The Plymouth sedan rolled to a stop in the parking lot of our little house of worship. The left door opened and a metallic glitter caught my eye as the driver began the process of exiting her car. It was a process. She swiveled slowly so both her legs, framed in stainless steel braces, dangled to the outside.
What caught my eye next was her face. Angelic? The adjective wasn’t in my word-store then but, yes. A quality beamed from the young woman’s face. Almost like a glow. Opaline’s smile overtook me. It has never left.
Falling in love with Opaline was more enchantment than romance. An unlikely combination of hardware and disposition fueled the attraction. Full limb braces on both legs combined with her smile. My meeting her at roughly age five spawned a long journey of regard. And affection. How can full-length leg braces and this kind of smile converge? My gaze dropped. I surveyed my malformed shoe fashioned so by pressure from an equally malformed foot. I smiled just as the reason for the smile caught up with the action itself. I shared a common affliction. . with an angel!
What could a flooded pasture and a paralyzing disease have in common? Perhaps nothing.
My father, Clyde Lout, was a living testament to a rural adage. Dust bowl issues succeeded in taking the boy out of the country and on to California urban centers. Nothing prevailed however at taking the country out of the boy. Oklahoma soil, long recovered from the droughts of the 1930’s, beckoned.
We moved to a small acreage outside town. Twin pear trees in the pasture – limbs heavy with their treasures most summers – supplied Tim and me with climbing and feasting pleasures. Don’t eat them when they’re green! was our mother’s (sometimes-heeded) admonition.
Our sister Betty exercised more wisdom than her young siblings. Tim and I first learned to swim near the same pear trees in the pasture. Not in a pond or in a stream running through the pasture. We set in motion our first-ever strokes in the pasture itself.
A red-brown waterway called the Deep Fork River snaked through the countryside west of our place. During a late spring season in the mid-1950s continued rains flooded the Deep Fork. Ongoing downpours overflowed every creek and stream.
Rising waters flooded lowlands, submerging much of our five acres. Once the rain stopped my brother and I splashed about in the chest-deep mix of water and floating debris. Discovering buoyancy we propelled our way through tree bark, sticks and limbs, assorted leaves and hollowed pecan shells. And here and there – given it was the habitat of farm animals – other matter as well.
My second bout with the polio virus far exceeded the first in its severity. Whether my pastureland swim factored into the soon approaching paralysis is unresolved.
I was nine years old. My legs simply stopped working.
©2015 Jerry Lout