Glory to God

Elmer Hohle recalls and writes down some of his childhood memories and tales told him by his parents in this series of vignettes.

Vignette # 1

When sister Edith was 4, Papa and Mama were rent-farming the old Lauschke place.  As they went to the barn on the way to the cotton patch, Edith stepped on a corn cob, slipped and fell. Her hand came down on a “Red Top” axle grease lid. The sharp edge inflicted a severe cut on her hand. She remembers vividly how Papa scooped her in his arms and ran up the hill to the house. Mama immediately wrapped her hand in a towel. Papa realized he didn’t have time to change his blood spattered trousers (Father never wore overalls like many of the other farmers).  Instead he ran down to the barn to finish harnessing the team of horses and hitch them to the buggy. In the meantime, Mama tried to comfort Edith. To do so she even brought the “forbidden doll” down from the shelf.  It was the only doll – a china doll – Mama ever had when she was a child.  Ordinarily Edith would have been delighted to finally have the opportunity to play with it. But she pushed it away because her hand hurt so terribly. By then Papa came up to the house with team and buggy. Baby Charles, aged 2, was put on the seat between Mama and Papa while Mama held Edith in her lap – blood soaked towel and all. Edith remembers the horses’ backs humping to pull the buggy up the steep hill by Andrew Winkler’s place as they came out of the Leon river valley. Papa drove the team at a precarious full gallop up the strait-away of “Otto Winkler’s lane.” The six mile trip to The Grove, Texas must have seemed like a never-ending nightmare to this little injured girl, her distraught parents, and her bewildered baby brother. To this very day, Dube’s General Store has a second story above the corner which houses the Post Office. Back in 1926 it served as Dr. Sutherland’s office.  Fortunately, Dr. Sutherland was “In” that day instead of being at some farm house delivering a baby or treating a mule kick. One wonders if little Charlie was left downstairs to get the mail out of the mail box, or what. However, while Papa held her forearm firmly and Dr. Sutherland began to suture, Mama tried to distract Edith by telling her to look out the window and “look at the man” who had just then pulled up with his team and wagon by the community well. The well still stands in the middle of main street The Grove.  More faintly, the scar is still on Edith’s right hand.  It belies how deeply this episode seared itself in the memory of a four year old girl who, as my oldest sister, became a second mother to me. On January 10, 1989, at age 66, she could vividly recount these details to me, her youngest sibling. We give glory to God for not only His forgiving grace in Christ Jesus, but also for His protecting care!

Vignette # 2

It was Christmas Day 1931. “Votie” – my baby-talk name for my Grandfather – had no doubt gone to church that morning with Grandmother.  By midafternoon he was sitting on the whittler’s bench that graced the front porch of Dube’s General Store in the Grove, Texas.  Seated next to him was Huey Dixon, spitting snuff off the porch. “Votie” was puffing on his inseparable companion, that curved stem pipe with the teeth-scarred stem. The two men were sharing a bottle of Christmas “cheer.”  Their mood became ever more exuberant as the afternoon wore on. In the meantime, a shiny, new ford came driving up to the John Winkler farm. The strangers were obviously lost. The dirt road made a fork at the Winkler’s farm yard. Mrs. Winkler looked over her shoulder while hanging the wash on the line.  Teenage daughters Ruth(now Mrs. Monroe Winkler) and Sophia(now Mrs. Fred Munz) were by the barns. The occupants asked Ruth, “Which way to the nearest public road?” Ruth, who was standing by the cow pen hastily and courteously opened the wire gap gate to the road that led to Grimes’ bottom place and Owl Creek. Without as much as a thank you, the car with its man and woman occupant picked up speed. The couple reached Grimes’ bottom and proceeded to cut the telephone line for the “crank” phones that some of the farmers had.  As they passed Owl Creek, they came to the Tolkmit farm. When they saw Herbert (Slim) Tolkmit, they asked him for directions to The Grove. In his usual soft spoken voice, the lad told them to keep on the course they were driving. Four dirt and gravel roads converged at the Southwest corner of the W J Dube general store. The sound of the engine of a new Ford automobile caught the attention of Votie, Huey, and the other men seated on the Wittler’s bench as they looked past the gasoline pump and car shop towards the south. Its speed raised a hefty cloud of dust as it cruised past the front of Willie Dube’s home – 100 yards from the store. Little did “Votie” realize that the couple in the car coming from Temple had shot and killed a man there that morning – in cold blood. The car passed to the right of the well that still sits in the middle of The Grove’s only street. With the sound of tires sliding on gravel the car pulled up in front of the whittler’s bench. Had this couple come to possibly rob the Planters State Bank that was located inside the W J Dube general store? Joe Hancock and Aubry Ray had robbed it of $1,100 in 1927. The cashier allegedly absconded with the rest and received a five year prison sentence for complicity in the robbery. Hancock and Ray claimed alibis at their trial held in the Coryell County Court House. But they had made the mistake of playing poker with B. Adams and Josh Kennedy of The Grove, who in turn fingered them as the criminals.  Hancock received a 45 year sentence – Ray, 25 years. Ray was a vicious  criminal who later escaped the Huntsville,  Texas penitentiary.  He was killed by law enforcement officers in Lincoln, Nebraska. The woman rolled down the window. The man leaned over her lap and gruffly yelled, “Which way to MacGregor.”  With a reflex reply, Huey Dixon pointed around the corner of the store with his right hand, thereby indicating a right turn around the store.  This was indeed the north bound road which led to MacGregor some twenty miles away. Almost simultaneously, “Votie” staggered (the “cheer” was taking its toll) to his feet.  With pipe in hand and mischievous glint in his eye, he smilingly stated, “No,No! The shortest way is by going straight,” as the bite-marked curved stem pointed to the west-bound road to Gatesville. A brief argument ensued between “Votie” and Huey. Finally the car lurched forward as the driver heeded “Votie’s” second opinion. Thereupon Grandfather felt hunger pains and with an unsteady gait walked up the south bound road to his home 300 yards from the store. Mr. Dixon went East to his home half that distance. Both hoped to eat some Christmas left- overs for an early supper. The other men went home, also. Several miles away on the Gatesville road, Doyle Johnson and R.T. Adams were on horseback, riding towards The Grove. The driver of the car slowed as he approached them – a tiny doubt was gnawing in his mind about “Votie’s” advice. “Is this the right way to MacGregor?” he yelled out the car’s window. “Naw, Mister; you should have turned right at the store.” Angrily the stranger brandished a big black pistol, as he muttered under his breath to his companion:  “Bonnie, I’m going back  to  The  Grove,  and I’m  gonna  kill  that  lying *#{@&*%(censored).” When the car approached Dube’s store, it was obvious to the driver that the whittler’s bench was now vacant.  As they turned left at an unsafe speed, gravel flew unto the porch of Dube’s store. Bonnie and Clyde were finally on the right road to MacGregor – no thanks to “Votie’s” incorrect road directions.  On that Christmas Day of 1933, thank God – Clyde Barrow ALMOST shot “Votie”! I remember well Grandfather dying in the Christian faith at age 71.  He no doubt must have realized how a gracious God had preserved him from an untimely death at age 55. Sad to say, a number of people in central Texas were not so fortunate.  They did indeed die at the hands of Bonnie and Clyde. My brother Charles made me aware of this whole episode. My uncle Edwin, “Votie’s” youngest son, and Mr. Elmo Winkler Sr. gave me much information about this event. Both emphasized that Bonnie and Clyde were a mean and vicious criminal pair.  Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were killed by law enforcement officers  in Louisiana on May 23, 1934.

Vignette # 3

My parents now lived on the Lucy Winkler rent-farm, only two miles instead of six miles from The Grove. The tin-roofed four-room  (plus loft) farm house was nestled on the East side of a gigantic oak – a live oak tree. It took three people with fingers touching to encircle the short stubby trunk of this ancient oak. I was born in that little farm house December 20, 1930. How I treasure the letter my father wrote Dr. McCauley in Moody – some 12 miles away about mother expecting. Here is a copy of that letter and the kindly response the country Doctor wrote on the back of Papa’s letter. I also treasure the envelope it came in – with its first class postage stamp of two cents.       “The Grove  Oct 14 – 1930        Tex.       Dr. Mc.Cauley           Moody, Tex.    Dear Sir    Want to ask you if    you can help me out.    in an confinemet(sic) case    Will be 9 months 7 days    Dezember(sic) 17th last Child    it last 9 Mo 16 days    I am still on the same    place where I have been    in March 1929 at C. A. Winkler    Cash Money’s ready for you    please let me know if I can    depend on you          respectfully yours        C. B. Hohle    (over)      The Grove     (above written   Tex” at a slant by Dr. McCauley) Then on the reverse side is Dr. E. R. McCauley’s reply, written in ink pen – while Papa’s was written in pencil. Here is that response:    Dear Mr. Hohle:-    I will be glad to    help you out in    your case of confinement    So call me when    you need(darkly scribbled over another word) me any    time and I will come.              Your friend             Dr. E. R. McCauley” Inside the envelope I also discovered a cancelled check for $35 drawn on the PLANTERS STATE BANK of The Grove. It was dated on my Birthday, “Dec. 20 1930 Pay to the Order of ER. McCauley.” I was the baby that was born 3 days after mother’s prediction – with a blue complexion.  And with good reason – the umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck, choking me. It was my first of several close brushes with an early grave throughout my life.  God has been so gracious to me in giving me nearly 59 years to the present. My second brush came at age 2 when I had a severe case of whooping cough (could there be a non-severe case?).  Once more I turned blue and stopped breathing. Papa was already out the front yard gate to walk across the pasture that surrounded our home, and over a field of corn, to his brother Alvin’s farm home.  There he could phone a funeral home.  Suddenly he heard the sweet shout of Mama (in German):  “Come back, he’s breathing again!” Having been born under such circumstances, my parents wasted no time in bringing me to that blessed washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit: Baptism. So it was that God received me into His blessed covenant of grace in Christ Jesus.  On Christmas Day, 1930, Pastor Boerger cascaded three handfuls of water over my head as he said, “Elmer Martin Hohle, Ich Taufe Dich im Namen des Vaters, und des Sohnes, und des heiligen Geistes.”  My godparents were B. J. Luehrs (the parochial school teacher at St. Paul Lutheran Church), Uncle Edwin Symm, Aunt Mrs. Frieda (Oswald – three of my mother’s brothers married a Frieda) Symm, Cousin Louise Hobratschk (who married Dr. E. O. Bradfield), and Uncle Emil Hohle. A slightly large building – the barn with loft – stood 100 feet to the northeast of our home. West of the barn was a small hen house.  Behind the barn stood the outhouse. Ours did not have the inevitable `quarter moon’ sawed into the door. Ours was only a `single seater’, whereas some affluent farmers had double and triple seaters – with a small hole especially for children.  I never had any fear of falling through our single adult sized one, but how I hated sitting on that seat on those cold winter days when the cold north wind of a `blue norther’ whistled up through that hole! Instead of soft, cuddly tissue, you tore a page from last year’s Wards or Sears mail order catalog. Instead of a pulling a flush handle, you simply scooped up from a bucket a tin can full of cooking stove ashes, and sprinkled them down the hole. However, the essence of my childhood consists mostly of pleasant memories!

