IT WAS FORTY (Two) YEARS AGO! (Originally Posted 11.25.2014)
As I remember, the day was a warm one. Warm, of course, being relative to this time of year in Dallas, Texas. And, having been advised only the day before, I was apprehensive and fretful as to the “hows” of the exact details as to how this would all go down. Wednesday, 11.24.1974 (Thanksgiving eve), into my hospital room walked two people who I knew well, but they were not my parents.
Time is a funny thing. It mostly will fuzzify your recollections of actual events. Especially when those events, at the time, are something that impress you as being overwhelming. At the moment when you are undergoing the overwhelming event, a certain oddity consumes you. You mentally scramble to keep up with all the information that is being presented, whether in words or actions. Additionally, there are the mental gymnastics of trying to anticipate every next small detail which can tie the brain in knots. Of curse the actual unfolding of the complete event will find you missing out on several of the various steps as to the “how” of everything which actually occurs. But, the bigger picture always remains and the details get filled-in as best you remember. Well, perhaps as best as you can create in the re-telling of it. So, for this writing effort today, the specific memories of that day remain most clearly distinct inside my mind and inside my heart. Even now, all these Forty (Two)-Years later.
The two folks that walked into my room were the age of my parents. They also happened to be the parents of a classmate of mine named Kim. Kim would pass away far too young while in her early forties after having been ravaged in the latter parts of her life by a leukemia typed disease that found her getting bone marrow transplants in efforts to save her still young life. I still recall vividly the day when a large assembly gathered in a small church in an even smaller Texas town on a hot summer day. I will forever remember the very last time I witnessed Kim’s parents standing over her casket at the front of that little church following the funeral services. Honestly, that was probably the saddest scene I have ever witnessed and I sincerely still pray I never have to watch that scene play-out again. However, this story recommences with those two folks walking into my hospital room at the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Crippled Children. It was Wendell and LaVelle Clayton. I was surprised that they were the ones there and yet, I felt secure in knowing that these kind people from my home town area were ever so graciously attending to every little detail of the nurses instructions while fully assuring me that I was really the one they were there to listen to and make feel comfortable in the unusual, for me at the time, events that were continuing to unfold.
I was sixteen years old. I was less than sixty-days removed from having had two separate eight-hour surgeries that had totally replaced both hips that had been destroyed by a youth-filled life of aggressive rheumatoid arthritis. Nine years of active destruction at this point in my life. I was only five feet and two inches tall and weighed in the range of eighty pounds. Yeah, skin and bones and prosthesis. Those prosthetic replacements probably added more weight to my frame than what had been removed. But, there I was. Unable to walk… yet. However, I could stand with the aid of specially modified crutches and shoes which were designed to permit my balance to remain on my forearms while permitting my weight-bearing joints some small relief of pressure and pain which was mostly due to the inactivity of the previous six months and the atrophy that is a natural course of physical failures. RA is kinda special that way.
The trip in the vehicle lasted only a brief while. And Wendell would say Wendellish things like “That’s as funny as a barbed wire commode”. Actually, that’s pretty funny to picture. But, that was mostly his nature. (I recently presented Wendell’s eulogy for the family. It was just a couple months ago in 2016.)
LaVelle was kindly answering and reassuring me regarding any questions I had about mostly trivial things I was apprehensive about. And before I realized it, we were there. There was: The DFW Airport. I was going to be flying home.
Now, I was not a complete novice at this flying thing. My Dad had only three and a half months earlier come down to that hospital and taken me home by way of my first ever plane flight. We flew out of the then brand new DFW Airport. That excursion home was designed to lift my spirits and create a window of time for some surgical tools to be provided to the Scottish Rite Hospital where I was having the surgical procedures performed. You see, the first attempt at surgery to replace the first hip was aborted after several hours of unsuccessful efforts at intubation. They simply could not get into the airway to my lungs because of my inability to bend my head far enough back for that hose to slide in. The process that failed did accomplish one thing though. It had severely cut out chunks of skin from inside my mouth and left me with a very, very sore mouth. But, such was the effort toward a hoped for success. When I had flown home with Dad, my first flight ever, I knew that I still had not accomplished anything toward again ever standing or walking or… living. But unknown to me at the time, the hospital had consulted with some medical professionals in England and they had created this new “corn cob” typed apparatus that could be inserted into my windpipe. It was that little invention that would allow the not-so-flexible airway hose to be properly inserted into my lungs while I slept during the necessary surgical hip replacements surgeries that were awaiting. After having remained out on the farm for about ten days the journey in the car back to that hospital in Dallas was again made. Then it was surgery on the (right hip) and only a few weeks later, surgery on the (left hip). Then waiting while healing and rehab and learning to again stand and going though the process of taking a very few steps with those extremely modified crutches.
