Your hands can do so many many things. . .
It’s in a Delta faucet commercial now, that little song originally performed by the Count from Sesame Street–but every time I hear it, I am reminded that hands can do many things: among them, saving lives.
This story about a very unorthodox lifesaving hand comes from the West Virginia mines, and was collected by Ruth Ann Musick in her earlier book The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales (1965).
Jim Tokash operated a coalcutter in the Grant Town mine. He secretly believed he was the best operator in the mine, and that belief made him think he was darned near invincible.
Jim’s downfall was a sulfur ball.
In the mines, they find these balls, pure sulfur, harder than the coal around them and ranging in size from smallish to gigantic, embedded in coal seams. The miners were instructed never to try to drill through the sulfur; it had to be blasted out.
But Jim thought he could drill them out. He’d been told by his supervisor that if he broke any more drill bits trying to drill out sulfur balls, he was going to be fired, but he was feeling his oats this day.
The drill, predictably, stuck in the sulfur ball. When Jim tried to dig it out, something went wrong–badly wrong–and Jim woke up to find his left hand missing, cut off at the wrist.
His hand was never found.
He went back to work in the mines a few months later. He no longer operated a coalcutter; he was now an assistant to the new coalcutter–another young buck who thought he was the best operator in the mine.
Like Jim before him, the new man tried one day to dig out a sulfur ball.
His efforts caused a massive cave-in. One-handed Jim, who had stepped out of the area for a drink of water, was the only survivor.
Jim tried his best to dig some of the bodies out from under the coal and rocks, but he couldn’t shift much with only one hand. In shock and grief he wandered away from the section, through dark tunnels into parts of the mine he’d never worked and didn’t recognize.
The shock wore off at last, and he realized he was lost.
He ran through the tunnels for a long way, calling for help, but no one answered.
He was running short of breath, and so he stopped to rest awhile. He leaned back against one of the walls and shut his eyes, willing his heart to slow and his breathing to even out.
When he opened his eyes again, he saw, about twenty yards ahead of him, a white, glowing light.
Thinking it was another miner’s headlamp, he ran toward the light, stopping only when he saw that it wasn’t attached to anything.
The light lay there on a support.
The glow came from a hand. A hand that, after he looked at it for a minute or two, Jim recognized: it was his left hand. His wedding ring, a band of braided gold, was still on it.
The hand lay with its index finger extended, pointing toward the south.
The message was clear, to Jim, at least: head south. You’ll find help there.
He headed south, and very shortly ran into a work crew. Excitedly, he told them about the cave-in, that he was the only man left alive to seek help, and that he had been pointed in their direction by his own missing hand.
They laughed at that part. For the rest, they went to the section where Jim had been working and grimly brought out the dead.
Jim, meantime, retraced his steps back to the place where he had seen his glowing hand pointing him to safety.
He never found it. Nor did he ever see it again, as long as he worked in the mines.