She was my twenty-first client. An overall-clad toddler was attached to one hand, and a mini-cart was in the other. This young, slightly overweight black woman seemed ordinary enough as she requested a bag of groceries from our cooperative emergency food pantry (operated by forty churches). I was one of the afternoon volunteers entrusted with this sacred duty.

"Hello," I offered without looking up from my work pad. "My name is Jim."

Number twenty-one replied with a quiet, defeated "Viola."

Unusual name, I thought. I once knew a Viola. Twenty-five years ago, in Arkansas, my family subcontracted most of our game cleaning to a thin, tobacco-chewing woman named Viola. For good luck, Viola had tied around her ankle a Mercury-head dime that I would have loved to add to my coin collection. And she would have given it to me if I'd asked. She was that sort of woman.

Viola's claim to fame, though, was her gift: She could clean, dress, and fillet black bass faster than any person alive. Her hands moved ...

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