Vignette #4

It was Christmas Eve 1935. Four days before I had my 5th Birthday.  Papa (C. B. Hohle), Mama (Martha `nee Symm), Edith (now 13), Charles (11), Lydia (9), Gilbert (almost 7), and I – went gone to Christmas Eve Children’s service at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, The Grove. By dirt road, church was only two miles away. We drove in the Model-A Ford Papa bought about the time I was born. Oscar Hobratschk, son of my Aunt Selma, had painted it a few months before – a shiny black enamel color. We worshiped the holy family’s Child, born in Bethlehem nearly twenty centuries before, in that gothic-styled church that had such a magnificent bell high up in the tall steeple. My four siblings all had a part in children’s recitations and carol singing, since they all attended the congregation’s parochial and one-room school. Teacher Henry Leimer sat behind the reed organ at the front of the church as he quizzed the children about the Nativity. I sat with Mama on the epistle side (the woman’s side) of the church. Papa sat with the men on the gospel side, and in the back pew since he was one of the three elders. Later he would bring by the “Klingelbeutel” – a black velveteen bag on the end of a long stick. At the bottom of the bag a little bell to forewarn the worshiper in the far end of a pew to dig in his pocket for a coin or two. It was quite a ding-a-ling bag! It seemingly always drizzled on Christmas Eve. As we came out of church, I remember seeing the dark, starry night.  The Hohle family went home with five excited children. First we stood on the front porch while Papa shot off a few Roman candles, rockets and fire-crackers. Then into the house while my heart pounded inside my “new” hand-me-down (from brother Gilbert) go-to-church shirt and coat.

Earlier that afternoon we children were sent to the barn to schuck corn for the horses and hogs. I only dabbled at the task at hand. Then when I cut one of my tiny fingers on a rough piece of cornhusk, a tear filled plea for sympathy to my oldest sister, Edith, enabled me to “goof off”, look through a crack in the corn crib in time to see Papa carry, what looked like a cedar tree, into the house. We were advised that the Christkind might be bringing some presents that night.  We did not get to go into our room that afternoon and evening. I knew something unusual was about to happen, but I didn’t know what. So, after smelling what I recognized as burning matches and melting candle wax, Papa and Mama finally invited us back into our room. I was over-awed at the sight. There in the corner was “der Weinachstbaum” all aglow with candles of varied colors, reflecting gloriously on a few ornaments and countless icicles.  “Elmer, you are first… look under the tree right here!” Oh My!  There on the splintered floor stood a tiny cardboard barn surrounded with tiny rubber horses and cows – and lo, to one side a little metal windmill, with a fan and rudder that actually turned when you blew on it. I thought my heart would burst with glee as I squealed and ran towards the first Christmas present I can remember. Even now as I recall this, eyes brim with tears at the sweet memory of it all.   That night and again the next day, my father, in his deep and serious voice reminded all of us that our greater joy was that “Jesu Christ, unser Heiland” was born to save us from sin and death and give us “ein herrlichen heimat in Himmel.” To this day, I vividly remember that Christmas and cherish the memory so deeply! (I still have the wheel of that windmill!) 

Vignette #5

I remember very little of my life at age four. But I do remember going with the family to Giddings, Texas for the funeral of uncle Gerhardt – Papa’s oldest sibling. Traveling that approximate 100 miles at about 35 – 45 mph seemed like an eternity. I remember very little about Giddings:  The big cotton gin in town which was so much larger than Wolf’s gin in The Grove; crying myself to sleep that night in the strange surroundings of Uncle Henry Bamsch’s home. The next day I remember only my first sight of a coffin at  Immanuel Lutheran Church and the barely visible forehead of what must have been the mortal remains of uncle Gerhardt.  Uncle Gehardt’s home is still being lived in as of today (1989 AD). This was my first remembrance of an encounter with the stark reality of human death; also my first of Papa’s habitual and firm exhortation at the death of any Christian, namely, that we need not cry – because “Christus hat us erlöst und ist auferstanden von Todt. Der Gestorbner seine Seele ist jezt mit Jesus im Himmel.”  About three years later I discovered that grief will out at the death of a loved one. Mutter Mueller was the grand dame of the Henry Winkler household which domiciled four generations at once, including cousin Frances. When Mama would go visit her sister, my Aunt Lena, Mutter Mueller would see to it that Frances and I got cookies. I loved that crinkled-faced old woman who always spoke kindly in a cracked voice. She was a genuine pioneer woman. I remember the story told about her, back-then a mile-away, neighbor, Mrs. Stayton. One day Mr. Stayton went to town, miles away on horseback, to get supplies.  Hostile Indians still roamed around the area at that time. All alone in her log cabin, she noticed something outside the lone window. Cautiously peeking out, she discovered to her horror that an Indian brave, with tomahawk in hand, was crouching beneath that window. At the time she was cooking lye soap in the kettle hanging over the fire in the hearth.  With adrenalin flowing and severely burning her hands, she grabbed the kettle of boiling soap and poured it out the window on the back of the brave. She never heard such hollering and screaming before as the Indian ran wildly off into the woods. It was the only Indian she ever saw on their farm after that! Now, back to my beginning thought and Mrs. Mueller.  When she died in her 90’s in December 1938, many people came to the large Henry Winkler home for the first of the three funeral services – the other two would be at the church and at the cemetery.  It was that afternoon in the yard on the west side. I stood there with all the men folks in the unseasonably warm sunshine. It was the first time of many that I heard my Father take the lead in singing acapella that powerful German hymn: “We thank you dear Lord Jesus Christ; That you for us did die! And have through your precious blood, Made us right and just before God.”  Of course, in German the verse has majestic rhyme and rhythm. Suddenly I found myself overwhelmed with sadness. I firmly believed with all my heart that Papa was right when he told us we need not cry, because she was in the very presence of Christ, her Savior.  However, with her death I felt a part of my heart torn from me. No longer would I be able to sit in her lap, see her smile and hand me a cookie. Suddenly I felt a hot tear streaming down  my  right cheek.  I could  have  cried  bucket fuls.  Nevertheless, with my forefinger I hastily brushed the tear away and `Spartaned up’, lest the grown men in that yard see me cry. You NEED NOT weep for me when I die – for to be with Christ is far better! However, as I discovered that day, tears are a vital “steam valve” through which our grief can escape.

