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Cape Central High Photos

Ken Steinhoff, Cape Girardeau Central High School Class of 1965, was a photographer for The Tiger and The Girardot, and was on the staff of The Capaha Arrow and The Sagamore at Southeast Missouri State University. He worked as a photographer / reporter (among other things) at The Jackson Pioneer and The Southeast Missourian.

Come here to see photos and read stories (mostly true) about coming of age in Southeast Missouri in the 1960s.

Please comment on the articles when you see I have left out a bit of history, forgotten a name or when your memory of a circumstance conflicts with mine. (My mother says her stories have improved now that more and more of the folks who could contradict her have died off.) Your information helps to make this a wonderful archive and may end up in book form.


Don't Stare at My Mother's Arm

Liberty with the truth warning: there may be some parts of what you read next that might not exactly be lies, but they stretch the truth to the point of snapping. [The story was originally written to promote the Convention Bureau’s Storytelling Festival.]

What’s the matter with her arm?

Mother couldn’t figure out why my brother Mark’s friends always looked at her funny. They’d appear to be staring, then glance away quickly when she looked at them.

She found out later that Mark had told them, “Don’t stare at my mother’s arm, she’s self-conscious about it.”

“What’s the matter with your mother’s arm,” they’d ask.

It’s a long story

Here’s how he tells it in (mostly) his own words:

After Dad died and all of us boys scattered all over the country, Mother got a little lonely. She was okay financially, but she wanted to do something a little different to keep busy, something that would let her see the sights, be around other people and make herself feel useful.

She was a cook on a riverboat

She decided to work as a cook on a towboat, The Robert Kilpatrick. She worked 20 days on and got 20 days off.

She had her own small utility boat that was kept on the barge on a hoist.  When she  ran low on supplies, she would have the captain radio ahead to the nearest town and give them the “grocery list.”  As they came close to the town, they would lower her boat into the water. She would take off, load up the supplies (the store would meet her at the river with them), and then she’d floor it to catch up with the tow.

One day as the tow was being broken up and put into the lock and dam (modern day tows now “push” as many as 30 barges at a time and dams/locks were not designed to accommodate more than eight at a time, two abreast),  she decided she wouldn’t launch her own boat, she’d stay with the tow. She was getting ready to climb a steel ladder from the the barge  to the top of the lock so she could board a waiting cab to go into town for the supplies when something went terribly wrong.

Tragic accident took her arm

Suddenly the barges shifted in the lock and her arm was caught between the edge of the barge and the concrete dam wall. It pinched it clean off at the elbow.

Tragic, yes, but not enough to keep our mother down.  No  sir.  In fact, some of the guys in the machine shop – the burly  guys who ate steak for breakfast and kept the massive engines working  down below – fashioned her a couple of custom “snap on” tools that were a little more functional than the basic hook that was all insurance would cover.

One was a spatula that could easily turn extra large omelets (and used to scrape the grill to keep food from sticking to it); the other was a meat fork with three tines.  Two tines faced the the same direction so she could pick up meat from the grill, and one tine was bent 90 degrees in the other direction, so she could open and close the oven doors with it.

OSHA said somebody’s gonna get an eye poked out

OSHA thought the custom tools created a hazard to workers who might get impaled if the boat hit rough water and caused her to stumble, so she quit rather than kowtow to bureaucrats.

She became a Happy Hooker

Her next job was working for the city of Cape Girardeau as a wrecker driver.  She drove a tow truck all over town looking for scofflaws who had outstanding parking tickets so she could impound their vehicle.  Nobody ever tried to  stop her after she raised her artificial arm and clicked her custom tool fingers at them like mad magpies.

Prosthetic technology progressed to the point where she decided to give up the hook and custom attachments for an arm that was covered in soft plastic that was almost lifelike. The doctors did a great job of matching her skin tone, too.

She got so she’d play along

When Mark’s friends threw him a surprise 50th birthday party, Mother, Son Adam and I showed up. When she noticed some of the guests giving her arm a quick glance, she pulled her hand up into her sleeve so it looked like she had left her prosthesis  at home.

“You can’t take that slot machine”

Storytelling is in our genes.

My mother’s family owned several businesses in Advance at one time or another. One was a tavern that had a few slot machines to bring in some extra (if illegal) income. Her parents had to leave one afternoon and left her in charge. She was all of about 13 years old.

It must have been an election year, because the place suddenly filled with law enforcement officers who were going to confiscate the slot machines as being illegal gambling devices. Mother knew that one of the machines was full of money, so she stood up to the sheriff and said, “You can’t take that one. It’s broken. If it doesn’t work, it’s no more a gambling machine than that bar stool.”

They left it behind.

Don’t forget the Storytelling Festival

If you made it all the way down here, you must appreciate tall tales. When this story was first published, you could click on the photo below, which would take you to the Convention Bureau’s Storytelling Festival website. I had optimistically written, “It’ll help me convince the convention bureau folks that this would be a great place to advertise, and it’ll set you up for a weekend that sounds like a lot of fun.” It might have done the latter, but the former never happened.

10 comments to Don’t Stare at My Mother’s Arm

  • What a funny story! Your mom sounds like a hoot!! What an interesting life she’s had. Paul Corbin and I are collecting stories about old Advance for an eventual book. I’m curious about your mom’s businesses. How could I find out more?

  • She’s alive, well and sharp as a tack in Cape.

    Would you believe anything she told you, though?

    Remember, I warn you on the homepage that “her stories have improved now that more and more of the folks who could contradict her have died off.”

  • Dennis Hente

    WONDERFUL STORY!
    Seems like in the old days women were not so “weak” after all!
    I have always admired women who said Phooey to to old addage that “women place is in the home”.
    Congratulations to her! She beat adversety and continued on. I would have loved to meet her!

  • I think the adversity she beat was having kids like us.

    She’s still kicking: 88 years old, still mows the lawn, carries stuff up and down the basement steps and drives better than most folks 40 years younger.

    She’s gonna outlive me. She can certainly outwork me.

    If she’d have had those mad magpie hooks when we were kids, we’d have probably behaved better.

  • Bill Roussel

    Ken,thanks for the visit, and always bring your Mom.

    It’s true, Mary Steinhoff is quick witted and very fun to be with. However, which story to believe is difficult to tell.

    Sue and I peeked but cannot say for sure about the fake arm.

  • Margi Whitright

    I had to print this out for Jerry to read (he’s computer illiterate) since he worked on towboats for a year or so as a deck hand. He sure learned how to use a string mop there!

  • K. Brennan

    Glad I stopped in and chatted with you all Easter Sunday. Rally have enjoyed the embelishments!!!

  • Wally Bonham

    I’ve seen the arm and it’s real. She’s smacked me with it several times! The wooden one hurt pretty bad but the new one is softer and doesn’t hurt so bad. But I still watch my tounge.

  • […] Wright Metz tried to figure out which of Mother’s arms was the fake. She gave them both a pull, I think, but they stayed […]

  • […] One year Brother Mark tipped me off early about the tragic accident involving her arm and her job on a riverboat. […]

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