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James R. Stout

When I Was Seven

            If you’re over a certain age, then you will probably remember Art Linklater and his program “Kids Say the Darndest Things”. He would interview kids and ask questions and some of the answers were hilarious. Well, kids also do the darndest things. Let me tell you about one of the darndest things that I ever did. I was 7 years old and it was the last week of 1st grade. We had just moved to Bryan, Texas and were living in a lease house while my parents looked for a house of our own. I spent the last three weeks of 1st grade at Crockett Elementary in Bryan.

            Before school one day I was waiting with several other students outside the school and there was an older boy, probably about 10 years old, who was also waiting for school to start. I had never been that close to a person who had lost a limb. In his case, the boy had lost one of his legs. I was curious to be sure. I certainly didn’t mean to stare, but apparently, I did. Well, the boy got mad about that and reacted angrily. I told him that I was sorry for staring and I felt really bad about having done so. I have no doubt that he wasn’t really angry at me but was likely filled with anger due to his situation. I was used to my father wearing a huge brace on his leg due to a handicap, but like I said, I had not ever been around someone who had lost a limb.

            For the next week or so I considered that boy’s loss of a leg. I guess I felt a mixture of sadness for him as well as I had a lot of curiosity about how it must have felt to have only one leg. I never did find out how he lost his leg. We weren’t there long enough, and I wasn’t going to ask him. Frankly, he scared me. He was very angry and despite his handicap he was much bigger than me and then there were his crutches. As the end of school was drawing nearer my curiosity was getting worse. But how could I ever know how he felt?

            I mentioned earlier that we were living in a lease house at the time. We ended up living in that house for about 5 months. It was on College Avenue in Bryan, Texas and it was a fairly old wood frame house. It had a small living area, a small dining room, a kitchen, one bathroom, and three bedrooms. The oddity of that house was that there was no hallway. The bathroom was directly across from my room. There was a front bedroom (my sisters’ bedroom) with a doorway to the middle bedroom (my bedroom) which also had a doorway to the third bedroom (my parent’s bedroom. There were doors to the first and third bedroom, but my room was sort of just out there in the open. Not much in the way of privacy, but given I was just a 7-year-old kid I guess it didn’t much matter. What it meant was that if my sisters or my parents wanted to get to the small foyer by the living room or the rest of the house, then they had to walk through my bedroom.

            One night we were all getting ready for bed. That’s when I got the brilliant idea that I just knew would show me what it felt like to only have one leg. My grandmother always made us pajamas and given I was a growing boy she would make them a little large so that I could grow into them. My scathingly brilliant idea was to tuck my right leg up behind me and put on the pajama bottoms with my leg tucked up behind me which would render my right leg unable to move. So, I worked on that for a couple of minutes and for about 30 seconds I was proud of my brilliance. Except my brilliance was all too soon tarnished and shone for what it was. I tried hopping around on my left leg and it didn’t take long for me to figure out it wouldn’t be much fun at all to lose a leg. True, I didn’t have a pair of crutches to help me out, but I quickly understood that it would be very difficult to deal with. Then disaster hit. I tried to extricate my right leg out of the pajamas and my right leg was so tightly wedged in there that I couldn’t get my leg out. For about a minute I tried everything that I could think of to get my leg free from those pajamas. That’s when I panicked. I have no doubt that had the scene been filmed it would have made for a hilarious few minutes. To this day, I figure it must have looked like a film of Jerry Lewis in one of his situations.

            Finally, after trying my best to get a leg out (sorry, I just couldn’t resist that one), I did the only thing left to me. I started to whimper and cry like a baby. Just when I thought I was getting to be a big boy! So, there I was hopping around on one leg with my other leg wedged into the pajamas, crying and whimpering and starting to really work up to a big blow when my oldest sister Barbara stuck her head through the doorway from their room to see what all the commotion was. One look at me and she burst out laughing and that only made me cry even more. Then she took pity on her brother and came to my rescue. It took a couple of minutes for her to help me get free, but free I was. It didn’t even enter my mind that I was suddenly standing there in my underwear in front of my older sister. I was just feeling a relief like I had never known before.

            Well, Barbara couldn’t help herself and she just had to ask how on Earth I had gotten myself in such a situation. So, I told her. She just looked at me like perhaps I truly was an alien and now she had confirmation. She left the room shaking her head. I put my pajama bottoms on the correct way and sat down on my bed to reflect on what had just transpired. First, I realized that the boy who lost his leg probably experienced panic way worse than I had just experienced. Except he was never going to get that leg back. Second, as silly as I knew that I must have looked to my sister, I realized that boy probably felt the eyes of people on him and them noticing his missing leg. That had to be difficult. As strange as it may seem, I did learn a little bit from that experience. Although that was 56 years ago, I have had a different view of someone with such a handicap than I did before that long-ago night. No, I can’t honestly know how it feels to lose a limb because I haven’t. My father lost his left leg two months before he passed away. I remember marveling at his will to live despite having his leg amputated after he had peripheral arterial disease. He was a fighter and then some. I think that most people who have lost a limb either are or will become fighters after they lose a limb. When I see our brave young men and women who return from serving their country after they have lost a limb or limbs or have been paralyzed, I can’t help but feel proud of them. I am truly saddened at what they are going through and if I had the power to restore them physically, then I would use that power liberally. But I don’t have that power and nobody else does either. It is my prayer that they will overcome their loss and will live rich and full lives.

            I did a silly thing back when I was 7 years old, but I learned a little bit from it. Children don’t always do the smartest things. But how else can we learn if not from our mistakes? I have often thought about that boy who would now be about 65 or 66 years old. I hope that he lived a full and rich life and that he turned that anger into something positive. I also hope that if someday I find myself in such a situation that I will not become bitter and will do my best to live a life that effectually renders others blind to the loss. But just like my 7-year-old self couldn’t truly learn how it felt to lose a leg simply by doing the silly thing that I did, none of us can truly know how it feels unless it happens to us. But we can be cognizant of the struggle of others and do our best to see who a person is on the inside without considering the exterior.

 

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