Vignette # 6A

Another memory I have at my age four will help explain why all through my childhood I had the burning desire to be a rodeo performer, eager to ride any livestock that could buck. It all began one fine summer evening when brother “Charlie” was riding papa’s favorite plow-horse – Travis.  Travis was a beautiful chestnut gelding with a white star. Charles had ridden Travis to turn off the windmill. Our well was about 150 yards down a slight hill to the east of our home. As he came back to the corral, I was sitting on the top rail, idly pulling the bark from the fresh “cedar”(juniper) pole. As he paralleled Travis to the fence he asked me, “Wanna ride?” Agilely I pounced on behind Charlie on top of the broad back of this saddle-less but gentle horse.  “Now”, said Charlie, “you mustn’t hold on to me, lest I fall off.” My short and tiny legs were spread out over the wide part of Travis’ back like a modern era cheerleader doing a split.  “Giddap” said Charlie.  Travis began a slow trot.  My itty bitty bottom bounced like a drop of cold water on a hot skillet.  By putting my hands palms down behind me, I managed to stay on. But soon I yelled for Charlie to stop the horse. He did so.  “Ich will am Fohrne reitten,” said I. So, back to the fence, and we switched places.  “Are you ready?” I asked in German. Even then I possessed the stocky, muscular legs I had inherited from my mother.  I now clamped them down like a vise behind the horse’s narrower shoulders, clutched a handful of mane with my left fist and slapped the reins over his left flank with my right hand. This whole episode came flooding back to me two decades ago when I witnessed my first live quarterhorse race at Ruidosa Downs in New Mexico. “And They’re OFF” came the announcers voice over the P A system. Charlie and I were off at a full gallop, Charlie nearly slide off the rear before he quickly got his hands around my then SLIM belly. I was squealing with glee, Charlie was hanging on for dear life. When he yelled “whoa”, Travis, tired from pulling a plow all day, came to a rapid stop.  Charlie quickly slipped off. Whereupon, I whipped the rein ends over his neck and was off at a full gallop…down to the well and back. However, I was already a practiced rider before this event. You see, Charlie would ride calves in the cow pen while the cows where in the pasture grazing. One morning he helped me get on one of the smaller baby calves. My surcingle was the small rope with which Mama tied off the calf from the cow after the calf had sucked enough for the cow to let down her milk – then Mama would milk the cow. Well, I rode many times – always until the calf would give up OR throw me into a bed of cow manure, always smelly, usually dry, but sometimes fresh and wet. Sister Edith had just finished sweeping the house one summer morning when I walked in covered with demeanor and smell of a fallen cowboy. In a wrath filled voice she chased me out of the house with her broom.  That’s when I learned, at age four, that my short stocky legs enabled me to run rather rapidly whenever adrenalin flowed! Papa and Mama would always take us to the July rodeo that was hosted by Mr. Austin Doolittle at the The Grove Rodeo grounds one and a half miles west of our house.  Incidentally, at this writing, Austin Doolittle still rides horses on a ranch near Katy, Texas. He must be about 92 years old. Mr. Doolittle had his rodeo underwritten by the town ginner, Mr. G. E. Wolf and by the general store owner and operator, Mr. W. A. Dube.  He paid top prize money and thus attracted outstanding cowboys to his rodeo. I would get so excited whenever they rode the bucking broncos and the Brahma bulls. My toes would barely touch the foot rest in the west (and shaded) stands.  In the excitement my legs would rapidly and uncontrollably bounce up and down. I rode little calves at home, but I was horrified when the cowhands would rope those little creatures, yank them to the ground, and tie three of their feet together. Although that is one of the most essential functions in cattle ranching, to this day, calf roping is my least favorite sport. But what fun the grand finale. Doolittle’s rodeo area had ten chutes. At the end of the performance, ten mules, graded by size, would be driven into the chutes and belled. Ten brave cowboys each mounted the mule they had drawn. Then all at once all ten gates were opened. Never since have I witnessed such madhouse and flurry of bucking activity as then ensued. The last rider to remain aboard would win the riding contest. The first to go would be the cowboy on the smallest mule who would usually buck with a spinning motion. The winner would usually be the cowboy on the largest mule, approximately 18 hands high. One day Miss Lucy, our landlady, brought some hand me down clothes to Mama for Gilbert and me to wear. Included was a tiny pair of black cowboy boots that fit me perfectly for about six months. Although I usually rode barefooted, it was the only pair of cowboy boots I ever possessed. All they did was to intensify my desire to be a rodeo cowboy – riding those Brahma bulls! I openly discussed my desire to be a rodeo rider with my father and mother throughout my childhood and early teens. It gave them both an opportunity to instill in me values about choosing a career. They stressed to me the importance of choosing a life’s work that would be of most service to my Lord and to my fellowman.  They encouraged me to rather seek a career in church work, like being a pastor. And while sometimes at age five and six I did line up my sister’s few dolls while I stood before them in the attic behind an apple box and preached some stem winding sermons – I never for a moment wanted to be a pastor. I wanted to be a rancher or a dairyman…if I couldn’t ride in rodeos. However my desire to be a rodeo rider came to an abrupt halt around Christmas of 1944. We were by this time living on the Coon’s farm which Papa had bought at the end of 1938.  Brother Charlie was in the army and about to go overseas to fight in Okinawa.  He was excused from helping Gilbert and I in helping Papa do the barnyard chores on this crisp, clear December Sunday morning.  Instead he was picking and eating pecans under a tree below the hill behind the barn.  I had just finished milking the cows (about five, my usual chores). Papa was feeding the horses.  Gilbert had somehow finished his a little early.  Edith was working in Temple for the Voelter family and Lydia was in the house helping Mama. Gilbert loved to rope cattle. I loved to ride them. “Rosie”, a Jersey cow – dry at the time – was the only cow or steer that I had been unsuccessful in riding. Many a time she had thrown me after only a few bucks with her front feet horizontally high in the air and ole’ Elmer was sailing in the opposite direction of where her hooves were pointing (Jim Shoulders could not have ridden that skinny cow for any eight seconds). Gilbert yelled from below the hill where Charlie was picking pecans,  “Look what I’ve roped for you, Elmer. You want to ride her?”  I had propitiously just finished milking my last cow and was in the act of releasing the calf to suck out what I had left in the udder (ala Boaz/Esther). I untied the “calf-rope” from the cow pen fence post, and yelled back, “Be right there!”  I hung the bucket of milk on a nail on the barn rafter and ran down the gently sloping hill, put the surcingle around her belly. Charlie held this muhly jersey by her ears as I mounted.  Off in the distance I heard a dog barking as I nodded my head.  Gilbert released the rope and Charlie let go of her ears. “AND THEY’RE OFF!” Rosie headed straight for the barn, bucking sharply as usual.  I had recently reached puberty, and although still wiry and small for my age, I did have added strength. I anticipated Rosie’s every feint and buck beautifully. I rode her 25 yards by now and could hear my brothers yelling encouragement in the background – intended for me and not the cow I hoped. I was truly in fine form and had now ridden her for 50 yards – wow what a record, I was thinking to myself as I noticed my father out of the corner of my eye. All the yelling made him come out from behind the horse shed. I expected to see him shaking his fist because by now he demanded some maturity from me and totally disapproved of my riding cows and steers as bucking animals. However, I am told he merely stood and watched intently, with hands on his hip. Never in rodeo history could there have been such a magnificent ride.  I was approaching 75 yards.  Instinctively I  was anticipating Rosie to fling her front legs to the left and in a split second decision I braced myself accordingly. Whereupon in even less time that tough bovine bowed her head, did a double feint and tossed her legs to the right…and I found  myself testing the theory if man can fly without wings. My brothers assured me it was only a second or two later – but I had no sense of time as I sat up in a pile of grass burrs and saw green spots and a warped world. I shook my head and dizzily arose to see my father doubled over in laughter like I have never seen him before…or since. Later in church that morning, as I sat in the balcony (I had been confirmed the previous March 13 on Palm Sunday), I couldn’t concentrate too well on Pastor Scaer’s sermon.  However, I did send heavenward a prayer of thanksgiving, polished off by the Holy Spirit, for God sparing me serious injury….and FOR KNOCKING SOME SENSE INTO MY HEAD! Thus ended my desire to be a rodeo cowboy.

