A Broken Foot, an Artificial Leg, and a Real Story

Lendall Hill with his daughter, Lori FitzGerald, in Charleston, W. Va.

Lendall Hill with his daughter, Lori FitzGerald, in Charleston, W. Va. StoryCorps hide caption

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Before Lendall Hill was born, his father lost his leg in a farming accident. But that didn't stop the elder Hill from working at his saw mill — or from bringing Lendall along on delivery jobs.

As they unloaded the truck one day at a mine in West Virginia, Lendall's father, Vaunia, realized his artificial leg had gotten caught briefly on a piece of timber. The sound it made, he recalls, being like "a loud pop."

The leg, made of varnished paper and made movable by a system of cables, was twisted at the ankle.

"Oh darn, I think I broke my foot," said Vaunia (pronounced "Vaughn.") He sat on the truck's running-board, trying to twist the foot back into alignment with the rest of the leg. After wrenching it around a bit, he climbed back up on the truck and finished the job.

Father and son thought little of the incident — but the mine's timber checker who was working with them that day "turned white as cotton," Lendall recalls.

The reason for that became obvious several years later, when they heard from Lendall Hill's uncle, Lon, who had run into the same timber checker. Realizing that he was talking to Vaunia Hill's brother, the man recalled the day he saw a man trying to pop his broken foot back into place.

"I'll tell you one thing," the timber checker had said. "That's the toughest man I ever seen."

Lon Hill never could bring himself to tell the man that his brother had an artificial leg.

Produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo with help from Grant Fuller. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Sarah Kramer.

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