As you meander down life’s highway, you meet a lot of personalities and many leave an impression whether you realize it or not at the time.
In the sixth grade I met up with this guy named Dick Stapleton. It was the beginning of the school year and Mrs. Powell asked this kid, “Where were you yesterday?’ His reply was, “I hopped a coal train.” He then proceeded to tell her how he jumped off the State Route 139 bridge that went over the tracks and threw coal off down past their house (they lived right beside the tracks). His job then was to jump off the train, go back, pick up coal, and take it home.
Since I lived 2 miles down Swauger on the farm, this sounded like a Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn adventure to me. I was impressed.
Dick and I butted heads in basketball and baseball and we got into several scuffles. It was a turf and acclimation thing.
In high school we were at the right place at the right time for both of us. We both were freshmen and in a brand new Minford football program. Dick and I both grew a lot with the new program. Opportunity
was there and we were both hungry for it. We both started and lettered that year. That was the beginning of us both getting to know what each other was really about.
What had been a superficial power struggle before, now became a much more united “Band of Brothers” attitude. We both realized that at this point we were in this together and it was bigger than us or our differences.
This was the beginning of a 4 year relationship of friendship that would carry over through today. I’m writing this in St. Johns, Florida where we’re visiting my baby sister, Bev. Yesterday, Margie (Strickland) Yeagle called me to tell me that Dick had a massive heart attack and that really stirred a lot of memories.
As much as I regret his passing, I truly appreciate a day a month ago. I was up in a tree with an arborist chainsaw doing some pruning on a tree on Farney Street when up walks Dick. I came down and we talked for a couple of hours about now and then. I am very thankful for that brief encounter with him to catch up on the past and present and connect the dots in between.
I’ve known for a long time that Dick was one of those people who appeared tough and impervious on the outside but on the inside he was very good-hearted and would give to those less fortunate. He was a guy we called “Moose” as our tackle on the team but down deep, in my opinion, was just a misunderstood good guy with a big heart.
I would jokingly always tell Diane (his wife) that I sympathized with her but we both knew she married a good guy. As it turns out, I suspect that I’m on a long list of people who got to know Dick for who he really was and appreciate his inner qualities that he was really about. He was probably one of the first lessons in life that I received in my learning curve off the farm, that life isn’t all that fair and all men aren’t necessarily created equal.
This one’s for you, Moose.
Dudley Wooten is the owner/operator of Wooten’s Landscaping and Nursery and can be contacted at 740-820-8210.