Vignette #6B

I have so many happy memories of the first six years of my life spent on Miss Lucy’s rent-farm home. The home was centered in a sloping meadow of about 25 acres. In the spring time I would walk up the gentle slope to the West, lie down amidst all kind of wild flowers that hosted many species of lovely butterflies. My body was bathed by the warming rays of the mid-morning sun. As I inhaled the unpolluted and fragrant air, the fluffy, fleecy clouds  overhead  slowly wended their way northward.  My imagination saw many animals in those soaring shapes in the sky. Back at the house Mama would have two wash tubs filled with water – one had lye soap and a rub board in it, the other had “bluing”.  Papa would be planting cotton in the field north of the house.  Mama was doing the laundry (in 1936 Papa sold enough produce to buy Mama a hand cranked washing machine).  After she finished rinsing the clothes, she would leave the water in the tub for me. I got out some cellophane dolls, an inch in length, that came with new toothbrushes. I made a ladder out of clothes pins and attached it to the side of the tub.  Then I would have the little dolls dive into the tub and have them climb back up the ladder. I got my home-sewn cotton shirt so very wet.  Mama came back from the line, took off my shirt, ran it through both tubs, and hung it on the line. My other weekday shirt was already on the line, and the third shirt was my Sunday shirt.  Hence, I played the rest of the morning in my overalls with its slightly wet bib – without a shirt. One Easter I really got wet. Papa would always load us in the wagon and take us down to MacThiglum Creek to indulge in a pagan custom of the Wends – wash in “Bosque hole”. Even when he was in his 70’s, Papa would go down to the Leon river at Easter dawn and have a brief swim in chilly March waters.  Bosque hole was a pool below a small waterfall where we would swim in the summer time – about a mile from our house. I learned to swim dog paddle by using Mama’s homemade life preserver. It consisted of two empty, tightly-lidded, gallon molasses buckets placed inside a flour sack. I would place the sack under my chest, with a bucket slipped behind each arm pit. However, on this particular morning I had not yet learned how to swim.  I was romping through the tall grass on the top of the creek bank. As I came upon a small spring-fed brook that gurgled down the embankment, Charlie was ahead of me and jumped across it. I tried to jump across and fell directly into the stream. I was starting to slide into the creek’s waters and screamed loudly.  In an instant I appreciated how St. Peter felt when Jesus reached out to him as he sank into the sea of Galilee  – Charlie’s strong hand grabbed me and pulled me out dripping like a wet puppy. Mama proceeded to take off my wet clothes. I was crying because I didn’t have any other clothes. Mama said she had some, to wit, her wool sweater which she wrapped around my shivering five year old body.  On the way home Papa stopped the wagon to chat with Miss Lucy as we passed her stately home on top of the hill. I was so embarrassed that I crouched down behind the side boards of the wagon.  But she asked where I was. Mama told her what had happened. Miss Lucy peered over the side boards of the wagon to greet me as I blushed in shame and clutched Mama’s sweater tightly around me. Another Spring day the family was hoeing corn that was already in tassel. I wandered along aimlessly until I came to a place where the last rainfall had washed some silt into a depression. I sat down and played in the fine black dirt. I put some into my mouth and discovered a taste I’d never experienced before – or since.  After some time I heard my family calling to me to go home for lunch.  The thick green leaves totally blocked my view in every direction.  I was lost in the corn field! I panicked and began to cry, but then had the presence of mind to walk across the rows until I came into the rows planted with seedling cotton. Then I saw the model A Ford parked on the south end of the field.  What a sense of relief. The prodigal son found his way back. On still another occasion we were in the field north of the house.  We were gathering a bumper crop of kohlrabi on the upward slope next to Miss Lucy’s house. Charlie had to go to the bathroom.  He walked the approximate 400 feet to our outhouse located behind the barn but in plain view of our vantage point.  Suddenly we heard him yelling at the top of his lungs. There was brother Charlie at age 11 standing on the roof of the outhouse with his arms waving to us in panic. As he was about to sit down he had glanced down the hole. There lay a monstrous sized “chicken” snake. To this day I don’t know how he managed to get on the roof – but adrenalin makes people “rise” to the occasion. There were further happy times as Uncle Oswald’s came over for homemade ice cream on many summer evenings. They lived on Mrs. Ida’s farm over the next hill to the Southeast. Mama would cook up a good custard and often put in some fresh peaches. Papa had gone to The Grove for a 50 pound block of ice from Mr. Dube’s cold storage. I even got to turn the freezer handle some, but when the cream began to thicken it became too difficult for me. It almost tasted as good as the ice cream cones at the church picnic.  We children lined up at the booth with several nickels in our pockets (nickel per cone). The booth consisted of a plank nailed between two of the oak trees on the church grounds.  Mr. Elmo Winkler would scoop out the cream from canisters in thick bags packed with dry ice. One picnic we had to wait for an hour for the ice cream truck to arrive from Brenham, Texas. But it was well worth the wait for such a taste treat. Many years later I moved my family to Austin, Texas. My wife served vanilla ice cream for dessert.  I went into ecstasy at the taste and explained to my family that it tasted like the ice cream of those church picnics. Looking down at the carton I saw the words: “Blue Belle Homemade Vanilla, BRENHAM, Texas! The Raleigh and Watkins spice salesmen would come by with their wares several times a year. Mama liked Mr. Alison best because he didn’t try high pressure. I liked him best because he always had a little trinket for me. Papa liked his black pepper.  It had a nice grayish appearance and really spiced up Papa’s pork sausage!  He would also buy the necessary ingredients to make homemade root beer and ginger ale for us children. He also made an occasional batch of home brew beer.  Once a batch had the bottle caps “a poppin” in the smoke house in the middle of the night.   Papa  and uncle Oswald  would  exchange  samples.  Occasionally my father would give me a few sips with repeated warnings about alcohol abuse and its dangers. But, I liked the ginger ale because the tiny bubbles would tingle up my nostrils. Something I did not like was eating those turnips, but my parents insisted I eat them. We were living in The Great Depression, but since my industrious parents lived on a farm, our family never went hungry – even if at times it meant eating turnips and greens with chunks of fatty pork it them. Mama was a good cook and could  make every dish delicious.  As an adult I  deeply appreciated her turnips. Her forte was turkey. She could have a turkey from chopping block to the table post haste – bulging with her homemade dressing. Incidentally, our turkeys ran wild and we would have to go hunt them in the woods east of the house on occasion to bring them in at night. Their food was insects and grasshoppers.  Once a large spider had pulled the leg of one of the hatchlings down its hole. I watched in amazement as Charlie pulled its leg free. I remember Mama and Papa taking me along on a trip one day when the others were in school. We drove in the Model A to Copperas Cove to visit Mr. John Teinert, a Wendish patriarch and family friend. Mama had spent her childhood there, though born in Fedor in Lee County; Papa had been born in Serbin. As we came out of Gatesville we crested a hill and I saw a vast vista of land.  I traveled that road a second time at age 57. As I crested the hill this memory flooded back over me again. On another occasion we drove to Bland so Papa and Mama could vote in the Presidential election.  Papa, in four successive elections, never once voted for FDR. (And I wonder why I grew up to become a Republican!) In their old age, after I told the county Republican chairman of their voting habits, my parents were sent a courtesy invitation to the inauguration of Texas’ first Republican governor since Reconstruction days. One final memory from Miss Lucy’s place. Gilbert and I were not yet in school. Mama had told us to bring in some kindling and fire wood so she could cook Papa and us lunch.  Following Gilbert’s lead, the two of us went and played out by the barn where Papa was painting the wagon wheels, instead.  When the three of us came in for lunch, Mama informed Papa of our disobedience.  Papa’s righteous wrath (he was hungry)  was unfurled as he reached behind the door for a small leather strap that came to a sharp point. Justice was quickly meted out.  I put my hands over my bottom to protect it and received two welts on my right forearm. As we repentantly went to quickly do the chore, we came by Papa’s can of red wagon paint. I snickered as I took a stick and painted a streak of red “blood” over my two barely visible welts. As I marched stoically to the stove with an armful of kindling, I made sure that Papa saw my “bloody” wrist.  When he and Mama burst out in hearty laughter, I knew I had been forgiven. That day planted in my heart the resolve that seeing Papa smile benignly when we Honored Father and Mother far outweighed the painful consequences of rebellion and disobedience. God is truly gracious and through the instrumentality of my parents He provided well for us. I suppose that’s why my childhood memories are such a treasure to me.

Vignette #6C

Miss Lucy used to put her aged mother in the back seat of her nice sedan automobile and drive her around in our pasture.  Her mother had become senile and kept begging her daughter to take her back to her native Germany. As she drove her through our pasture she would tell her mother that they were on the way back to Germany.  Then after a while forgetfulness would become a benign benefactor. Whereupon Miss Lucy would stop by our house for a brief visit. On one such visit she informed my parents we would have to move by February of 1937.  Her brother had purchased a tractor and desired to farm additional land.  His farm adjoined ours to the north. I was heart-broken at the news. In the meantime, Uncle Oswald made a bold move and purchased a river bottom farm. He was moving there simultaneously.  So in January of 1937 we loaded wagons and moved our few household possessions over the hill to Mrs. Ida’s place. My utopia came to an end.  The home of my birth would slowly deteriorate to its present remnant condition, although the ancient oak majestically shades what’s left of that house to this present day. The previous September I began the first grade in our one room, one teacher school, St. Paul Lutheran Parochial school.  Mr. Henry Leimer had a reputation for being a strict teacher. He had a massive shock of red hair on his head.  I was rather fearful of the man for the first few weeks of school. One noon recess ten year old Leonard, with a bit of malicious intent, lined me up directly in front of one of the north windows of the school.  He handed me a baseball and told me to practice for a game of “Andy Over.”  I protested that I could never throw the ball over the roof.  He kept urging me, saying I could. I threw with all the strength I could muster and watched in horror as the ball crashed through the top window pane. Leonard laughed and said he would tattle to teacher on me. I was so frightened. After the opening afternoon prayer, I attempted to muster the courage to go up to teacher’s desk to confess – but a grinning Leonard brushed past me and whispered something to Teacher Leimer. “Elmer, did you break a window pane in the school house?” the teacher asked in a stern voice. Speaking German at home, I’d never heard the word “pane” before. With quivering lips and tears brimming from my sad eyes, I blurted out: “I didn’t break the pane – I only broke the glass!”  Mr. Leimer’s stern countenance instantly converted into a smiling, gentle face as the entire student body of some 25 children laughed. I assumed I would not receive a dreaded spanking. I was instructed by Mr. Leimer to bring a quarter to pay for the “pane”. I was spared the other pain. Since we lived on Mrs. Ida’s place now, we had an extra mile to walk home from school. Gilbert and I would trot diagonally across the field on the last 400 yards… it was good training for some of the jogging I did in adulthood.  On rainy days Papa would drive us to school. Once he picked us up with the surrey because he knew the fording place on MacThiglum Creek would be flooded.  Papa had hitched his most reliable team – Travis, my favorite horse, and Tobe, a large and strong mule. Horses and mules could go where Model A Fords could not. The water came up high enough to touch Travis’ belly. I was sitting in the back seat between Edith and Lydia. My legs were too short to reach the curved floorboard.  But I raised them some more when a small amount of the flooding stream came gurgling over the floorboard as my sisters raised their feet to keep their shoes dry. I was not frightened at the ordeal, felt secure, and thought it so much fun. Travis and Tobe steadily pulled us through and out on the other side, as Papa spoke constant encouragement to the experienced span. However, the previous Fall I was shaking with fright the afternoon Uncle Oswald had picked us up after school on a rainy afternoon and attempted to cross the ford in his ’34 Chevrolet sedan. The water was only about a foot deep, but rising rapidly.  Near the other side the fan hit the water and sprayed it onto the spark plugs. The engine died!  After attempting unsuccessfully to crank it, Uncle Oswald did a clever thing.  He put the car in second gear, left the ignition key off, and stepped on the starter. Ever so slowly the car crept forward until we were safely out of the water. I held my breath for that agonizing minute as I empathetically leaned forward. One summer evening Papa instructed Gilbert and me to go to the corn crib and shuck some more corn to feed the horses.  I easily succumbed to Gilbert’s attractive suggestion that we first go play while there was still some daylight. We went about 50 yards from the horse pen to play by the straw stack. Soon Papa was approaching, removing his belt from his trousers. We knew we were in for it and began to run around the large straw stack.  Papa was in hot pursuit, his long legs making big, lumbering strides (Papa was 6’1″). Our tiny legs were moving much more rapidly.  We made two circles and I looked over my shoulder and caught a brief glimpse of Papa’s right shoe sole only a few feet behind us. As we ran, Gilbert and I discussed the futility of our desperate situation. Before Gilbert reached puberty, I could run slightly faster than he. I took off at a tangent straight for the barn. Gilbert was right behind me. Papa caught up with Gilbert just as he reached the corn crib door. With a strong admonition he gave Gilbert a few swats.  By this time I was shucking corn like a boy possessed. He turned to me in the now semi dark barn and said to me in German: “That applies to you, also.” Whereupon he almost gently brushed my bottom with his belt. It was the last time my father found it necessary to administer corporal punishment on me. One summer, in the late afternoon, the skies turned black with vicious, swirling clouds. Papa and Mama scurried to finish the evening chores.  Edith was instructed to go into our four-room bungalow home and close all the windows. I went with her.  I stood on the front porch and looked toward the northwest. Not in my entire life to date have I ever seen such ominous clouds.  I was terrified. I felt we would all be blown away. I ran into Charlie, Gilbert, and my bedroom, sat down on my bed and aloud but softly prayed the Lord’s Prayer in German.  I had every confidence that God was going to blow us all away to heaven. But His mighty arm spared us during the ensuing hail and rain storm. It was at this age that I had learned how to read German in school.  I loved to sing praises to our God.  Frequently after suppertime in the winter I would have no homework.  While the others did theirs, I would ask Papa and Mama to sing hymns with me out of their two little black German hymn books.  I sang lustily and eagerly. I’m grateful my parents made me bi-lingual. In adulthood I had the privilege of acquiring knowledge of Latin, Greek and Hebrew. And now in my disability, I learning to read and sing hymns in the ancient Sorbian slavic language of my fathers. The following February, on a Saturday, Papa was out in the field next to the house, plowing. A dry “Norther” was howling and Charlie was outside sawing more firewood with a buck saw.  Mama was baking bread in the kitchen stove. She stoked high the fire in our heater stove. Edith and Lydia were embroidering. Gilbert and I were playing with a game we had gotten for Christmas.  Suddenly Papa burst through the kitchen door. In an agitated voice he asked Mama if she was burning “keen” (pieces of pine lumber). When she replied negatively. “Dan ist unseres Haus an Feuer!” Gilbert and I were quickly instructed to run up the lane to Mrs. Ida’s house – about 400 feet – to tell her.  Papa ran into the yard to pull water from our shallow well.  Edith immediately did what Papa had instructed her to do if ever our house caught on fire: She ran to the big ward robe, grabbed a small, locked, metal box. She ran out of the house with it, into the freshly plowed field. Inexplicably, she heaved the box as far as she could fling it. Unknown to us, someone had wallpapered over an unused flue vent on the opposite side of our heater vent. It started an attic fire directly above the big ward robe that stood nearly to the ceiling. In a few more minutes our little home would have burned up like a tinder box. But Papa, standing on a chair, with his bare fingers bent the nail that held up the attic lid.  Mama handed him a bucket of water and then another. The fire was out. In the meantime, Gilbert and I breathlessly reached Mrs. Ida’s home.  “Our house is on fire” was our greeting to her and her daughters, Lucille and Lillian. “Quick, get into the car”, she said.  But I had already turned around and was running back to our house in a pair of house shoes I had received for Christmas.  I know Miss Ida drove her sedan as fast as she could – but I beat her back to the house. Today headlines would read: “Eight-year- old lad wins race with ’36 Olds.” Most of the burning took place directly on top of the ward robe.  I still possess the five-cent cigar box that was singed on its edge. Papa’s biggest loss was the only memento he had from his father – his Sunday-best felt hat. Only the inside lining remained. Papa was dejected about that, but glad that he had saved the house.  He also was proud that Edith had rescued the metal box, for it contained his biggest material possession – an army bonus certificate for serving in World War I in France. It was worth $500 in cash. That Fall he took it and Mama to Temple one day.  When they came home, we children had just finished doing the chores. At supper Papa announced that we would soon move again – he had put his army bonus down as down payment on the run-down Coon farm. It was located on the Leon river bottom,  adjoining uncle Oswald’s farm. We were all excited. So early in 1939 the wagons were loaded again.  Mr. Herman Melcher was one of the kind people who helped. He loaded up his wagon with the corn Gilbert and I hadn’t shucked yet. Papa told me to ride along to show him the way. Herman had an old mule and a young colt he was “breaking in” for a team. The wagon had no breaks.  When we came to “Carlisle’s Hill” that leads into the Leon river valley, I said: “Mr. Melcher, I can jump off and tie up one of the back wheels”(a precaution I had observed my Father take in such situations).  “Naw, why bother,” he said and proceeded down the steep hill, pulling hard on the teams reins.  By the time we reached bottom, the wild colt’s collar was up by its ears and the team was at full trot. Another in a series of frightening experiences in my young life! God’s holy angels were yet to do more in protecting me in later life.

