Monday, January 21, 2008

a quick glimpse back to Cheraw

I've heard a great deal down through the years - about where the Finlaysons spent most of their childhood in Cheraw. It's hard to picture my father as a young boy. Most of the images that I have are not very clear. One of these pictures is of the baseball field where all the Cheraw kids would meet and play...truly a field of dreams if there ever was one. My dad and his siblings looked back upon that particular spot with wonderful memories - which seemed to be where most of their childhood played out. Surely, this is a photo that could have inspired Norman Rockwell to capture in light and color - or Frank Capra to bring to life with sound and motion.

Their faces are not clear, but it's easy to pick out dad. He's the energetic ump on crutches. Even though my dad, aka: Westbrook, had polio since he was ten months old, he was never to my understanding on the outside looking in. He became Robin Hood and the neighborhood kids became his Merry Men. They'd pull him around in a little wagon...there was not a place in Cheraw that a child could venture- that he could not go. Young Westbrook became the organizer of many games and childhood adventures.

The picture above was a treat first to see...the actual lot I had heard tell so much of. This might be the very spot that Dad found ways to work and play far beyond his affliction. Here might be where he realized that his future wasn't handicapped because of his limbs and those little wooden crutches. He always had a crew of friends that would run the ball when it was his time to hit. He later grew in life beyond the struggle of that little field of dreams - and yes - he always had trusty comrades till the end. He was always in the game.

Even though it was that very lot where my father nearly died - it was from that lot which yielded a fine crop of memories. There was that bad day. My Uncle Murdoch tells a story that Westbrook was sitting on the sidewalk by the field playing with fireworks (I had heard once that dad was sitting in a wagon). I believe they were called Sidewalk Devils (or Devil on the Sidewalk). Anyway - this particular firework did not have a fuse to light but rather like a stick that one would strike like a match. It was one of these firecrackers that was lit and caught young Westbrook on fire. Murdoch became the hero that day...what can I say but no greater love. He heard my father's screams and ran over to him - tried to put him out with his bare hands. I believe it was an uncle who grabbed a bucket of water from behind the store (from half a block away) and put the fire out. It is my understanding that some of my dad's other siblings were there that day. A terrible thing for a child to go through - a terrible thing for children to witness.

Nevertheless - in spite of that tragic accident - growing up in that small Pee Dee River town were cherished days of wonder for my father. Isn't that something? It's been a long time since I've touch the scars that engulf my fathers legs...seen what it did to his torso. I'd sit at the foot of his bed and massage those small legs that had been strapped to those steel braces throughout a long day. He just plowed from one end of life to the other - loving his wife, his kids, going to work, and preaching holiness every chance he got.

Now most of us have tendencies to put those loved ones who have gone before upon perfect pedestals. All men have flaws and weaknesses and my dad had his share -like I have mine - like we all do. But I see a boy here in these pictures that I clearly recognize - not because of afflictions, hardships, and crutches - but a smile that lasted through out a lifetime.

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