James Lee’s Legacy

My cousin, James Lee Clinton, was as Texan as they get. He loved his Texas sports teams, his cattle and the prairie. And he loved people so much he never met a stranger. He loved life enough that he didn’t let a little physical detour hold him back.

James Lee was hit by a car when he was young. The encounter left him with a noticeable hitch in his get-a-long, as Texans call a marked limp, and with an errant arm and clenched hand that sometimes defied authority.

When I was a kid visiting regularly during summers on my grandparents farm, I only knew that James Lee did everything right along side us counsins despite his halting gait and frequently awkward grasp. Baseball in the pasture in front of the house was played with as many good arms as kids could muster. And running was different, but his enthusiasm and giggle were at top speed. July fireworks were a bit touch and go but what’s a little scorch on an otherwise play filled night.

And, oh, the driving lessons. I’ve never seen a skipping type runner move so fast as when he drove the tractor into the bar pit and ran to the house for dear life. If the kids were gonna do it, James Lee was not to be denied. Baiting a hook was no problem either, nor was the same run, always the same jagged run, from many a water moccasin sighting at the pond.

One time we went deep into the river bottom to rig fishing lines. We talked like silly boys stompin’ through the bog and woods and knowin’ we could conquer the world if we wanted, James Lee and I. When we came back covered head to toe with chiggers and ticks and Mama Taylor had to pick us clean, James Lee laughed
so hard I though he would shake the ticks right off. He laughed even as we were being chastised for riskin our lives chasing around dangerous territory. And laughed and laughed in the face of the lecture and the doctoring ’till the whole house was giggling in tune.

I remember being young and noticing other people stare at my cousin when we went to town. There were times when I felt embarassed at the stares. Too young and not strong enough to be my own person yet. Wondering if James Lee made me look different. Or, what the people thought who stared.

We were an innocent bunch of kids then and unaware of the wonderful lesson James Lee was teaching us. You see, he lived beyond what some people thought were disabilities. He never held back and to my knowledge never asked for any special treatment. Just let him in the game, whatever it was, and James Lee would hold his own.

He died in an accident, a young man, with lessons still to teach. As children, we didn’t know then the legacy James Lee would leave us. But I know now, much older and wiser, the gifts from those others would segregate. And in many other of my friends, acquaintances, and parents of children with disabilities, I feel good seeing what I know is James Lee’s legacy: a life lived on his own terms

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