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James R. Stout

A Father's Love

            On February 2, 1956 my father was in a bad car accident. He was crippled for life due to the injuries that he received. To tell the truth, his crippling was probably as much due to the treatment he received as it was the injury itself. Let’s just say that if you think veterans get inferior treatment today, then you should have seen what it was like in the 50’s. A compound fracture to his right leg resulted in a two-year hospital stay at VA hospitals. Even then he couldn’t get around without wearing a thigh high leather and steel brace that looked more like a medieval torture device than an aid. It wasn’t until a surgeon in Galveston, a friend of my mother’s boss at the time, did what amounted to a herculean effort to repair not only the damage to his leg from the accident, but also the prior botched surgeries performed in the VA hospital, could my father walk without that brace or crutches. But the damage had been severe, and his right leg was 2 inches shorter than his left leg for the rest of his life. He had to wear a special built-up shoe on the right foot, and he had a pronounced limp. Enough about that.

            Before that accident my father had been a very athletic man. Of course, I have no memory of those days because I was only 5 months old when he had the accident. I did get to hear all about his physical abilities via his stories, my mother’s stories, and various other aunts and uncles. He was a gifted basketball player in high school as well as a gymnast. He was on what they called the “Tumbling Team” during high school. Simply put, he could somersault his way down a football field, do all kinds of backflips and jumps, and was even featured in a film for the Boy Scouts of America sometime around 1938. I’ve searched for that film via archives and so forth with no luck. It likely was lost or destroyed decades ago.

            Following high school my father was in the CCC’s and was quickly promoted resulting in him being in charge of men several years his senior. But he got things done. Then came WW2 and he was in the U.S. Marines. By the time he finished boot camp he had bulked up his muscles even more and eventually became a “runner” or messenger for the Colonel. Part of his assignment was to literally run between the colonel and the different officers in the field carrying messages locked in his head. It was an important job and it was also very dangerous. After his time in the Marines, my father played tennis, bowled, played on church softball teams, and did as much sports as he could. That all ended when he had that accident.

            I remember very clearly one evening when I was about 7 years old going with my father to a bowling alley to say hello to some of his friends that he had bowled with years before. He so wanted to bowl, but he just couldn’t do what it took to line up and bowl. How I rooted for him to try, but he had lost some of his nerve by then. The last thing he wanted to do was swing his arm back and then hit his right leg with bowling ball while trying to send it down the lane. I can’t blame him given what he had been through during the previous 6 years. I remember very well when we got back in the car how my father’s face gave away his feelings. I may have only been 7 years old, but I knew that he was hurting.

            As the next few years went by and I grew older, I wanted to play catch with my dad like so many other boys my age did, but Dad just wasn’t able to get around quick enough. He tried, but it usually ended in him being frustrated. But he did give me some good pointers and much like a coach helped me in my baseball playing. He taught me how to choke up on the bat, how to time my hitting and learn to hit those “Texas Leaguers”, how to block a ground ball from getting by you even if you didn’t make a perfect catch, and most of all how to play to win, but be a good sport whether I won or lost. The first time I batted in Little League I was about 8 years old. I struck out looking. I hung my head down in embarrassment and fairly well slunk back to the bench. Dad was there and he called me over to the fence to tell me something.

            He said, “Son, I know you were disappointed out there, but from now if you strike out hold your head high. Don’t let one at-bat get you down. Don’t let the other team think you’re an easy out. Next time you just may hit a home run!”

            Well, our team ended up beating the other team 10-2 in that game. The coach kept me in to give me time and experience. I hit a pop-up out on my second at-bat. Then I hit one of those Texas Leaguers and scored after the guys behind me got hits. In my final at-bat I hit the ball in the gap between the right fielder and the foul line. I got a triple from that hit and scored on a sacrifice fly. Dad was beaming with pride and that just made me feel like a king. I mostly played sandlot baseball because we were a one-car family and Dad couldn’t get off work to take me to the practices and games. I remember the fantastic Christmas present that I got in 1966. It was Dad’s idea and I would end-up wearing out 3 or 4 of them over the years. It was called a “Return-a-Ball” or as they are called not a “Pitch Back”. It was a metal framed thing with a net on it that you could tighten with springs. It did for me what my father was unable to do due to his handicap. If you threw the ball and hit the net up high, then it send the ball back as a grounder. Depending on where you hit the net you could get pop-ups, line-drives, and so forth. I played for hours with that thing.

            During all those years growing up I never once viewed my father as anything but a hero. He wasn’t able to get out and do some of the things that any father likes to do with his son, but he did what he could and then some. Dad gave me a love for music. I play guitar, piano, bass, keyboards, and percussion. But the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Dad played guitar, piano, harmonica, and coronet. Dad taught me a love for reading. Both of my parents were voracious readers and by an early age I had the reading bug too.

            I miss my Dad every day. He’s been gone now for almost 3 years. He was 93 years old when he passed away. Perhaps the best thing he ever taught me was how to love. How to love my family and to be a loyal friend to my friends. Dad could have been bitter over that accident and he could have spent the rest of his life taking out his bitterness on his family. But that wasn’t my Dad. There’s a picture I have that is one of my favorite pictures. It was on the occasion of my Dad’s 34th birthday. Of course, I don’t remember it, but the picture is proof that I was there and there is so much evidence in that picture of how special my parents were. Dad is sitting in a special wheelchair at the VA Hospital that allowed his injured leg to be straight out on a platform. My mother is standing on his left side holding the hands of my two older sisters, and I’m sitting in Dad’s lap. He has a giant grin on his face. The love is so evident a blind man could see it. Even during what my Mom used to call a “Squally Time”, Dad was smiling and loving his family. Frankly, I don’t know what better gift a father can give his children than to show them how to love and how to be loved.

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