Vignette # 7

A year after I quit being a “rodeo cowboy” an event occurred that was worse than being gored by a Brahma bull. It caused a series of events that left lasting impressions on my outlook on life. It also created a time of crises and testing for my parents that purified their faith into pure gold. Through it all the Lord used my parents to be twin towers of comfort, strength and inspiration to me. This event also began on a clear and crisp December morning. However, I must first relate some prior episodes of injury and illness which God used to prepare me for this event.  It far exceeded the first major pain I experienced when I tripped in the summer of 1936 on the roots of that gigantic oak under which I was born. My left forearm bore the brunt of my fall.  Mama in her quiet and efficient manner ripped off four short slats from an apple box and made a splint on my arm and put in a sling for several days. It far outmatched the discomfort I vaguely remember having at age 3 when I had scarlet fever. Beside my discomfort I do remember clutching at the vertical iron rods of my baby bed while wildly wailing and weeping. My first experience of a traumatic accident that required the care of a physician happened the Spring of 1935.  Papa was plowing the garden with the sweep stock.  My shoeless feet happily hopped in the newly plowed furrows behind Papa.  The fresh smelling earth would soon nurture Mama’s plantings to feed us vegetables for another year – including the turnips I disliked so much. Suddenly I stepped on a piece of glass buried in the dirt.  Once more I experienced excruciating pain, plus profuse bleeding.  Mama stopped the bleeding. She couldn’t stop the pain.  Soon it was suppertime and I refused to eat, complaining about stinging. So Papa and Mama probed with a needle, looking for a piece of glass lodged in my foot. They found none.  The pain persisted – as did my crying from pain. Whereupon the whole family boarded the Model A Ford – ’29 model year – and rode to “Votie” and “Mutta’s” house(my mother’s parents) in The Grove. My siblings were dropped off; Papa, Mama, and I continued the dozen or so miles to Moody to hopefully find Dr. McCauley.  All I remember of the visit was the hot pain of a needle as Dr. McCauley probed on the bottom of my foot. I was on my back and cried some more from pain. Through the salty tears I saw a high ceiling light. It was my first view of an indoor electric light.  The high ceiling was metal and had flower designs stamped in it. Dr. McCauley found no glass particle. He gave me something for pain, and I fell asleep on the way back to The Grove. Then at age 13 my lymph node in my left groin became infected.  I had my second visit to Dr. McCauley. He prescribed a salve called “Kaola.” After a few days the swelling and infection only became more pronounced. So did the pain. Now my parents took me to a prominent hospital in Temple to see a doctor there. “Dr. C” took one look and said, “I must operate soon.” I was admitted to the hospital – my first admission of many that were to follow in the ensuing years. “Ray” came into my room immediately after the nurse took my temperature.  He held a shaving mug with a brush in it, and a straight razor. His task was to shave my pubic area since it was adjacent to the inflamed lymph node. He took one look at my peachy fuzz, shook his head, and then crushed every ounce of machismo in my being by saying:  “Ah, why bother?” and walked out. Once in the operating room, the doctor administered an injection next to the inflamed node. Hot lava would have been a welcome relief! Suddenly I felt the red hot sting of his scalpel making a two inch incision. Oh the sweet relief of the release of pent up pressure! But then the doctor began mashing this most sensitive spot with his hands – and kept on mashing for what must have been at least seven minutes. This is where my unending adoration for nurses began. Miss Terry was holding my right hand. The beads of pain’s perspiration popped out on my forehead, and tears welled from both my eyes. Brother Charles had always urged me when hurt while playing to “be tough.” Miss Terry squeezed my hand with hers and patted me on the arm with the other while she spoke words of encouragement. Her surgical mask hid most of her face but could not hide those compassionate blue eyes. The ridge in the fabric revealed that her mouth was smiling.  My mouth, contorted in a wincing expression, weakly smiled back at her.  After the doctor squeezed out a pint of “corruption” (as he termed it) I found myself in another room. I had a new roommate – it was “VOTIE!” He had just been admitted for treatment of the early stages of the cancer that took his life about four years later.  I was delighted to be in the same room with him but did not like the times he endured intense pain. He in turn was still the practical joker, to wit: Each day Miss Miller, a cherubic nurse with natural frizzy blond hair, came in to dress the incision on my loin. Having to remove my pajama bottom was horribly embarrassing for this shy country boy. (The ten day stay did much to turn me into a person who knows few strangers.) After doing so, Miss Miller would immediately take a small two inch square gauze bandage with a pair of forceps and gingerly lay it on my shriveled manhood. (All machismo in my being had totally evaporated)  Then she would remove the taped bandage from my two inch incision, take a methiolate soaked swab and cleanse the wound. On this particular day she accidentally spilled some excess methiolate by the wound. Gravity took its course as the icy cold liquid slowly oozed down to my at-the-time raw bottom.  That moment ranks in the top ten of my lifetime painful moments.  Sucking in my breath through clenched teeth and with perspiration on my brow, I heard the distressed voice of Miss Miller:  “Oh, Elmer, honey, did I hurt your wound? I’m so sorry!”  She kept repeating her pleading question. As the fiery sensation began to abate somewhat, I assured her everything was all right. After she left the room, I told “Votie” what had actually caused my pain – methiolate oozing down on an irritated and inflamed anus spells a-g-o-n-y!  Thereupon I found it necessary to use the bed pan – I was too bashful (at that time) to allow a nurse to assist me.  Upon removing it, I began to panic for fear that I was passing huge amounts of blood. “Votie” immediately reassured me that it was the result of the cooked beets we had been served in a previous “soft diet” meal. With curved stem pipe in mouth, he did not stop chuckling – until Miss Miller returned to our room. It was practical joke time again – time to give wrong directions to MacGregor. He spilled the beans about both episodes to our nurse, and laughed most heartily.  I hid my face under my sheet. I would just as soon have stood nude in front of the Queen of England. I was so very embarrassed.  I felt Miss Miller pat me on the shoulder as she said kind words to me. Similar to Psalm 130, I went from depths of despair to complete restoration. About two years later, I unwittingly played a cruel “joke” on “Votie.”  I made a statement about hospital procedure that was truly  correct.  “Votie” disputed my statement.  I  politely retracted. But Papa had firsthand knowledge from a nurse and a doctor that I was correct in what I said. Once Papa had firsthand knowledge that favored an injured underdog, he would face up to lions or devils – ala St. Paul and Martin Luther.  He “withstood” Votie “to the face.”  “Votie” argued with Papa – somewhat irrationally.  I once more entered the fray and sided with my father. Thereafter I detected an icy aloofness by “Votie” towards  me.  My heart ached for the  previous  congenial relationship. Sometime later “Votie” lay dying. I went with my mother to see him. He was living with his son Uncle Oswald and “Tante” Frieda.  (Mama had two other brothers who married Frieda’s, too).  I waited for the moment to be alone with him. Then I blurted out something about how I meant my statement, and how under certain circumstances he could have been right. He merely grunted and took a puff from his pipe. I turned my back and faced his ancient dresser. On it was his ten-gallon hat that he wore everywhere he went. I placed it on my size seven head. The hat fit me perfectly.  I turned and faced “Votie.” Propped up in his death-bed, he gave me a kindly, sincere smile which I will always cherish.  “Der bekommt Dich,” he said in a soft voice. The hostility between us was over from that moment on.  From then on, I began to note how “Votie” let his life in Christ shine through in every attitude and word. I conveyed to Mama the incident with the hat. After “Votie” died several months later, he had few possessions of this world’s goods. His sons and daughters each took something for a memento.  Mama, as the oldest sibling, was asked to choose first.  She chose his hat. When she came home, she walked into the house holding the hat. She came to where I stood, handed me the hat and said(in German): “I want you to have this.” I have it to this day and – although a little small because of my big head – wear it on very, very special occasions. Miss Terry and Miss Miller stand for me as the epitome of compassionate nurses; my grandfather’s hat stands as a symbol of Christ Jesus’ forgiveness reconciling a grandfather with his grandson.

