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James R. Stout

A Boy Named Curtis

            I want to tell you about a boy named Curtis. I was in 4th grade when I met Curtis. I went to Bonham Elementary School in Bryan, Texas. It was a small school with a total of 12 classes. There were two classes per grade from 1st through 6th grade. My teacher was a terrific teacher named Mrs. Dahlberg. She was one of the older teachers in the school. I have no idea how old she was, but I would guess that she was already in her 50’s by the time I was in her class for the school year of 1965/1966.

 One day in the spring of 1966 Mr. McGowan brought a new student to our class. Well, to be more precise, he stopped by the classroom to let Mrs. Dahlberg know that she was going to have a new student. Curtis stayed out in the hall while Mr. McGowan brought in some paperwork for Mrs. Dahlberg. While he was talking to Mrs. Dahlberg one of the other boys in our class whispered something to a couple of us. He could see Curtis out in the hall, but we couldn’t. He softly said, “That kid isn’t wearing any shoes!”

            Well, that got our attention. Like a typical 10-year-old boy I had to crane my neck to see. What I saw has stayed with me all these years. There was this new kid standing in the hall with his head bowed and he was staring at the floor. He was wearing an old pair of blue jeans, a dirty t-shirt, his hair looked like it hadn’t been combed in a week, and he was definitely barefoot. It was obvious that he was embarrassed.

            After Mr. McGowan finished talking to Mrs. Dahlberg he left, and Curtis went with him. Some of the boys were snickering about Curtis and Mrs. Dahlberg did something she rarely did. She got very stern with the whole class. She had heard what the boys were saying, and she put us straight. She told us that not everyone had what we had. To tell the truth, none of us were from rich homes either. I only had three pairs of shoes at any one time. An old pair of sneakers for playing, a new pair of sneakers for school, and a pair of dress shoes for church. It wasn’t like any of us had a closet full of shoes. And boy would we get into trouble if we messed up our school shoes or church shoes. Replacing them was a financial burden for our parents.

            About two hours later Mr. McGowan and Curtis came back to our class. Curtis was wearing a brand-new pair of sneakers, a new pair of blue jeans, a new shirt, and his hair had been cut. The difference in Curtis was amazing. He held his head high. Mrs. Dahlberg introduced him to the class and asked me to welcome Curtis to the class and help him out that day. I was glad to do it. I remember asking Curtis is he had any brothers and sisters. He said that there were 6 kids in his family. He was the second to oldest. They had just moved to Bryan from a small farm near Navasota, Texas. His father was looking for work and his mother, like most mothers at that time, didn’t work outside the home. By the end of the week I asked Curtis what church he went to. In my world then, everyone went to church. He said that they didn’t go to church because they didn’t have good enough clothes to wear. Well, he did now, so I invited him to visit our church. He didn’t right away, but by that summer he started to come to our church. I was in what was called the “Royal Ambassadors” which was an organization for boys our age sponsored by the Baptist Church we went to. Our adult leader was a church member who was in his late 20’s and he and his wife had not had any children yet. His name was Mr. Courtney. Mr. Courtney invited Curtis to start coming to our meetings. We would meet every Tuesday night at the church, and we did Bible studies, played games, and we made schedules to be helpers in the church. We would sometimes be ushers for the elderly folks on Sunday mornings or we might lead a church clean-up day doing things like cleaning out the storage building and picking up any trash thrown out from cars that ended up on the church grounds. Frankly, it was a lot of fun and we learned a lot about being good stewards of the church not to mention learning Bible verses and applying things learned from the Bible to our lives.

            Curtis’ family didn’t have a car at the time, so Mr. Courtney started to chauffer all of us boys on Tuesday nights to and from the church. Sometimes there were 8 of us boys in Mr. Courtney’s station wagon and I can only imagine how loud we must have been! Curtis took to the “RA’s” immediately. In fact, he became the first one of us to be promoted to the next level in our Bible studies. But things were very hard for Curtis at home. They lived in a house that most of us today would not even consider fit for humans. It seems that Curtis was always dealing with things that most of us didn’t have to deal with. I remember one week when we went to pick him up for our meeting he came out and his head was shaved. He had gotten ringworms, and this was what they did to treat it then. Shave your head and apply a topical medicine. It was another tribulation for Curtis.

            Fifth grade came around and while Curtis and I were friends, we weren’t close friends because he lived too far away for us to walk to each other’s houses. Then in early November our family moved back to Houston, Texas. I never saw Curtis again after that. But I’d like to think that things turned out good for him.

            I have to say that people like Mr. McGowan (we later heard that he had paid for Curtis’ new shoes and clothes out of his own pocket), Mrs. Dahlberg, Mr. Courtney, and others showed Curtis that he could overcome things beyond his control. They also were all Christians and they exemplified what it means to be a Christian by caring enough about a little boy who badly needed some encouragement and leadership. I’d like to think that Curtis’ life took a different path, a better path, due to those people willing to be there for him. I do know that Curtis gave his heart to Jesus in the summer of 1966. I know it was genuine and I firmly believe that Curtis has had Christ in his life no matter what life brought his way. I’m reminded of a wonderfully affirming Bible Verse as follows:

Romans 8:38-39

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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