REMEMBERING LEROY


He was a familiar sight running past our house each day, useless, withered arm swinging at his side. He ran as if it was a challenge to the Almighty in payment for the curse of his loss. I encountered him once or twice at 5:30 a.m. while running with Max, our Dobermann. We would see him later in the day at the other end of town. I heard that he sometimes ran 25 miles in a day. He worked out daily in a lap pool in his small back yard. He and his wife lived around the corner from us with a menagerie of pets, while caring for each of their parents. His father in a wheelchair and her blind mother.

The name “SPRINZ” was written on the back of his t-shirt, reminding my husband of former major league baseball catcher Joe Sprinz, who played for the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930’s. His claim to fame after he retired, was a publicity stunt attempting to catch a baseball dropped from a blimp in 1939. On the fifth try, the ball landed in his glove at a speed estimated to have been 154 miles per hour. It slammed his glove hand into his face, breaking his jaw in twelve places. He also dropped the ball.

Joe’s son Leroy, our intrepid runner, lived around the corner from us for many years. Though I had not really met him, he knocked on my door one morning asking if he could leave his father here while he finished his run. Not knowing what else to do, I said it would be OK. What led was a fascinating hour while the old man reminisced about stories of his baseball past to us. All the famous names in the years of our youth came back to him. He also recounted the story of Leroy’s withered arm. He had had polio as a youngster, and though the doctors wanted to amputate the arm, the boy fought to keep it, saying he would figure out a way to live with it.

He became a teacher at Newark Memorial High School in Newark, CA, and while teaching tennis and baseball, he played in the school band. Proficient with a variety of instruments, refusing to let an obstacle such as the loss of an arm stop him. Much like his father, he obviously enjoyed overcoming challenges.

After retiring, Leroy and his wife, Lory Ostenkowski, moved to Oakhurst a few years ago, to enjoy their leisure years in the company of tall pine trees and deer in the mountains near Yosemite. Both were prolific writers of poetry and haiku, and were generous with their output. Leroy also found time to play in the local community band while indulging his interest in photography, and running the mountain trails.

Leroy was a trusted critic of my work, approving of my blog, though he hated the word BLOG, thinking it ugly and an embarrassment to the English language. His wife Lory, became a victim of AMD, and he greatly enlarged any artwork I posted on their large TV so that she could share it.

I had not heard from him for several months, and sent an email to see if they were OK. Last night I decided that I would write again this morning. Before I went to my computer, his widow Lory, called to tell us of his passing two months ago. According to her, the polio got him again. Post-polio, which affects many survivors, renews all the original suffering. Their daughter, who lives in Alaska, found the note I sent while clearing out his computer after his death.

Leroy was a quirky, courageous and rare person who will be greatly missed. The legacy he left was that nothing is impossible to those who keep forging through in spite of unforeseen difficulties. RIP Leroy, I’m glad I got to know you.

THE PURPLE HORSES


Sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

You can find amazing and wonderful stuff when rummaging about in old files.  The story was written by my grandson, a wildlife biologist, when he was twelve years old.  I was struck by the compassion, imagination and sensitivity he showed even at that young age.  As I watch him with his small children and hear stories about his work today, I think the seeds of a good man were sprouted early in his life.

  THE PURPLE HORSES

Derick Mitchell had cerrebral palsy.  The other children cruelly made fun of Derick  because he was different from themselves.  He had no friends at all, but he always imagined that he had one special friend whose name was Wyatt.  He hoped that Wyatt would come true one day.

Derick and his parents decided to go on a trip to Yosemite.  His mom was very excited, as the family was very poor and money for trips was scarce.

As Derick began to pack his clothes, he happened upon a large cross and chain in his bottom drawer.  He had never seen it before, and wondered how it came to be in his drawer.  It was made of silver and was very bright and shiny, with a silver chain.  He picked it up and turned it over to see if there was an inscription on the other side.  There was no writing, but there seemed to be a tiny worn drawing.  He rubbed it on his shirt to clean the tarnish from it.  Yes, it was an engraving of a running horse.  How strange, he thought.

Suddenly,  Derick’s thoughts were interrupted by his mother’s voice calling him.  “Derick, let’s go!  What is keeping you so long?  We are all ready in the car.”

“”I’ll be right there, Mom” he called.  He put the cross around his neck and tucked it inside his shirt.  For the tme being, he would keep this his secret.

It took them about 7  hours to get to Yosemite.  Derick’s mother told him about all the beautiful mountains and streams he would see when they got there.  It made him happy to see her so excited.  Finally they arrived late in the afternoon, and it was as beautiful as he had imagined.  The air smelled fresh and new, and the streams were as clean as the air around them.

They set up their campsite and Derick began to unpck his clothes.  Some kids came up and began to call his a “retard” and some otheer bad names.  A tear trickled down his face.  “Oh look at the wimp” they laughed, and ran away.

Slowly Derick rolled off in his wheelchair.  It was not easy wheeling over the rough terrain, but concntrating on the difficulty he was having made him forget how cruel the children were.  He went along for a long time, breathing the fresh air and loving the beauty of the tall trees.  He heard the loud rushing sound before he actually saw the waterfall.  Amazed at how very beautiful it was, he stopped and stared at it.  It seemed to fall right from Heaven itself.  The basin it fell into was surrounded with large rocks, and the water boiled and churned among them before it went bubbling off down the stream to finally join the river which flowed through the valley.

As Derick gazed at the waterfall, he became aware of a movement behind it.  He moved a little closer, and suddenly two horses stepped out from behind the veil of water.  Derick could not believe his eyes.  The two horses were purple… a beautiful purple color.  He sat as still as a tombstone watching them toss their lovely manes in the rainbow of the waterfall.  Anything seemed possible in this mystical spot.

The horses looked at him and motioned for him to follow them.  He wheeled quickly over to the waterfall and went into it.  When he came out the other side there were hundreds of horses, all different colors, running and playing.  Then he saw a mother horse have a baby.   The baby tried  to stand but it was too weak.  Derick thought of himself as he watched the tiny thing struggle to stand on his weak legs.  He wheeled himself over to the little horse to try to help in some way.  Suddenly he thought of the cross around his neck.  He took it off and placed it around the young baby’s neck.  Without hesitation the colt stood, looked at Derick and began to prance.

Derick suddenly felt an unfamiliar surge to through his legs.  He could feel his feet!  He lifted first one leg and then the other.  He stood up and began to walk around his wheelchair.  “I can walk!” he shouted with joy.  The baby horse came up and nudged him  and then ran away.  Derick thought that must have been his way of saying thank you.

Leaving his wheelchair, Derick ran back to the campsite.  His Mom cried out and tears ran down her face.  “How did this happen?”  she asked as she hugged him close.  Derick looked at her and said “The Purple Horses.”