Vignette # 8

Now, back to that clear, crisp, December morning.  Papa usually drove Gilbert and me the two miles to Keys’ store where we would board the school bus for the additional eight miles to Moody High School in Moody. (We were always privileged to walk the two miles home after school). At about the fifth farmhouse on the route, the school bully boarded the bus. I was still a small, wiry youngster, and he liked to pick on me. Although not much taller, he was very muscular. As he walked down the bus isle, he looked away from me. I in turn looked out the left window as I sat in an aisle-seat in the middle of the bus. As he walked past my seat, he suddenly turned toward me.  With his knuckled right fist he struck a full swinging, vicious blow on the side of my right arm, directly between my elbow and shoulder.  His cruel fist found only skin and bone. I did not cry out but winced in excruciating pain. Tears filled my eyes as immediately an ugly, blue knot – the size of a goose egg  – welled up on my arm.  Mr. Shipp, our kindly bus driver, observed all this happen in his oversized mirror. At the time I thought the tongue lashing he gave the bully was adequate punishment for his cruel deed. My arm hurt so badly that I could not write in school that day. Much worse would yet befall me. The swelling went down in a few days. We went to church (a regular habit in our household) the Sunday before Christmas.  I sat in the most rear and elevated pew in St. Paul Lutheran Church’s balcony – close to the bell rope that dangled from a high ceiling.  Pastor Scaer began to preach an Advent sermon about the Coming of Christ. Suddenly I saw green spots dizzily dancing somewhere between my pupils and pastor. I felt nauseous, light-headed. No one noticed as I, with unsteady gait, descended the balcony stairs into the narthex, went out the front door, to lie down in the back seat of our model A Ford.  My head was pounding and my right upper arm was feeling warm. I began to shiver, suffering from chills. The church service seemed to last an interminable length.  Finally I heard the congregation begin to sing a beautiful Lutheran chorale – I knew the pastor’s sermon was finally over.  Little did I realize that in less than a dozen years I would, as a seminary student, preach my first sermon from that pulpit. But that morning must have influenced the fact that I seldom, in 37 years of preaching since that time, have preached sermons longer than 15 to 17 minutes. Finally the membership exited the church. After the church visiting, Mama was always the first to the car.  Upon apprising my situation, she hastily gathered my father and siblings to the car. We went home and I was put to bed. Our 90 year old home had the “dog trot” closed in, making it into a three bedroom, parlor-dining (dog trot portion), and kitchen home.  We three boys had two double beds in the high-ceiling, southeast room. It also contained a mirrored dresser and the wood heater.  Between the two beds stood a two tiered end table.  Our old Zenith radio, which Papa purchased from uncle Edwin when he connected to the new REA electric line, graced the top shelf.  The bottom shelf supported a six-volt automobile battery which powered the radio. That afternoon I was lying in Gilbert’s and my bed and listened to WOAI, San Antonio. The air force troops at Randolph field were fielding a team against some other football team. (I was infatuated with football). Listening to the game took my mind off of my ill health. Suddenly I screamed, and my mother came running from the kitchen. I felt a sensation that can best be described as a red hot sword being pierced through my right arm. The piercing pain abated in a few seconds. But every ten minutes or so it would re-occur for the remainder of the afternoon. In the meantime, my frantic parents tried every home remedy they could muster to alleviate my pain and suffering. In addition, they comforted me with various Christian assurances. I in turn reached for one of the prayer books I received from my godparents at my confirmation.  By nightfall my arm was very swollen and red – hot with fever. It was not a fun Sunday night! By morning my arm was beet-red and swollen the size of my muscular thigh. My exhausted parents took me to Doctor “C” again. X-rays were hastily taken and I was immediately hospitalized in the basement floor in the closest room to the nurses’ station.  The doctor’s diagnosis: “We don’t what it is – something around the bone, but not in the bone.  We think its rheumatic fever.” I was given endless amounts of Salicylate tablets and  a penicillin shot every 3 hours around the clock. My temperature was soaring, and the nurses sponge bathed me frequently with rubbing alcohol to keep the temperature down.  But that night it reached 104.5 degrees – despite their best efforts. I became delirious – I was told later. I vaguely remember frantic nurses and doctors hovering over me. They were sponging my naked body with isopropyl alcohol in an attempt to drive down my temperature.  Then in the early morning hours they finally got the temperature down somewhat. I fell asleep and had a horrid nightmare of my falling off a high cliff. As I helplessly tumbled down, I dreamt  I saw many, mean Brahma bulls below with sharp, long horns eagerly waiting to gore me. At that moment one nurse was taking my pulse. Horrified, she quickly brought in an Intern. I awoke. My pulse rate dropped dramatically back to a more normal rate.  The expression on their face betrayed their fear that I was about to go into cardiac arrest. Mama stayed by my bedside, while Papa went home to look after my siblings and help with the many necessary farm chores.  Brother Charlie had just returned from Korea (WWII had ended while he fought in Okinawa). Edith was home trying to get ready for her wedding in a few weeks, along with Lydia and Gilbert. My health did not improve. On day three of my hospitalization, Papa brought my siblings by to see me very briefly. They each in turned  walked by my bedside with grief  stricken  faces. As each in turn clasped my left hand and said endearing words, it dawned on me: My brothers and sisters have been told that I was about to die – they were coming to say goodbye before I left this mortal life!  And, I was well aware that young lads did die. In my previous hospitalization, my young friend Winfred Winkler was hospitalized down the hall and died of leukemia. When I was “thirty something”, I was guest preacher at St. Paul’s Church for their Mission Festival. I became very ill with a flu virus and preached the second (afternoon) sermon with a fever.  That night my brother-in-law Edmund took me to see a doctor. The doctor gave me a penicillin shot that reacted allergically.  By morning I WANTED TO DIE and prayed God to take me. Years later I performed a marriage in Seguin, Texas and ate some contaminated food at the reception as another virus and ear infection were simultaneously stalking my body. The three held a summit meeting in my head at 2:00 am that morning. Stumbling dizzily into the bath room I saw my face in the mirror. My complexion was that of a bleached but weathered piece of canvas.  On this occasion I did NOT want to die. But, I was convinced in my heart that God was loading a bus load for heaven, and I was the first passenger aboard. Here at age 15, I was indeed ready to die and be with my Savior – if God wanted that. The day before had been my birthday. It had been a great life. However, I was the only person in the room who felt that God was not yet ready for me to fully experience the ultimate life and resurrection which is through and with Jesus Christ. That Christmas Day was dreary back home. Mama, who even in her 70’s could have delicious turkey and dressing on the table in a minimum of time, was at my bedside. Papa was shuttling back and forth to Temple. Their Christmas dinner consisted of bread, pickles, and smoked (cold) sausage from the smokehouse.  (As I write these words, my current family physician has me on a liquid diet – the foregoing three foods make my mouth water). The day after Christmas, my doctor saw the swelling was receding. He dismissed me from the hospital with orders to take heavy dosages of the sodium salicylate tablets. I would not miss the every three hour, round-the-clock, penicillin shots!  I was very weak, but overjoyed to be home with my family for a belated Christmas.  Now Papa and Mama could continue with the wedding preparations for their oldest daughter! It was scheduled to be celebrated in about two weeks. I was eagerly anticipating being one of the groomsmen.  I had recently received a “new” hand-me- down, dark blue, pin-striped, single-breasted Sunday suit that I planned to wear in the wedding. I had high hopes that my arm would heal as rapidly as it had become infected. Little did I realize that this was only the end of the Beginning! THE LORD’S PRAYER (in German) Vater Unser, der du bist im Himmel. Geheiliget werde dein Name.  Dein Reich komme. Dein Wille geschehe, wie im Himmel, also auch auf Erden.  Unser taglich Brod gib uns heute. Und vergib uns unsere Schuld, als wir vergeben unsern Schuldigern.  Und furhe uns nicht in Versuchung. Sondern erlose uns von dem Uebel.  Denn dein ist das Reich, und die Kraft, und die Herrlichkeit in Ewigkeit, AMEN.

