The 63 yr old Man Behind the Toy Gun – by Billie April

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my Uncle Steve. Who he could have been and the impacts he could have made. But I do know that regardless of who he is today the impact he has made on me is irreplaceable.

My uncle steve was just a toddler the second to the youngest of 6 siblings born to my Grandma Jo & Grandpa Dick. He was just toddling around enjoying life. I don’t know the specifics real well, but I imagine he was just chasing a butterfly or simply trying to catch up to his older brother, maybe he was off to explore the big world or just walking to my Grandpa to climb on his lap to cuddle or ask for him to read him a book. I don’t know what he was doing at that exact moment, but that moment changed his life and the life of many around him. As his little legs were taking their little joyful steps, the family dog ran under him. Knocking him off his balance, causing him to be without air for several moments. It was the 50’s. My Grandmother did what she knew. She called the doctor. Living miles outside of the California town the Doctor assured my Grandmother that he would be okay. But he wasn’t. He suffered significant brain damage. Causing him to never have brain development further than that of a small child. I don’t think that my Grandmother ever forgave herself for not doing something more to save my Uncle from the outcome of that incident. I personally can’t imagine the guilt and pain she herself suffered.

My father was the youngest of the bunch, he came several years after Uncle Steve. But to my Uncle steve, my father is “Big Brother Bill”. Growing up, I shared my birthday cake and opened presents with Uncle Steve at “The Farm” his birthday is just 2 days before than mine. Even though by this time my Uncle Steve Was living at a group home in Coolidge, My grandparents had a room just for him at their farm house in Franklin. In the far corner of his room was his dresser. The bottom drawer was my DREAM!!! A whole drawer of Cowboy and Indian dress up clothes. As a young 5 year old girl I thought it absolutely ridiculous that I had to be so careful with a toy cap gun and a plastic headdress. I didn’t feel it necessary that a 40 year old man couldn’t share his holster and cowboy hat with me and why in the world could I NEVER be the one to wear that darn Sherrif’s badge.

As I’ve grown older I have learned so much from those that suffer from mental issues like that of my Uncle steve. Although it hurts my heart thinking of all the things he could have possibly done that he never had the chance to do and accomplish. The kids he never fathered, the wife he never got to meet, the university he never graduated from. I am thankful for the lessons I have learned through him.

These days my Uncle Steve still lives at the same group home, he still dresses in his cowboy shirts and sings the cowboy songs of Johnny Cash and George Jones. My father picks him up once a month to take him to The Cracker Barrel for a hamburger, french fries and a chocolate shake. My mom helps him pick out new shoes and fills his request for a “red cowboy shirt” they stop for an Ice cream then they pick up a dozen of Krispy Kreme donuts to take back to his friends at the group home. They send us pictures and videos of him riding his Tricycle and funny photos of him at Old Tucson. This is the life of my sweet uncle Steve, he is precious and sweet. Innocent like a child.

Yesterday I got to speak to him through a phone call. I was joyed to ask him about his hamburger. I tried to piece together his mumbled words. Even with the heavy heart I carry for him, I couldn’t help but smile.It was a reminder not to take one moment, not one breath for granted. My Grandma never knew how much her life was about to change that day so many years ago. She didn’t know that her sweet toddler’s brain development would basically come to a halt despite his six foot frame he would grow into.  I pray today, for all the families that have children that have disabilities. For all the families that struggle first hand with children that just aren’t like everyone else. I have heard so many stories of what it was like growing up with Uncle steve and all that my grandparents endured through the years of raising him. The guilt, heartache and even sometimes the shame they received. I never have had to face it with my own children or siblings but I absolutely can not imagine what it must be like.  So today, with my Uncle steve so heavy on my heart I pray for all those families facing such times. May God bless you with strength and courage and may he bless us all with compassion and empathy.    


Billie April


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