with faulty plumbing.

After fifteen minutes replacing a light bulb (one by the water heater blew the minute I flipped the switch) and another twenty-five tracking down the toolbox, sweat soon pooled in my eyes. It wasn’t long before I had newfound respect for Michelangelo’s months under the Sistine ceiling: working above your head is agony and I didn’t see much ecstasy in the immediate future. With aching shoulders, burning eyes and an exhausted list of expletives, I remembered Truman Hand, an old family friend first met when I was ten or twelve.

Mr. Hand answered to “Handy,” a familiarity he accorded most folks in town. I called him that once but Mother reminded me Mr. Hand was my elder, a professional, and a guest in our home; he warranted my respect.

Gentle, deferential, deliberate in speaking, Mr. Hand may be the most accomplished mechanic I have ever known. There were few jobs he could or would not tackle: carpentry and woodworking, yard work and tree trimming, meticulous painting, even minor automotive and electrical repair, as long as it didn’t involve newfangled contrivances and contraptions. Your home was always cleaner when he left. He was a regular visitor in our house, several times a month throughout the year, and his yellow pickup was easy to spot all around town wherever mechanical dysfunction and decay had reared their head. He always had a smile and a nod for me and called me “Mister Tabor.”

Did I mention Truman Hand was Black?

Truman Hand was born in 1919 at Caruthersville, Missouri, the “boot heel” of that state which locks with Arkansas and keeps the two from drifting too far apart. I have never been there and lack any desire to go. Hand served our nation during WWII and returned to as much of a hero’s welcome as the South could muster in those days. America was a more hopeful place in the late 1940s, even for people of color, so Hand availed himself of all the G.I. Bill might give. He attended trade school and refined the mechanical skills of war for peacetime application. He married high school sweetheart Esther Plunkett. They had a daughter Marie. Then things changed, as they are often wont to do, but not always for the better.

Esther Hand developed a mysterious lung ailment, probably from her wartime work in a defense plant, ironically, making gasmask filters. She wasted two debilitating years in bed and died in 1948 when her daughter Marie was only three. Given the state of American medicine at the time, her death seems especially senseless.

Did I mention Esther Hand was White?

Those hopeful years drew Southern Blacks northward to industrial opportunity. Wage labor beats the hell out of piecework. So, Truman Hand sought more abundant life for himself and his daughter, bypassing St. Louis or Chicago for a life in Agincourt, Iowa, it would seem, where he found work in our new canning plant. Time would tell if their relocation had been wise. The Hand family tale is only just begun.

Lives can be rebooted; hopes reborn. And plumbing can be repaired.


© 2007 The Agincourt Project

1 Comment

  1. […] build some of that part of American history into Agincourt: you may find interesting the story of Truman Hand, a.k.a., “Handy”, an exploration of that point of view and Agincourt’s own racial […]

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