By Jeff Jefcoat, F118344
Sometimes we try to take shortcuts and they do not always work out as planned. In October 2001, I did just that.
We were home for a brief period, and I needed to mow the pasture in preparation for winter. I decided to quickly sharpen the blades on my 6-foot bush hog mower, which weighs approximately 1,000 pounds. In my haste, I did not safely secure the housing, and as I was under the mower removing the second of two blades, the unit fell on me. Being trapped under a crushing pressure, all my energy was being spent trying to breathe, and I could not speak. The friend who I refer to in the following article was with me. He had the presence of mind to get on the tractor, start it, and engage the hydraulic system that lifted the mower from my body. Except for a badly bruised arm and rib cage, and a terribly bruised pride, I was okay.
I know, as sure as I am writing this article, that I would have died under that mower had it not been for Earl Cumalander’s action on that day.
Below is my story about Earl, an article first published in FMC magazine in July 1998. I believe it is a story worth repeating.
I wonder how often we as FMCA motorhomers stop to think how fortunate we are to roam over this beautiful land. Whether we are out for a weekend or an extended journey, we are the envy of many people who will never enjoy even a small token of what you and I may take for granted, the open road. The following true story is about someone who gives me daily inspiration to live life to the fullest. His name is Earl Cumalander. He’s my neighbor and my friend.
Earl finished high school in 1969. He loved being outside and was fascinated by heavy equipment such as dump trucks, bulldozers, and backhoes. He had a high school sweetheart, a job in construction, and was very happy with the way his life was going.
In December 1969, a terrible accident changed his life and the lives of those around him forever. A wrecking ball attached to a crane slipped and glanced off his head. He suffered a severe brain injury and was not expected to live. He was in a coma for three months.
He lost his ability to work. Eventually, the high school sweetheart moved forward with her life and now is married with two children. Earl had many reasons to stay down. But he didn’t. Very slowly, he began to show improvement. Gradually, Earl regained his ability to talk and walk. He was especially proud of his ability to take the truck out for a drive, even if it was only into town a mile away. As motorhomers, we all know the great feeling you get when you climb behind the wheel and hit the road!
One day I got my lawn tractor stuck in the mud, and Earl pulled me out with his truck. It wasn’t five minutes until I got stuck again in the same hole. Earl pulled me out again, but this time he put a few words on me. He said, “Jeff, if the Lord put both our brains in a jaybird, he would probably fly upside down and backwards.” I made sure to stay away from that hole thereafter.
Although he made a tremendous recovery, one side of Earl’s brain was severely damaged. The doctors placed a stainless-steel plate in his head. He lost sight in one eye and hearing in one ear. Next came the news that Earl was diabetic. First one kidney failed, and then the second. For several years, his mother drove him 15 miles each way, three days a week, to spend five hours at a dialysis clinic. To this day, she must give him shots of insulin twice daily, and check his blood sugar on a regular basis.
On Thanksgiving eve 1995, a call came from the University Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina. A kidney match had been located. Earl was to go to Charleston immediately to receive a kidney transplant. One of our finest hours as motorhomers came when we brought Earl home from Charleston in our motorhome. He still talks about coming home in the “biggest ambulance” in Little Mountain. He also brags that he’s had three kidneys to my two.
In late 1997, the anti-rejection medication and diabetes contributed to an infection in Earl’s good eye. He can no longer drive his truck, but he still comes to visit me almost daily when we’re at home. Imagine losing that sense of freedom that you get every time you climb behind the wheel and drive away. Isn’t that part of the magic of motorhoming?
Even after all these problems, I’ve never seen Earl when he wasn’t sporting a friendly grin. God left him a happy person. His span of attention is near that of a 5-year-old child. His wit and devilish grin, along with his many pranks, make him a person that you cannot help but like. Yes, he can get on your nerves sometimes, with his corny riddles and older-than-dirt jokes. But his mother sums it up best: “He was good-natured and happy before he got hurt, and that hasn’t changed. The doctor told us before he came out of the coma that his personality might change to being bitter and angry, but it didn’t. That’s been a blessing for Earl and everyone else. You have to know what Earl has been through to really appreciate how far he’s come and how well he gets along.”
Recently another neighbor, Hugh Clements, wrote an article about Earl. Hugh wrote: “When I first met him, I didn’t really appreciate Earl’s good humor and cheerfulness, because I didn’t know him very well. The better I got to know him, the more I respected and admired him. Earl is like that wristwatch John Cameron Swasey used to advertise on television “” he’s taken some lickings and kept on ticking.
“He’s a very caring person who sees the good in life and others. He’s always smiling and trying to make others feel good. He’s a strong-willed person who never gives up. He takes the bad with the good and just keeps on going and going and going. He’s a blessing to those who take the time to know him. In many ways, Earl Cumalander sets an example we’d all do well to follow.”
One day, my wife, Jean, and I found Earl in a diabetic coma. This frightened us. We now know the symptoms and always keep the necessary food and drink items on hand. As long as he is telling jokes and asking riddles, and you may hear the same jokes over and over again, he is okay. If he gets quiet and his smile and grin are replaced with a sullen look, we know it’s time for action.
There is one area where a different Earl emerges “” in the game of checkers. It doesn’t matter whether it is one of his twin nieces, the preacher, or the UPS man, Earl is always conniving to sucker someone into a game. He gives you that “Awe, shucks, I’m just a dumb ol’ country boy” come-on, and the first thing you know, you’ve been had. He plays to win and shows no mercy. He muffles a snicker when he wins, and mutters inaudible sounds on the rare occasions when he loses.
When you play checkers with Earl, after your first loss, he comes on as a good sport and offers you a chance at revenge. Then it’s the best two out of three, best three out of five, etc. When he senses that you are really going to end the session, he says, “Let’s play one more for the World Series.”
Every morning, when Jean and I are home, I can set my watch by Earl’s phone call. The call typically goes like this: “Hey, Jeff, whatchie doin’?” Regardless of my answer, his next reply is “Ya wanna play a game?”
I’m proud to call Earl Cumalander my friend. I enjoy telling him all about the many places we visit and the fine people we meet as we travel across this continent in our motorhome. Maybe there’s an “Earl” whom you know. Look close; a friendship could be very rewarding. Some stories about your travel adventures might be more appreciated than you think.
By the way, remember that high school sweetheart? She still calls every week to check on Earl and make sure he’s okay.