Vignette # 9

Mixing cement and gravel by hand, my family had recently poured a concrete floor in our larger of two hen houses – the one next to the windmill and cattle trough. Mama would soon be getting her eggs back from the Temple hatchery in the form of many Anaconda baby chicks. As always, these chickens were a vital cog in our families survival system.  About cotton chopping time  the cockerels  would near two pounds in size, and it marked the end time of having to eat canned beef and dried, smoked pork sausage out of the smokehouse. We got our first taste of fresh fried chicken – fried to perfection in hog lard. Mama would keep the pullets and receive from them the fruit of good breakfasts, especially when served with head sausage and molasses.  The remaining eggs would be saved in the cool cellar until it was time to take the weekly trip to Uncle Edwin’s general store in The Grove. Those eggs would usually pay for most of our staple items, sometimes there was money left over which was applied to our running tab. Each fall after the cotton crop was sold, Papa would “settle up” with the grocer.  The remainder of our groceries were grown (to be eaten fresh or canned) in our one acre garden plot. Now that I was home from the hospital, the family sprang into a flurry of nuptial preparations. Sister Edith was to marry Edmund Winkler in about ten days. My brothers were assigned to clean out the brooder hen house thoroughly. The small wood heater that was to keep the chicks warm through the cold winter was  hastily installed because a human would soon use this as sick room during the wedding celebration.  I sob with nostalgic gratitude and appreciation now on thinking back at how my parents practiced ultra compassion and concern when one of their children were ill. Papa slaughtered the fated steer. He engaged the services of Elmo Winkler to help barbecue the beef and some pork, too.  Papa was delighted to carry on the Wendish tradition of a big wedding celebration at the bride’s farm home. Mama made oodles of her county-renowned noodles. My father and I would fight infidels for the opportunity to eat them.  In the 1970’s I had the privilege on two successive years on a summer Sunday to partake of a potluck dinner at St. Paul’s church.  As usual, there were about 10 pots of noodles on the table alongside the remaining bounties of food. My mother was sitting with some other ladies by west wall of the hall on both occasions.  Each time I surveyed the plethora of noodles, pointed my finger at a particular pot, caught my mother’s eye, and see her nod that I had indeed chosen her pot. Those noodles were always sliced so thin, and had a rich, brothy appearance. Of course Mama did far more than just make noodles.  At least half the congregation would have to be fed the equivalent of two meals.  Happily the bride’s parents no longer held three  day celebrations as did my ancestors. In all the preparations I was too ill and weak to help. But I kept reassuring Edith I would be able to be in the wedding. The day of the wedding arrived.  Sister Edith looked beautiful in her white wedding dress and veil. I kept to myself the knowledge that I was beginning to feel badly, again.  Cousin Irmgard Hobratschk was the bridesmaid I was to escort. My right arm was in a sling. But for the wedding processional I took it off and hooked my right thumb into the button of my single-breasted suit coat. As it came our turn to march down the aisle, I felt very shaky.  Instead of escorting Irmgard, I took my left hand and desperately clutched her right elbow for support all the way down to the altar. Several years later I would stand before the same altar as best- man for my cousins’ wedding (“Poochie” and Irene).  The brides baby brother was ring bearer and sat in a little chair with the ring on a little pillow. He fell asleep – the ring fell on the floor and began rolling toward the furnace grate. The best man lunged to the floor with the move of a split end making a diving catch of a touchdown pass. I scooped up the ring two inches from the grate. It was only by the grace of God that I did not fall face down on the floor at the same location during Edith’s wedding ceremony.  At the recessional Irmgard marched on the opposite side of the aisle and held my arm to keep me from falling. The wedding feast began. My brothers built a fire in the brooder house stove and settled me onto a bunk bed.  My sister Lydia brought me a plate of barbecue, noodles and all the trimmings.  There just isn’t any better barbecue than The Grove barbecue.  But I wasn’t very hungry. Cousin Poochie spent time with me, as did others.  My fever was coming back. My arm was swelling again. After everyone had gone home, my parents put me in their bed. I had a restless night and my worried parents tended to me.  By morning sodium salicylate tablets were no longer helping and my arm was beet red. I was rushed back to the hospital.  X-rays were taken. The doctors diagnosis was, “We still don’t know what it is – but whatever it is, it is now IN the bone.”  The next morning the nurses wheeled me up to the top (4th) floor to my doctor’s examining room. There my parents and I were greeted by three doctors. Dr. “T” was a silver haired kindly doctor.  Dr. “H” was a gruff speaking, chain smoking doctor with a great sense of humor. They began discussing with my doctor and parents the various options.  Amputation was high on the list.  I began shaking my head sideways in disbelief. Dr. “H” caught my eye, turned to the two other doctors and said firmly,  “I say we operate and see if we can’t save this boy’s arm.”  They all agreed, and I was wheeled back to my room.  The surgery was scheduled for the following morning. The nurses were kind and sweet, my mother was compassionate and comforting.  My father became the man with the beautiful feet as he brought me God’s message of peace. He was to me a prophet for Christ.  He accompanied me as the orderlies wheeled me to surgery. As we got into the elevator he turned to me and spoke to me in German with his strong, firm voice: “Elmer, you realize you are a sinner, don’t you?” “I do,” I replied. “Well,” he answered, I want you to be firmly reassured that Jesus Christ died for you and atoned for all your sins. You are totally forgiven. Put all your trust in HIM. Christ will do what’s best for you. If I don’t see you after the operation, I’ll see you in heaven.”  “Yes, Papa,” said I as he touched me with his hand – a rare display of open affection by my father. Then he tenderly recited the hymn verse he and Mama had taught me as a bedtime prayer. I weakly mouthed the German words with him:   “Jesus, Your blood and righteousness are my smock and garment of honor. When I enter heaven, I will be enabled to stand before God because I am arrayed in these garments.” May I always be so well prepared for my death as I was that day.  I have throughout my sick-bed ministry comforted a many a Christian saint with the thoughts of that verse. Many years later I would see Papa, as an old man in his eighties, beautifully comfort Mama before her serious surgery. From memory he quoted beautiful Gospel oriented Scripture passages – one after the other – like stringing precious pearls together. Papa – for a 3rd grade education – was quite a tri-lingual theologian. When he finished, he gently patted Mama on the head. My parents seldom showed their emotions openly…unlike their youngest son who wears his heart on his sleeve. As the elevator doors opened, I was wheeled toward the operating room. I caught a final glimpse of my father as he brushed a tear from his eye.

Vignette #10

Inside the operating room where about six masked doctors and nurses.  Once more to reassure me I saw the familiar upper face of Miss Terry.  Her kind words put me somewhat at ease.  An intern doctor put a mask over my face and told me to breathe deeply.  My last memory was of the smell of ether as the huge overhead light began to blurr. I awoke groggily. I was in my room. Nurses and my mother were hovering over me at my bed. I was extremely nauseous and very thirsty (I was not on an I V). The intense pressure in my right humerus was gone. The pain was less, too. But I felt a stinging and burning sensation the length of my bicep. The nurse allowed me a small sip of water. Immediately I regurgitated. I repeated this cycle for the next hour until my nausea was gone. Finally I could keep down the water which I so desperately craved. I was surprised at the huge bandage on my arm. I slept much.  I always awoke hungry. I was told I could not have anything but water. When the doctor came in he announced to my parents that I had osteomyelitis. In explanation he said, “Your sons bone is decayed on the inside – from joint to joint.” Later I would be informed that during the surgery the doctor was going to drill holes in my bone to allow drainage of the infection. At the first try he discovered my bone was soft like mush.  Thereupon he simply punched the holes as one would stick a needle into soft cheese. At 4:00 am the next morning I was awakened by the night nurse.  “Time to dress your wound,” she said. Blood had oozed through the gauze pads. Slowly she began to cut with her scissor from my elbow to the shoulder. It must have been easier to remove Lazarus’ grave clothes when Jesus raised him from the dead.  The bandages were stuck to the total outer edges of my incision because of dried blood. More agony as she tried to pull the bandages loose, layer by layer. Finally she gradually uncovered the wound. I looked at my arm and was stunned with disbelief.  My bicep was pushed towards my chest. Next to it was a gaping 10 inch incision that was packed 4 inches wide with medicated gauze.  A total of five huge sutures were at the ends of the incision – two at the elbow end and three at the shoulder end. Out of the packing oozed a greenish colored infectious substance. Then she took a pair of forceps and slowly pulled at the packing to keep it from the bone. More agony! They say bones have no feelings.  Wrong! Psalm 22 has more meaning for me since then. This first bandage change set the tone for the next two years of my life. For the first 48 hours after the surgery I was denied all food and nourishment. I would have eagerly given up the every three hour penicillin shot that I received in exchange for food – any food.  I dreamt constantly of food and had visions of juicy chunks of beef dripping on the coals of a barbecue pit. I told nurse Marek about my dreams. She reassured me that I would receive food “soon.” The first food I received was a bowl of that which I detested the most – mushroom soup. But I was so hungry! Unsteadily with my left hand I managed a spoonful into my mouth. As the mushrooms descended my throat, my esophagus rebelled and it came back into my mouth. However, I was so hungry that I quickly swallowed once more the hated mushroom soup. Since that day I have never again been prejudiced against any food. I will zestfully eat any properly prepared food! For the next five weeks my arm was bandaged daily. More packing was pulled out each time. The incision slowly closed as massive scar tissue was forming a wide scar directly over my bone. Penicillin shots were injected every three hours into my buttocks. Like a trained seal, I turned over automatically in the middle of the night when it was shot time. My arm was not hurting very much anymore.  I fell in love with all my nurses, some more than others.  I would miss my daily bath administered by them once I got home. I ate voraciously. I spurted up in height to my present 5′ 10″.  When I got home, brother Gilbert remarked as I came through the front yard gate that I had grown as tall as he.  Once in the house, I gingerly removed my right arm from its sling and put on one of my short sleeve shirts. I was chagrined to find that my left humerus was one and one-half inches longer than my right.  The mushy, infected bone had stopped growing. My father took me back every other day to have my arm dressed by the doctor.  After about six weeks, the wound had only a tiny opening and was draining very little. Then almost imperceptibly the inside of my arm began getting red, swelling, and painful to touch. Suddenly I was back in surgery. Doctor “C” had planned the use of a local anesthesia. However, when he touched the sore red underside with a swab, I yelped in pain.  Whereupon he said those words I came to appreciate as synonymous with freedom from Post-op nausea:  “Give him some Sodium Pentothal.” The switch to my consciousness was flipped off instantly. 45 minutes later my eyes popped open in my room with instantaneous full consciousness, with no nausea! But, oh! the throbbing pain I felt in my arm at every heartbeat. Soon I was groggy as I felt the effect of a shot of (not morphine this time) a new one called “Codeine.” At the first dressing I looked at my arm and saw the old incision packed open again, plus a new incision on the underside with a miniature garden hose sticking out both sides. At that moment I was praying, “Lord, I don’t know what you have in store for me, but I need more strength from you to endure this.” The doctor said to my parents, “Penicillin is not the miracle drug we thought it would be.” But the every three hour shots continued. And the pastor came again to commune me. He left me with a devotional book which I read with regularity.  He also continued to press me to consider becoming a pastor.  He even suggested that maybe God was sending me this affliction as a course correction, since I always rebelled at the thought of studying for the pastoral ministry. After he left I prayed silently to my God: “Lord, You sent Your Son to die for me and save me for eternity. In thanks, I want to live my life for you.  Do with me what you will, but I WILL NOT try to bargain with you EVER: `If you make me well, I will become a pastor.'” I never wanted to be a pastor. However, later in my life God formed this giant “fish” known as the Divine Call, swallowed me up in it, and spit me out upon four congregations. At the time, however, my thoughts were more centered on just what the Lord was going to do with my arm.

