My brother was born prematurely, with a small, closing hole to his stomach that made it almost impossible to feed him.
At the time, I was just over a year old. My mother was 17. My father was 22. Theyâ€™d been married two and a half years. My mom hadnâ€™t finished high school yet. My dad was in law school, taking 21 hours a semester, and working 40 hours a week at the only job he could find, all the way across town. My brother was sent home from the hospital with my mom, who had been bedridden for months before his birth, and had to be fed every half hour with an eyedropper. He could only have two drops. That was all that would fit through the hole. The doctors didnâ€™t want his death to impact the mortality rate at the hospital, so they sent him home.
I donâ€™t know about you, but even now that would overwhelm me, even without a one year old at home. A knock came at the door and a lady stood outside when my mother answered it. She told us her name was JW, told us the college minister at our church had told her about our situation, and she offered to help. She took my brother and kept him alive for six weeks, the time limit the doctors had set to do the surgery, since they were certain he would be dead by then.
We didnâ€™t have any money. And I donâ€™t mean we didnâ€™t have any money like you and I most often mean it today. I donâ€™t mean we didnâ€™t have money to get tickets to the Texansâ€™. I donâ€™t mean we didnâ€™t have enough money to replace the sofa, even though itâ€™s old and dirty and starting to wear out in the fabric. I mean we often didnâ€™t have enough money to buy sufficient food to feel full. And hereâ€™s my dad, working 40 hours a week while going to school, trying to figure out how to pay for the hospital bill and the two surgeons- required by law, if my brother actually does survive.
So my father made an appointment with the Dean of the law school to formally withdraw from school. Dad was in summer school and if he just quit, he would fail. Heâ€™d never have a chance to get back in. The dean agreed to meet with my father. When he heard that my father was withdrawing, he asked him why. He had already looked up my fatherâ€™s records and knew that he was in the top of the class; he didnâ€™t want to lose a good student.
After my father told him the problem, the dean asked my dad why he didnâ€™t just get a job. My dad looked at him, probably in shock, and said, â€œI already work forty hours a week.â€ Then it was the deanâ€™s turn to stare. My dad not only took 21 hours a semester, more than a full load, he also edited the Law Review. Now he was telling the dean that he worked full time as well?
The dean called his personal banker and asked him to bring over loan papers. The dean co-signed the loan. My father protested. â€œWhat if I canâ€™t pay it back?â€ When my father said that, the dean looked at him and laughed. â€œYouâ€™re responsible enough to come withdraw, youâ€™ll pay it back, and, if you donâ€™t, Iâ€™ll have the privilege of knowing there is a good lawyer out there, partly because of me.â€
JW kept my brother alive long enough for the doctors to have to do the surgery and the dean arranged for financing the procedure. One of the surgeons worked for free.
This is the story I mentioned in Family History. It’s the story I thought my kids knew.
I told them that I had told total strangers at church this story and that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t told them. I have now. But I thought I had already.