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James R. Stout

Ships Passing In The Night

            We meet people briefly and anonymously every day. Well, we did before this Covid-19 took us by storm. But, even during this time of uncertainty we meet people in passing. Perhaps it’s somebody working in a grocery store or gas station. We mostly give these people little, if any, thought. They do pretty much the same thing to us. We’re just ships passing in the night and that’s all. This anonymity renders our brief impression of someone a bare impression at that. We don’t give much thought as to who the other person is. That lady checking your groceries out may be a talented piano player who also teaches piano part-time to supplement her income. That man at the convenience store gas pump next to us may have been awarded a silver star for valor in the war in the Middle East. The truth is we don’t spend time getting to know anything about the people that we briefly meet. That’s not a crime and it’s pretty much a necessity given there simply isn’t enough time in our lives to get to know everyone that we meet on a personal level. What we can do is to not be so shallow that we don’t see the person as a person with hopes, dreams, talents, and a uniqueness that is theirs and theirs alone.

            I’ve spoken a great deal in past entries about my father. I’ve mentioned that he was a true craftsman. He was considered the “go to” piano tuner and repair person in the Houston area for many years. But even if someone met him in that capacity, they would have only known a very small part of who Jack Stout was. They wouldn’t have known about his time in the United States Marine Corps during World War Two. They wouldn’t have known about his physical abilities prior to the car accident that left him crippled for life. They might have simply noticed that he had a pronounced limp when he walked. They wouldn’t have known his musical abilities beyond piano tuning and repair such as teaching himself how to play the guitar, harmonica, and piano as well as being a first-rate trumpet player. They wouldn’t have known what a loving and good father and husband he was.

            All of this said, when I was a small child, I just knew him as Dad. The first time that I got a glimpse of one of his “hidden talents” was when I was about 6-years-old. Dad loved to read and especially loved to read science-fiction novels. He read every night before falling asleep. Later in life, after he finally retired at the age of 85, he could be seen reading a great deal. One of the things that he counted on me doing for him was to order books online for him that he wanted to read. Computers were not one of his talents, but I believe that was primarily due to his not being of the computer era. Had computers been part of his era the way that they are now, then he would have likely been quite proficient on them.

            There came a week in my 6th year when my father got a week of vacation. That’s all the vacation that he got in those days. We didn’t have enough money to go on a trip or do much in the way of activities, but Dad was content with some extra time to get some things around the house accomplished and to also have extra time to read. One day during this vacation I noticed the cover of a paperback that Dad was reading while sitting in his recliner. The picture intrigued me, and I just stood there at the foot of his raised recliner staring at the picture. I suppose it must have unnerved Dad to have me just standing there staring at him. So, he asked me what I was doing. I told him I really liked the picture on his book. He looked at it briefly and suggested I go play and let him read. I can’t say as I blame him. I was an inquisitive child. What I then did was go into my room, get a pencil and some paper, and I drew my version of a rocket ship. Inspiration was provided by the illustrator for Robert A. Heinlein’s paperback. When I had finished with my masterpiece, I took it and showed my father. I’m just glad that my masterpiece didn’t survive because it would yet be an embarrassment to me. As talented as I may be in some things, drawing isn’t one of them. But I truly love art and I am mesmerized by the talent that some people have for drawing and painting. To Dad’s credit he didn’t laugh at my pathetic attempt to draw a rocket ship. What he did do was give me that first glimpse of a talent that I didn’t know that he had. He told me to get some paper and a pencil and bring it to him. I did as he asked and then watched as Dad drew an incredibly detailed picture of that rocket ship and the surrounding scenery. Dad wasn’t just Dad anymore. He was more than that.

            As the years passed, I learned about this talent of his. When he had been in the VA Hospital after his car accident, he was in a body cast for 9 months! Imagine being confined like that. He had been an athlete since his childhood and was quite good at gymnastics, tennis, and especially basketball. Now he was confined to bed and a body cast with the knowledge that he would never again be the athlete that he had been. But you can’t keep a good man down. One day while laying in that bed in a hospital ward a volunteer came around and offered Dad some art supplies thinking that he might enjoy drawing. She gave him some drawing pads, pastels, charcoal pencils, and encouragement. Dad soon had the entire ward talking about his drawings. He drew pictures of some of the other patients, of a favorite dog of one of the patients via a photo, of a couple of nurses, and other subjects. He had kept one of the drawing books that included some of these drawings. He later told me that he gave away most of the pictures that he drew to the subjects of the pictures. I still have that book of drawings and they amaze me still. He got so much attention that a man from The Houston Post came by to meet Dad and look at his drawings. He offered my father a job as an assistant illustrator with the paper with the understanding that Dad would need to complete some art courses at the University of Houston. As much as Dad might have wanted to do that, he felt that his first responsibility was to get back to a point that he could again work and provide for his family. He thanked the man but explained that he just couldn’t take a cut in pay given his salary was already barely enough.

            Well, Dad finally got out of the hospital and it would be 5 years before he could walk without a crutch or brace on his leg. Life sometimes gets in the way of life. He didn’t do much drawing for the next 50 years. He was too busy working, providing for his family, and running his own business. But then he retired and that talent for drawing made a comeback. Despite Dad not being as steady with his hands due to age as he had been, he spent a great deal of his time in his shop/studio drawing. The talent was still there. A year or so after Dad passed away at the age of 93, I took some photos of Dad’s drawings from the 1950’s and then from the 2010’s. I showed them to some friends and they were amazed that Dad had never had any kind of lessons. It was truly a God-given talent.

            One of the people I showed those photos to was a lady that had been a person who Dad didn’t really get to know nor vice-versa. She was the lady who worked at the small café where Dad would call in an order for lunch for Mom and Dad on Fridays. She had no idea that he was so talented. I’m pretty sure that most, if not all, of those who read this blog entry know someone that they are unaware of the talents that they possess. When all of this Covid-19 is over and we get back to some kind of normalcy, then I challenge you to get to know someone a little better. No, you probably won’t become best of friends, but it can’t hurt to spend a little time talking with someone and sharing a tiny part of your lives with each other. Maybe one of the things we get out of this virus thing is an appreciation of each other. I’ve attached several photos of Dad’s hand drawings below. I hope you enjoy them a tenth as much as I do.

 

Picture of the cover of Robert A. Heinlein novel that Dad was reading when I was 6 and became interested in.

Dad's charcoal drawing of a dog. Drawn someone time in 1956-1958.

Pastel drawing by Dad of nurse on hospital ward.

Charcoal drawing by Dad of volunteer who gave Dad some art supplies while he was in the hospital.

Pencil drawing by Dad of another patient on the same hospital ward as Dad.

Drawing of a birdhouse and birds by Dad in 2014 at the age of 91.

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