NOTE: The following is a reconstruction of a piece I wrote to the Texarkana Gazette in 1999 after receiving news of Marschall’s death from my mother. Whilst that article remains somewhere in items I received after my mother’s death, I have not located it. A recent posting in “Remember in Texarkana” on Facebook spurred me to re-write it. There were a number of errors and omissions corrected by Marschall’s relatives, and a couple of things I’d forgotten, that are included in this version.
Remember when you went to school with nothing but people of your own race, and there were no wheelchairs and most everyone was pretty much perfect?
I remember when that first changed, and it was one of the most positive learning experiences of my life.
I cannot be certain, but it was either ‘59 or ‘60 and the 4th or 5th grade at North Heights Elementary when Marschall Caven Rivers showed up the first day of school. He was taller than any of us, and looked really strange. He was bony and shuffled as he walked. His speech was slurred and hard to understand…and he drooled a bit. He was born with CP. The first day, his mother stayed with him. We had lunch on the playground that day and I was 10 or 15 feet away in a small group as he and his mother sat down to eat. We were making fun of him, not loudly but you know how unaware kids are of how things are heard. Somebody said something about “I don’t want to eat with THAT” and I repeated it as a “…me either.” Mrs. Rivers overheard us and said quietly and calmly “That’s OK…I’ll eat with him.”
I was immediately so sick with shame I wanted to sink into the ground. I got my lunch, sheepishly wandered over and sat down with them. She looked at me and just said “This is my son Marschall.”
Over the year I began to spend more and more time with Marshall. Amongst other things, we shared a love of the 3 Stooges and would play parts. Marschall would laboriously write scripts and we’d act them out. When summer came, I started visiting him at their home in Mandeville. They had an enormous old dairy barn which was cool and shady. It had large wooden beams where I could climb and sneak up on Marshall as a monster or ghost in a 3 Stooges bit. We both knew almost every 3 Stooges film by heart. He found a large pile of old fashioned quart milk bottles and excitedly in his best “Curly” voice said “Hey, Moe! AHHOooo, LOOK! I found a cows nest!” It was a world of fun and we laughed a lot together.
In the 5th grade many of us joined the band. So did Marschall. He wanted to play the trumpet and struggled for weeks with a mighty determination under the patient tutelage of Bob Jordan, our fine band director. All the rest of us would wait patiently as he attempted to develop a “buzz” so he could play. After a considerable time, he decided on his own that “his affliction,” as he referred to it, would prevent his learning to play. We were all quit sorry, but respected both his determination to try as well as his judgment in knowing when to quit.
We spent less time together as we moved on to North Heights Junior High, but still spent some time together. Each year we had an amateur talent show. Marschall took center stage in the gym with a microphone and lip synced “Mack the Knife.” He did a good job and got great applause. I was proud of him because he had more guts than I did and I knew it. The next year, it was “Sherry Baby” and he nailed it. He won, and it was by no means a sympathy vote. By this time, everyone accepted him and there was little or no joking about his appearance or actions. When we had guest football games and visitors made any overt attempts to ridicule or taunt him, they were met with solid force and set straight in a hurry. They’d backpedal and say “Gosh, we’re just having a little fun. There must be some mistake.” “That’s right,” we’d respond, “and YOU made it.”
At AHS, we had a whole new crop of folks to educate about “our” Marschall, but that didn’t prove to be much of a problem. I saw even less of him there, but we still spent some time together and I’d walk with Marschall and Mrs. Rivers in the Stateline Kroger where I worked when they came to shop.
I went off to college, then to war, and never saw him again. My mother would occasionally report talking with them when they’d meet at a store. Eventually, they moved away.
In 1999 my mom, who, from the time I left until the day she died kept me up on Texarkana matters, sent me Marshall’s obituary. I shed tears of sadness, nostalgia, and gratitude for his friendship and an invaluable life lesson. Amongst so much value Marschall brought to my life was that “handicap” is only a frame of mind, and “challenge” is simply something worth doing.
I have a pretty good idea where Marshall is now, as well as what he is doing.
He’s blowin’ that horn as he dances ‘round the Throne!