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James R. Stout

Big Boy Britches

            I was talking to my brother-in-law today and we started to talk about things that we did when we were kids. Things that would likely kill us today or leave us permanently handicapped. We both remembered climbing up on the roof of a house and thinking nothing of jumping off the roof to the ground below. When I was about 12 years old, I would climb up on the roof via a fence gate and pretend to be a pilot of a P-51 Mustang during WW2. I would become an ace every time and then would get my plane shot up resulting in me having to bailout. Bailing out meant I jumped from the roof, did my best tuck and roll, and came up on my feet ready for another plane to pilot.

            Another thing that I did in those days was the old “Look Ma, no hands!” routine. Only I took it a few steps further. I would get my bike up to speed, probably 25 miles an hour going down the hill of one of the roads in our neighborhood, and then very carefully stand on the seat. It’s a wonder I didn’t get seriously injured.

            I also liked to run up to the swing set in our backyard, grab the rings, swing up and over and then on the return swing do a backflip. The goal was to land on my feet and end up as far from the swing set as possible. For a while I was into the backflip thing beyond the norm. I would climb up into the tree in our front yard, a large Arizona Ash, and hang upside down from a limb about 8 feet off the ground. When I was ready to return to Earth, I simply swung myself a couple of times then let go of the limb with my legs and do the obligatory backflip. I also would climb the chain link fence in our back yard and balance on top of it and then do a backflip.

             My cousins and I would have dirt clod wars when we would get together at the farm or at their weekend cabin in East Texas. Some of those dirt clods could really sting. Things eventually got out of hand when my oldest cousin started to take a soft piece of dirt and wrap it around a rock. It looked like a dirt clod, but it was more like a missile when he threw it. Things escalated from there. The dirt clods were replaced by rocks and it would all come to an end when one of us got hit hard enough to threaten to tell the other’s parents.

            Somehow or other we all survived and had no lasting scars or broken bones. Well, all of this stuff came to mind as I talked to my brother-in-law today. After I got back home, I reflected on our conversation and on a few more things as well. The years start to pile up on us. At first, we don’t really take much notice. At 20 I was able to do just about anything that I had done when I was 12. But by the time I was 30 my body was not quite as limber as it had been. That was partly due to not exercising or being as active as I had been as a child, but it also had to do with the effects of time and wear and tear on my body. I remember playing a game of baseball with the youth group that I was the youth director at a church when I was 33. I still had the power in my swing, but my legs weren’t nearly as fast as they once were. I started to understand why baseball players retire in their 30’s. I used to wonder why they couldn’t keep playing until they were 50. Time and wear and tear. I crushed a pitch into centerfield well over the centerfielder’s head. I made it to second base huffing and puffing from the exertion. One of the kids looked at me and said, “If I had hit the ball that far, then I would have a homer.” No doubt. There was a time when I would have to.

            I fought off a potentially deadly illness in my 40’s and between fighting it off, aging, and the side effects of some of the drugs that I had to take to beat the disease, I was not able to do much of anything that I had been able to only 10 or so years before. I don’t know how it is with anyone else, but for me the years between 55 and 65 are years that you come to realize that you are indeed getting older. At 55, I was still getting out and doing some pretty hard work on my ranch. I had mostly recovered from my previous illness, but my stamina wasn’t what it once was. Still, I got out there and thought nothing of working in the heat clearing brush, trimming trees, mowing, repairing, etc. But by the time I turned 60 those things had become increasingly harder to do. I was also slowing down at work and I was dealing with a lot of things related to my parents. Dad passed away that year and I was needing to help more and more with my mother.

            The next two years were very difficult. We lost Mom and my sister Barbara as well as 4 aunts, 2 uncles, a cousin, and my son-in-law. I admit that during that time I didn’t take very good care of myself. It seemed that all of my energy was being used up taking care of Mom until her death and the other issues mentioned. About a month after Mom passed away, I started to pay attention to myself again. I had drastically slowed down. I retired, but I was finding it harder to do those things that had been easy just 8 years ago.

            Now I’m less than a month from turning 64. I still get out and mow and do what has to be done, but it takes me much longer and it takes a couple of days to recuperate. I went to the doctor recently about weakness in my legs. I have started to use a cane at times if I have to be on my feet for a long period of time. I’m going to a specialist on my birthday (that was the next available appointment with a neurologist) to see if he can figure out what the problem is. My doctor threw around some possible causes when I went to see him last month and none of them sounded like any fun at all. But the one thing that I think I fear more than a diagnosis of a serious illness is that they won’t find anything and that I will be told that I’m just getting old. I don’t feel old in my mind. I’m still me. I still love to have fun and to me I still think like a young person. Maybe not a young person of today, but a young person the way I once was. But all I have to do is go outside to do something that was once simple, but is now painful and hard to do, and I realize how different my body is now. Heck, I’ve even managed to lose 40 pounds since this spring. Still, my legs are weaker each day. I needed to do a small repair to the outside of my house last month. It required me to stoop down for about 5 minutes in order to drill some screw holes. By the time I finished the drilling my legs were so weak that I couldn’t stand back up. Finally, I steadied myself against the house and was able to stand back up straight. I could hardly walk though because my legs just didn’t have the strength. I stood there for a few minutes and then painfully started to walk around on my drive. I must have looked like Tim Conway doing his” Oldest Man Alive” routine.

            I don’t like this new thing one bit. But then, I’m mighty glad to be alive. If I have to use a cane more and more in the future, then so be it. I will do what it takes to go see my granddaughters. I will do what it takes to take care of my home and land. I just have to accept that I’ll be slower in doing those things. I generally dislike praying to God for selfish reasons. There are so many people in much worse situations than I am. But I do pray that God will give me some relief or at least the wisdom to know my limitations and the willingness to deal with them as best as I can. At least I can still type, read, write, and communicate. I honestly believe that I am a positive influence in the lives of my granddaughters. I pray that God will allow me to continue to be such. Growing old or being sick is part of life. That doesn’t mean we give up though. I mowed two acres on Thursday in 95-degree heat. It needed doing and I put on my big boy britches and did what I had to do. With God’s grace, I’ll be able to keep putting on those britches for some time to come.

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