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James R. Stout

Dad Climbs a Mountain

            In June of 2001 Tropical Storm Allison left our house with a foot of water throughout. We had been planning a vacation out to West Texas for the last week of June and the vacation quickly became doubtful. The night that our house flooded was a Friday night and it was very frustrating to watch as the water crept closer and closer to the house and then started to pour in around 2:30 a.m. There wasn’t anything we could do to stop it. I managed to stack some of the furniture on top of other furniture, but it was a woeful attempt to save things. By about 8 a.m. the water started to recede, and we hurriedly pulled up all of the carpet and padding. But the water had gotten high enough on the walls to enter into electrical outlets and the water was wicked up into the sheetrock throughout the house. The restoration company came out on Monday and removed the sheetrock up to 4 feet, removed the insulation, and installed very loud fans that are designed to help dry out things. We were told it would be another week before they could come back and remove the fans and start the process of determining what repairs would need to be done. They also informed us that we should not expect the house to be back to “normal” until October or November. We hung old quilts and sheets up between the rooms for a modicum of privacy. It would be September before the sheetrock was replaced and we lived with concrete floors until October. But, except for the three days that they painted the interior of the house, we were able to live at home for the duration.

            After the restoration company gave us the news, I broached the subject of the vacation with my now ex-wife. The truth was there wasn’t anything we could do immediately. She worked for a major insurance agency and all of the claims (such as ours) were not going to allow her to take off for the vacation. But after much discussion, it was decided that it might be a good thing for me and our two kids, then 17 and almost 16, to go ahead and go on the vacation. Nice hotel rooms would certainly be preferable to concrete floors and a lack of privacy. I might also add that I was still on a transplant list and my health was not exactly the best. But me and the kids packed up the following weekend and headed out to Alpine, Texas.

            I felt it necessary to give you the previous information to set the scene for you on what I call “Dad Climbs a Mountain” episode of my life. Of course, the fact is that the whole time that we were on the vacation I was worried about the house, my health and lack of stamina, and the concern that I already had about my failing marriage of 25 years. But still, I wanted to make it a good time for the kids and I guess I needed the distraction too. We stayed in Ozona, Texas the first night and then spent the next two nights in Alpine. We went to the McDonald’s Observatory one day (the car started to overheat driving up the mountain – ode to joy!), took several scenic drives through the Davis Mountains and nearby mountain ranges, and we spent a good part of a day at the old Ft. Davis facility. I had been there back in 1962 when I was almost 7 years old and I was anxious to revisit the refurbished fort to see what changes had been made in 39 years. I love that old fort. It was an integral part of the settling of West Texas in the mid to late 1800’s.

            The day we visited the fort I was amazed at how much had been done there. The parade ground, the officer’s quarters, the enlisted soldier’s bunk houses, and several hiking trails. They were also working on what was the fort hospital (now completed). There are mountains behind the fort on three sides. One of these mountains had a trail that went to the top, ending at a lookout point. The trail was very rugged though. There were some steps cut into the rock for part of the way and some railings to keep you from falling off steep areas on the trail. I stood there looking up that trail with my daughter and contemplated whether or not I could make it up to the top. My illness made resulted in causing me to have to pace myself closely. Could I do it? My daughter was game, but she was only probably in the best shape of her life.

            I looked up that trail several times trying to decide whether or not I should try it. Finally, I gritted my teeth and made the decision that I was going to conquer that mountain. I was tired of being sick and tired and I decided I was going to do it. So, we started out on the trail. I might also mention that it was about 100 degrees that day. I didn’t care. I was going to beat that mountain. The truth is, the mountain stood in for all the other things that I was dealing with. I felt that if I could beat that mountain, then I could beat that illness, the flooded house, and the failing marriage. Up we climbed. The steps were steep, and some parts of the trail were filled with rocks making the hike more difficult. I had to stop a few times to catch my breath, but I kept going. I started to get excited when I could see the railings up above us for the lookout point. But I knew that I was going to make it.

            After about two hours of climbing up that mountain on those steep steps and rocky trail we got to the top. The lookout had a couple of benches on it and I fairly well plopped down on one as soon as I could get to it. I got my breath back then went over to the railing that looked out on the mountains and all around and down on the fort facility. It was a beautiful sight. You could see many miles in the distance, and I read on a plaque at the lookout that on clear days you could see into Mexico. I started to imagine the days when there were soldiers that had the duty of climbing that mountain to be lookouts for the Apaches that might decide to attack the fort. I was standing there and soaking it all in when I heard my son call out from behind me. I had not seen him on the trail and wondered how he could get up there so fast.

            Well, that’s when he showed me that there is another trail up to the top of the mountain. A paved and much easier trail. He and my daughter got a good laugh out of that. I looked like a drowned rat and was exhausted and there was a much easier way up the mountain. At first, I was a little mad at myself about it. But then I got to thinking about it and I was glad that I had gone up the hard way.  Why? Because I proved I could do it. If I could beat that mountain, then I had the confidence to tackle the other problems previously mentioned. There’s a lesson to be learned in all of this. Just because there’s an easier way to do something doesn’t mean that the easy way will be best for you. Sometimes doing things the hard way (not all the time, mind you, but sometimes) builds character, strengthens you, and teaches you lessons that you need to be taught and would not be taught by taking the easy way. I won a victory that day and I will always be glad that I took the trail up that mountain that I took. Now, if I go again someday, I may take the easy way. Hey, I already conquered that mountain!

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