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Often, a handicapped person is capable of showing love in ways far above the abilities of normal people, and in turn is loved much by those receiving his love.
On the Mississippi Delta cotton plantation I managed for two decades, Percy, a little black boy with an ever-present gap-toothed smile, was loved much among the workingmen. Slightly lame in one leg, he garbled words, and was not quite a hundred percent mentally.
What we loved most about him was that he was incapable of complaining. He just wanted to be with us when we headed to the fields each day, and we wouldn’t think of leaving without him.
On those days, Percy spent most of his time in my pickup. He loved flipping among radio stations until he recognized a tune, and would sing along. Although his words were incomprehensible, his singing voice was so beautiful that we often stopped working to listen.
On spring days when planting was in full tilt, Percy would ride a while with one tractor driver, and then with another. When he got tired, he’d lie in the rear of the pickup, basking in the warm sun, and sleep so soundly that even the roar of machinery didn’t awaken him.
Dad, my boss, felt that knocking off for lunch was out of the question. “Keep everything rolling from sunup to sundown, son,” he’d say. “We can’t waste a minute if we want to come out with a good crop. Until the last bale of cotton is ginned and the equipment stored, farm work never stops.” So, I’d go to Tony Fratesi’s store just down the road, and buy boxed lunches for everyone, including Percy.
Around noon, he would ask, “Is we go tuh Missah Tony sto’, Ju,” he’d garble. (The hands called me Junior, but the best Percy could muster was Ju.)
“Yep,” I’d answer. “Tony might be cooking catfish today.” The kid loved fried catfish. When we arrived, folks from other farms spoke to Percy, patted him on his head, and gave him candy. He was just what he wanted to be: one of the guys.
When we walked into the store, he’d shout, “Missah Tony, Ju wone lunks fuh de mens.” Tony would nod as I held up fingers for the number of lunches needed. When we returned to the farm, Percy would hand out the meals. Each man got more than food — he got that beloved gap-toothed smile.
Christmas was Percy’s favorite time of the year. I would often take him to town at night, and we’d ride around, looking at all the decorations. If he saw Santa Claus outlined in colored lights, Percy would sing his favorite Yuletide song: “He come Sanna Claw, he come Sanna Claw….”
One Christmas I gave him a gift that he cherished above all others: a baseball cap. What he gave me in return was priceless: a big smile and a hug. Then he said, “Mewwy Crimma, Ju.”
From Percy and me to everyone: Mewwy Crimma!