Okay, back to this date all those forty (two) years ago. My destiny of flight would find me returning home while having two new hips and a hopeful view toward the future. Well, slowly hopeful is probably more the truth.
“If you see someone named Jack just be sure you don’t yell out… Hi Jack!“. Another Wedellism provided as we sat awaiting time to board the plane in Dallas bound for Lubbock. I again thought that was something funny and I held to that for future reference, along with that barbed-wire commode thing.
I was the first one loaded onto the plane. They used this little bitty chair on rollers that was just wide enough to sit on while being just narrow enough to roll down the aisle of the plane. I was painstakingly seated along with Wendell and LaVelle. Once we were seated Wendell said, “Lavelle. You better take your medicine.” Then he turned to me and said, “Sometimes she pukes on these flights.” Well, I quietly freaked out that maybe I was not far enough away from LaVelle in case any projected-spillage occurred. Yeah, I can perhaps be a bit OCD, whatever that is supposed to mean. But, no puke and no spillage and the plane landed safely in Lubbock. There awaiting our arrival was my Mom and my Dad and my two Sisters, Dawn and Wendy. And the trek to the farm from Lubbock, some seventy-plus miles away, had begun. And as Mom drove, I again lay in the back portion of that Ford LTD station wagon. The very same car that about five months earlier had taken me down to the hospital in the heat of that (1974) summer. And, as Dad picked at my sisters, Dawn (15) and Wendy (14) talked and argued and leaned over the seat to say things to me in the back until I blurted out “Ya’ll sure do talk loud. Do you have to talk so loud?”. And then Mom chimed in, “Yes. Softer would be nice.” But, we were from the farm and that old expression which asks if you were “raised in a barn?” aptly applied to all five of us, for the most part. The volume became again a way of life and the slow and methodical efforts of regaining my strength and abilities, that most everyone takes for granted, were in some part eventually accomplished.
We arrived at our farm home that day, Wednesday. My little bedroom had been fully decorated by some of the kids from church and school. I later learned that the eldest daughter of Wendell and LaVelle, Lisa, had actually done most all the work. That is something I hope to never forget. I went to bed that Wednesday night still fully dependent on others to survive. But, the very next day would be Thanksgiving Day. It would be the first time we hosted our families on Thanksgiving Day at our own home out on the farm. Most usually we had two separate gatherings. Around noon in town, Earth, with my Mother’s family and then later that evening just down the road from our farmhouse which was my Dad’s folks home. But, on Thursday, November 28th, 1974, I sat in my new over sized wheelchair and ate lunch with my family and then watched as the Dallas Cowboys, who were for the first time in ages going to miss the Playoffs, replace an injured quarterback named Roger Staubach with a kid who had played at a little college in Abilene, Texas and, the QB who would become known for his efforts of this one game. He was: The Mad Bomber! Clint Longley.
The picture was very clear on our still black and white television. But, my family and my friends and all the rest of the world was once again closer to being in “full and living” color. Yep, some things are very well-remembered.
It was Forty (Two) Thanksgiving Years Ago. I still consider myself to be most blessed among men. A blessing which could never be earned but rather, a blessing that is given by those who know the way of sharing Love.
Today I will be attending the Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game against the Washington Redskins. It will be loud and exciting and eventually committed the annuls of more Thanksgiving memories. But, for all of what may happen on this notable date of American history, I shall forever remember first and foremost that Thanksgiving Day all those years ago of 1974. And, I will again be Thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving To Each and Everyone Of You!
GLB says… LATER!