Jon Stevens

There really was a one-armed lady

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It just seems logical, in a perverse kind of way, that the driver of a truck loaded with monkeys got lost and ended up stuck in a ditch on One Armed Lady’s Road in Greene County.


Now, this truck carrying nine monkeys from South Carolina on its way to the University of Pittsburgh’s primate research program could have ended up in Time, Big Tree, Live Easy or the oxymoronic town of Dry Tavern.


The driver, whose GPS obviously failed him when it said to get off at the Kirby exit to avoid traffic at Pittsburgh’s Liberty Tunnel, could have ascended into the trinity of scripturally inspired communities in Northwestern Greene County – Nineveh, Nebo or Enon.


But no, of all the winding dead-end roads in Greene County, this guy finds his way to Cumberland Township, landing in an ice-filled ditch on One Armed Lady’s Road, right in front of the home of retired Greene County Detective Fran Suppok and his wife, Yvonne.


This is the kind of stuff that might come from the mind of Stephen King. The ingredients are all there: It’s 6 a.m. on a cold wintry day. It’s dark, he’s lost, monkeys jabbering as if plotting an escape. Suppok’s dogs were “carrying on.” Was he really stuck and would that one-armed lady just mystically appear?


Nah! He was lost, got stuck, was unstuck by a tow truck and given new directions.


But what about the one-armed lady?


“We called her old lady Deems,” Yvonne Suppok said. Yes, there really was such person who, according to Yvonne, lived in a one-room shack with no electricity or running water. “She had an outside water pump. That’s where she got her water,” Yvonne said.


Old Lady Deems was Ella Deems, and she did in fact have one arm – well, really one-and-half arms.


It was the early 1970s when Yvonne, then 14, and her sister, Jean Carol, 17, known then as the Roberts sisters, would ride their horses from their farm, about a mile away from the 8-by-10-foot, one-room house, and see Ella picking berries.


“She literally lived off the land,” Yvonne recalled. Ella’s one arm – and no one is sure which one – was missing just below the elbow. “She would put the handle of the bucket in the bend of her elbow and pick the berries with her good arm. We would see her coming out of the woods with her bucket filled from her harvest,” Yvonne said.


OK, maybe there is some fodder here for a King novel.


Yvonne said Ella had an old station wagon parked near her “house” but she didn’t have a driver’s license. “One day we got the car started and took her to buy some groceries. The car was a pile of nuts and bolts, but it ran and we made it back.”


Yvonne said the perception may be Ella was some crazy lady living out in the woods, but she was very nice and quite talkative.


Ella Deems died around 1980, but her legacy of being the one-armed lady continues today, just as it began 40-plus years ago when two teenage girls saw her coming out of the woods carrying a bucket of berries.


One Armed Lady’s Road is an official road. The Suppoks get their mail addressed to them on One Armed Lady’s Road. And the police know it by that name as well. Just ask the teenagers who come out that way to park.


And no, there is no movement afoot to rename the road Screaming Monkeys Hollow.


Jon Stevens is the Greene County bureau chief. He can be reached at jstevens@observer-reporter.com.


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