Some of the best stories is when the cat doesn’t get stuck in the tree

I once had a newspaper editor give me his rule of thumb for what is and what isn’t news. ‘Cats climb trees every day,’ he said, ‘and that’s not news. But if a cat climbs a tree and gets stuck and the fire department has to rescue it … that is news.’

A couple of news items this week brought that analogy back to mind.

Let me explain.

One story involved a young Armenian mother who turned her back on her newborn baby who was born with Down Syndrome and told hospital personnel to institutionalize the infant. The cat got stuck in the tree and the story made international news after the woman’s husband refused to give the child up and the couple is now divorcing.

The second story involved far less fanfare and was found on the obituary page of this newspaper. I was saddened to learn about the death of Carmen Lampley, 81, of Benton. I had met Carmen and her husband Kenny some 30 years ago through Benton Little League baseball. The Lampleys are the parents of eight children and their youngest son Rusty has Down Syndrome.

Rusty Lampley at last year’s Immanuel Baptist Church’s “Night to Shine.”

I spent 20 years coaching baseball in the Mustang League – 9 and 10-year-old boys. One spring I was approached about a youngster with Down Syndrome being on my team. Certainly, I had some concerns about his safety, how he would react with the other boys and me … and on and on. Finally, I said let’s give it a try and I met the Lampleys and their son Rusty, who was 10 years old. The first day I met Rusty I walked up to him and he stuck out his hand and said ‘give me five.’ When I started to slap his hand he pulled it back, quickly raised his hand and ran his fingers through his hair and, with a twinkle in his eyes said, ‘gotcha.’ Every practice, every game the rest of that summer Rusty and I played the ‘gotcha-game.’

The highlight of that season came one game when Rusty scored the winning run with me running beside him from third base trying to coax him to home plate. Coaching Rusty was a great memory, still vivid after 30 years.

I went by the funeral home last Saturday morning to pay my respects and it was a conversation I had with Carmen’s daughter Kerrie that’s prompts today’s offering. Standing beside the casket Kerrie told me about her mother’s reaction when she learned at age 40 that her newborn son had Down Syndrome. She said doctors approached her mother after the birth about institutionalizing Rusty.

“She listened to what they had to say,” she told me. “Then she told them without any hesitation: ‘he will be going home with me.’”

After listening to her comments I immediately thought of the contrast with the story trending worldwide about the young couple splitting up over the same question.

Kerrie went on to say that her mother also handed out a somewhat stern set of instructions to her large family concerning Rusty.

“I can still see her pointing her finger and telling us, ‘he will be treated just like everybody else in this family and none of you will make fun of him and you won’t allow anybody else to make fun of him.’”

And for 41 years that’s been the rules that the Lampley family has lived by concerning Rusty.

Obituaries are adequate and purposeful when describing the highlights of a person’s life but most often they fail to reveal the real fabric of that person. That thought crossed my mind when I read about the death of Carmen Lampley.

For those of us who knew the story between those lines, we knew of a woman who loved God, her children and her church. And equally important we knew about a woman who, at age 40, bravely, selflessly and without hesitation said seven words – He. Is. Going. Home. With. Me. – and signed on to love, protect and care for a special needs child. It was a commitment she had to know would last the rest of her life. And it did.

As a footnote, I saw Rusty at the visitation. I hadn’t seen him in many years. I walked up to him and started to ask him if he remembered me when he said, ‘Jim.’ Then, just like clockwork, he stuck out his hand and said, ‘give me five.’ Knowing what was coming I laughed when he pulled his hand back, ran his fingers through his hair and with that same twinkle in his eye, said ‘gotcha.’

Sometimes the best, most honest and heartwarming stories are when the cat doesn’t get stuck in the tree.

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