By DAN WHITTLE
The next time you see me in a restaurant, feel free to ask to see my "monkey finger."
I don't charge folks for the viewing, although my monkey finger could be considered unique.
Although not talented in mathematics, I think it's safe to say that not one person in a hundred, make that a thousand people, can lay claim to having a monkey finger.
Preachers and other charm purists need not get alarmed. It's not the finger that signals you're the "No. 1 Idiot" for driving too fast on a crotch rocket motorcycle going west on Interstate 24.
It's also not the threatening finger wagging close to your face as your spouse firmly tells you don't know how to load the dish washer properly.
My monkey finger is special, in that it helps comprise one of the last fond, if painful moments spent with Daddy Whittle back in 1948.
I was the ripe old age of four when my farm parents took me, along with some neighbor children, to see a travelling zoo with live exotic animals in the big city of our youth, to wit, Sikeston, Mo., then with a population of about 4,000 people.
I couldn't wait for Daddy to park our new Hudson car so neighbor buddy Larry Bailey and I could bolt to the cages of confined animals.
As the fickle finger of fate would have it, I was attracted to the cage harboring the cute-looking, funny-acting monkeys that seemed just as interested in looking at me as I was at them.
Not being a bright child, when this monkey, that seemed to be smiling at me, reached out as if to shake hands, I stuck a finger inside the cage through an opening in the wire mesh. Wrong, very painful thing to do actually, for that friendly-acting monkey immediately chomped down on my finger as it was a tasty banana sticking through that wire mesh.
Upon hearing my screams of pain, parents begin fretting about how to get my finger back out of that monkey's mouth. While they were debating my finger crisis, the monkey suddenly let up from his vice-like grip on my finger, which I withdrew out of the cage more quickly than I had inserted the finger.
"Son, why on earth did you stick your finger inside that monkey cage?" Mama Whittle asked.
"Mama, he wagged his finger at the monkey," older brother Van tattled while rolling around on the ground in guffaws of laughter. "That's why the monkey bit him."
Meanwhile, my hard-working farm parents grew quiet with worry about what to do about my now injured monkey finger.
"Since we don't know where those monkeys came from, we best take him to the doctor to get a shot," Daddy prescribed. "And that'll cost us a pretty penny."
Being that we were still in post-Great Depression years cash was hard to come by, so a trip to a doctor's office was no small financial matter.
A recent story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper brought to mind my memorable monkey finger moment.
It was a well-written account by reporter Paul Hampel Phampel, detailing that a monkey named "Nina" had bitten a boy on the arm back in June when the town of Godfrey, Ill., holds its annual festival.
The monkey that bit me was named "Damn"… I guess that was its name for that's the way my irate father always referred to it, as that "Damn Monkey".
Today, there's just a hint of a scar on my monkey finger, which is the finger next to my pinky finger on my right hand. But if you want to look at it the next time you see me eating cook Caroline's tasty catfish at Cannon County's Parsley's Grocery, just ask.
Much to wife Pat's dismay, I'm always proud to show off my special monkey finger.