Vignette # 11

During following weeks, as my condition once more improved, I wandered the halls, visited at the nurses station, and was allowed to watch an Intern suture up an inebriated soldier who had been in an automobile accident. My room was directly under the maternity ward. When I inquired about the screaming women’s voices, I was informed they were mothers-to-be in labor.  I gradually decided that I wanted to be a doctor – one who would not sew up the cuts on drunks, but one who would ease the pain of those suffering women. Uncle Edwin brought me model airplane kits from a Temple hobby shop. My first project was a balsa-tissue glider with a six foot wing span.  Trying to work on a hospital lap tray was not conducive towards getting all the parts properly aligned.  Many months later it crashed on its first launch. It all served the purpose to make me adept at assembling things that come in a box. After a little over six weeks, I was allowed to go home once more.  My father would bring me in several times a week for the dressing of my draining, dangling arm. On one occasion I came in with Mrs. Enis who was a beautician in Temple. Since I had to spend the day, I used fifty cents to buy myself a delicious chicken salad plate for lunch at the Hawn Coffee Shop.  Then I used my remaining quarter to see my first color movie in the Arcadia Theater: “Lassie, Come Home.” This 15 year old country boy fell madly in love with that gorgeous 14 year old beauty, Elizabeth Taylor. After about six weeks at home, I found myself back for another surgery. The arm had worsened once more. The doctor would go in and open up the incisions once more, “scrape the bone”, and I would again be in the hospital for a month or so. Then back home for a month or so. This cycle repeated itself twice more. After that my arm was almost completely healed on the outside, but not inwardly. Suddenly my father brought me back because the redness seemed to indicate that the “Osteo” was spreading into my shoulder. The two of us waited in the exam room for a lengthy period.  The doctor was not coming in, it seemed. Finally Miss Terry, who was working in the clinic that day brought in a young red-headed resident Doctor whom I liked very much. He, in a hushed tone told my father that Dr. “C” was just sitting in his office. Then he said, “Please don’t tell anyone here that I said this, but please take your son to John Sealy Hospital and see a Dr. Eggars.” I had seen my father angry before. But never had I seen him filled with such righteous indignation as he grabbed my good arm and hastily escorted me to the elevator and out of the hospital.  As I was hurried down the corridor, I caught a glimpse of my doctor sitting at his desk with his face buried in his hands, totally defeated and dejected. Doubts began to torment me if any doctor would ever be able to cure my disease. John Sealy Hospital was about 300 miles away. In desperation my father drove across town to his niece Louise. She was married to a renowned urologist, Dr. E. O. Bradfield. “Oh, uncle Ben, they have marvelous bone specialists over at the hospital where he practices. I’ve been hoping you would bring Elmer over to Scott and White Hospital.”  Rays of hope dimly dawned in the back of my mind.  The optimism was warranted, for this was slowly to become the beginning of the end.

Vignette #12

In 1947 Scott and White hospital consisted of a multi-storied building plus many other smaller buildings and re-modeled former residences.  It was sprawled out over several blocks of south Temple. My favorite nickname for it was “Sit and Wait.”  Before I ever got to see Dr. Macey, my father and I spent a day and a half going from one building to the other as I underwent all kinds of tests and exams. “Now, go to desk 88,” the receptionist finally told me. My infection seemed to be ever more creeping into my collar bone. Finally I was confronted by a gentle-voiced man who reminded me of the Hollywood actor Ray Milland. It was Dr. Macey. He had previously practiced at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He greeted me with a friendly smile, walked up to me a laid his hands ever so gently on my arm.  His soft touch made me feel that this man knew what he was about. Recently the medical community had introduced penicillin in a 24 hour injection. Dr. Macey had me injected with one immediately.  Then he gave me novel instruction. Go back home for now, wrap your arm in hot wet towels, and put hot water bottles over it.  For the past 18 months my arm hurt almost constantly.  Finally something gave me some degree of pain relief! The following Sunday morning my father took me to the emergency room because my shoulder seemed grossly inflamed and hurt me terribly. Dr. Macey’s assistant, Dr. Thomas, came from his home, consulted by phone with his tutor, and then caused me some more pain.  He sprayed something cold on my shoulder. I felt a hot streak as his steely sharp scalpel scratched across my shoulder.  Thereupon he proceeded to squeeze out with his rubber gloved fingers a pint of “yukky”, infectious corruption. Was this to be more of the same with added cruelty to a cowering teenager?  No, the hot, wet towels had done their task. In a few days I was finally admitted to a hospital ward that used to be someone’s living room. There were two extraordinary cute nurses on this ward who tended to me. I fell madly in love with both of them.  At least there was a bright spot.  Dr. Macey monitored my condition, taking X-rays every other day.  On the day he had promised to do surgery he came to my bedside, felt of my arm with his superbly professional touch (You could have blindfolded me in total silence and I could have told you when Dr. Macey was touching my arm). “Elma,” he said, “it’s not `ripe’ yet. We’ll have `money in the bank’ if we wait another week.” Then he ordered the continuance of the hot packs and those suspended-in-peanut-oil, burning penicillin shots.  At least they were given only once a day!  After a week I was taken to X-ray and then to the cast room where they placed my torso in a cast from my neck to the waist.  What is this?  I pondered the question. No one gave me an answer.  The next morning I found myself in surgery – a routine to which I had become accustomed.  The anesthetist stood behind and asked, “For how long?” “Make it for at least 45 minutes, Doctor,” came Macey’s reply. It was the last I remembered until I was sharply awakened by a breath of cold air. The orderlies and nurses were wheeling me down the sidewalk to my ward building. It was early November, and Bell County was hit by an early frost that morning. It was good to be alive. The morning was so crisp and beautiful.  I felt a warming ray of mid-morning sunshine strike my face.  Somewhat groggily I turned my head to the right and was surprised at the sight. There was a heavy cast bulk over my entire arm with a board brace at a 45 degree angle from the waist to the elbow.  My humerus was extended at shoulder level, with my hand at a 90 degree angel from the elbow. With the exception of my neck, head, and left arm, my upper torso was in a rigid cast.  This cocoon would remain unopened for 1 month. In the meantime the osteo wound drained into the massive amounts of gauze bandages inside the cast. After a few weeks, even my beloved parents didn’t like to come close to me.  Maybe that’s why I was dismissed from the hospital so quickly.  Dr. Macey had waited for a thin sliver of new bone growing from the shoulder and the elbow to kiss in the center and then sprang into action with this surgery. That was the “ripening” he had awaited. Then with the surgery he cleaned out all the old bone thoroughly until not a bit of infectious old bone remained. In the meantime, brother Charles had finished his action in the Pacific theater. In brush woods on Okinawa he received a grenade shrapnel in his side. Fortunately, his grenade in turn destroyed the Japanese officer who threw at Charlie. I was impressed with the long Japanese saber he brought home. I was also impressed with his acquired prowess as a softball pitcher. In the army he established a 27-2 game record, with two no-hit-no run games.  Gilbert was afraid to catch his swift pitches. Dr. Macey must have wondered why my cast was so broken in spots over my chest.  That cast was great protection when I missed catching one of Charlie’s fast dropping pitches. I would then toss the ball in the air, shake off the glove from my left hand, and then toss the ball back to Charlie for another pitch. It trained me to become a competent catcher (using a first-baseman’s mitt) and helped me become somewhat ambidextrous. After the six weeks had expired, I was back and Macey sawed a hole into the top part of the cast on the arm. I saw nurses turn pale with nausea as the stalwart doctor took forceps and gingerly pulled away much of the putrid infectious-drainage-soaked gauze.  My, by now, well-trained nose informed me not much fresh drainage was coming from the wound anymore. But the doctor only loosened the gauze packing inside the long incision, but he did pull out the tube that ran through from the underside incision. Then he quickly piled on fresh gauze packing and tightly wrapped shut my cast. “See you back in six weeks, Elma.”  The next time he completely removed the cast and quickly pulled out all the packing from the long incision. For a brief second I caught a glimpse of white, healthy bone. Quickly red blood (no longer any greenish-yellow, infectious drainage) gushed over the bone.  I became faint. But finally my ordeal was coming to an end.  I would be home for Christmas, this time with no fear of having to come back for more surgery. The Lord had used Dr. Macey to perform an Ezekiel style miracle of making a dead bone alive again. Many years later his son would do a marvelous surgery on my mother and give her the gift of life on earth for another dozen years.  Dr. Macey always wanted to close up all the scars on my arm. But Papa said, “No, I’ve seen it flare up again so many times, let’s wait.”  Dr. Macey died of a heart attack about two years later. I was sad. Jacob limped the rest of his life after the angel of the Lord wrestled with him. Jacob never forgot that angel! I still carry the deep scars of all those surgeries – many are mental, some are solidly seared into my soul.  I will never forget the great grace of God in providing me with doctors, nurses, and hospitals… but especially for Dr. Macey and my parents and supportive family throughout this prolonged illness. 

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