A true story about two unusual lives that briefly intersected.
Roland and Dan
Roland had a problem. He was a thalidomide baby. Like all too many children whose mothers took thalidomide during pregnancy, he was born with a missing limb. In Roland’s case he had only one arm.
When Roland was a boy in 1950s Carlsbad, New Mexico, Kindergarten was not compulsory. His parents made him go anyway. Some criticized the decision, believing that it was not right to force a crippled child into school that soon. But Roland’s parents knew what they were doing. They recognized that children are at their most adaptable at an early age—and that this applied to their son’s five-year-old classmates as well as to Roland himself. Naturally, meeting a boy their own age who had only a single arm was a new and unfamiliar experience. When you’re age five, just starting school, so is pretty much everything else. The other kids soon got used to Roland’s missing arm, as they got used to things in general. For the next thirteen years, as Roland passed through school and grew to adulthood, he was just another one of the gang.
Actually he is said to have been quite popular in school. People often had an initial impulse to feel sorry for Roland when they met him and saw his obvious problem. Then they quickly saw that he didn’t need for anyone to feel sorry for him. He was just an adorable kid with a great personality, who happened to have only one arm—and didn’t let that stop him.
For a time the Carlsbad school Roland attended had another regular who stood out in a crowd—but for a rather different reason. He was a sixth-grade teacher, and coach, named Dan. Dan stood out because he literally stood out—he was six-four and had a stout build to match. As a teacher in a middle school setting he must have been quite a sight among all the children. Fortunately he was notably good-natured. The kids had no reason to be afraid of this near-giant in their midst.
Though Roland was never one of Dan’s students, the two did know each other for a time. Dan is said, like most people, to have taken something of a shine to Roland. There’s a memory around of him carrying little Roland perched on one of his huge shoulders. It must have been quite a sight.
They didn’t know each other for long. Dan moved on to California. Roland stayed where he was, graduated high school, and went on to college. He established a successful career and married and had a family. In his spare time he lived quite an active life—water skiing, golfing, and playing tennis, all with only one arm. He couldn’t—and can’t—always cut his own food at meals, but he seems not to lack for people in his life who are glad to help him with that little task. Among other things, he’s a second cousin of mine on my mother’s side. Sad to say, geography had kept me from having much chance to get to know him. By all accounts he’s somebody well worth knowing.
As for Dan Blocker, he didn’t teach for very long after moving to California. He went into acting. In 1959 he made it big when he was cast for what became the long-running TV series “Bonanza.” He played the hulking Cartwright son Hoss. In 1972, while still only in his 40s, he died suddenly of complications following surgery.
It was a great loss, because by all accounts he was somebody well worth knowing too. Roland got a chance to know him for a little while. It was a privilege. And it seems that the feeling was mutual.
As dying, yet we live;
As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing;
As poor, yet making many rich;
As having nothing, yet possessing everything.