Henry Niese

Published by kind permission of Henry Niese from his Memoir

My English grandma, who Beano and I called Bambi – and this was years before that cute little fawn story came out – noticed I was limping. It was around 1928, when I was 3. After X-rays and examination, it was determined that most of the ball joint of my left hip had disintegrated. That was the beginning of 4 years of hell for me. I was put to bed, was not allowed to walk or play with Beano or our young friends, and at the time when they all started school, I was left at home. Sometimes my father would make up a bed outside and lay me in the sun. There I could watch all my kid friends enjoying themselves playing games, usually about 100 yards from where I was. I, the cripple, was excluded from all that.

Finally, it was determined that I might be able to walk with braces. I was fitted up with leather, steel and hinges at the appropriate places, given crutches, and finally became somewhat mobile. I got the hang of it and was even able to hump along at a sort of loping run, bringing up the rear of our gang of kids. I was sent to “The A. Harry Moore School for Crippled Children”. Political correctness was unheard of. What was wrong with calling a cripple a cripple? Or a spade a spade!

Years later, when I saw Tom Hanks running with braces on in “Forrest Gump” I was finally able to make it clear to my wife what I had been through.

The crazy thing is that my hip bone regenerated itself, and I was able to play football and live a “normal” life. It was a miracle, pure and simple. Maybe there was a medical explanation for it, but if so, I never heardit. Later in my life, after age 50, I saw miracles like that happen through the spiritual practice of Native American “medicine” – blindness, cancer and other diseases cured. But my growth seemed to have been stunted, maybe because of the regeneration process. I grew up short and had to live with it, and all the insults short guys take. But I wound up giving as much as I got.

About 45 years later one of the big black kids I was working with in the Poverty Program of the ‘60s said, after I had told him off, “Man, you a small piece of leather but you well put together!”That’s me, and all those guys calling me Runt, Short Stuff, Little Shit and the rest just made me tougher and more ornery.

It also put Beano, who wound up being around 6 feet, 200 pounds in a tough spot, because of all the fights I picked as a teenager in which he felt duty bound to back me up. I found out that big guys are scared of little guys. If they beat up on little guys everyone scorns them, and they look absolutely terrible getting the shit kicked out of them by a little guy. I was the same size as Pablo Picasso when I met him, and Jimmy Doolittle, who led the B-25 raid on Tokyo and later the 8th Air Force in England, and those are 2 guys I wouldn’t want to pick on.