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Al Batt: A swagger isn’t far from a walk with a limp in reality

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


His ancient pickup had undergone more oil changes than any vehicle in Iowa.

That’s what legends are made of.

I knew him because his son and I had gone to different schools in adjacent states together. He was a leaning man due to a limp and wore bib overalls as his garb of contentment. “How’s your good self?” I asked. He took it from there. He was typically a man of few words, but this day his mouth had no lid. I hadn’t asked, but he told me he’d been the fastest boy in three counties. He was so fast, no one could beat him. No one was even willing to race him. One day, he carried firewood home from a treed hill. On the peak of that hill perched a large rock. He decided if no one would challenge him, he’d challenge that rock. He’d never heard of anyone racing a stone or trying. He teased the rock as he often did his slower opponents. He made fun of its slowness. He decided it needed a push. He rocked the boulder back-and-forth until it began to roll down the hill. It still moved slowly. He figured the rock was stiff from not having stirred for many years. He ran past it, turning slightly as he ran downhill to mock the rock. He tripped over a small stone on the sidehill. The large rock ran over his leg. That did him no good. His days of winning races were over. So were his days of making fun of others. I figured he was making a point, but only he knew for sure what it was.

It probably wasn’t a true story. It was likely one he’d heard. Stories are like shoes, they travel.

I blew out a knee in high school football. Unfortunately, it was my knee. It was a great unpleasantness. I still made all-conference in the poor-poor-pitiful-me position on the defensive team. It ruined a promising career as someone who raced large rocks.

I wanted to play, so I got cortisone shots from needles only slightly shorter than yardsticks. Did you know they’re not making yardsticks any longer? I digress.

While in college, I enlisted in the Army. I had three physical exams before being declared unworthy (classified 4-F) because of that knee, denying me a career in KP. That process lasted longer than medical school.

Everyone suffers injuries. Our pain thresholds vary. A nasty paper cut might hurt one more than a broken leg does another.

In football practice, we had a drill where 47 (maybe more) players were on one team that kicked off to the two players who made up the opposing team. The 47 (maybe more) tried to tackle the ball carrier while the rival player without the ball tried to block all 47 (maybe more). For the runner, avoiding all those tacklers was like hitting a ground ball through the infield when I played in a baseball game at The Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa. There were 47 (maybe more) players on the infield. I hit two fly balls into the corn. OK, I hit two pop flies into the corn, but they counted as home runs. I told my wife that they were massive blasts that everyone who’d witnessed them would be talking about for the rest of their lives. I said it modestly. I didn’t tell my wife that the cornfield was close enough I could see it had pierced ears. The woman has enough on her mind, without bothering her with minute details. Back to football practice. The 47 (maybe more) tried to tackle the ball carrier and they were always successful. I didn’t need a canary in a coal mine to know that getting tackled by that many was dangerous. It was like getting run over by a truckload of pugnacious, rolling rocks. They piled on prodigiously. I saw a teammate break a leg. It was one of those serious injuries that never healed properly. He has a limp.

A doctor told me that every injury I’d sustained would revisit me one day. Sort of in-body haunting.

Why did we do it? It made us tough. It would have made us stupid, but we were already stupid. Our coach was good. He had the manipulative techniques of a cult leader.

Many people have hitches in their gitalongs. We are the walking wounded for as long as we can walk.

If a day limps along, the best thing we can do is limp along with it.

Al Batt’s column appears every Wednesday.