About stairs

I planned to discuss Mount Rushmore in this column.
Instead, I wrote about stairs, persistence and two people I met in an old graveyard.
I realize those sentences don’t make sense so here’s a little backstory.
I went to Deadwood — the real one, not the set of the HBO series.
Deadwood boasts a lot of things to do, apparently, but I went to only one place.
The graveyard is old.

Mount Moriah Cemetery gate

A sign said Mount Moriah Cemetery was established 139 years ago.
There are more than 3,500 recorded burials within its confines.
A beloved preacher who was murdered by Native Americans on the frontier lies there. Seth Bullock, a sheriff portrayed in the television show, is also buried on the grounds.
The prospector who claimed to find the biggest gold nugget in South Dakota’s Black Hills occupies a plot. 
Wild Bill Hickok’s grave
I went to see the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.
Wild Bill, whose given name was James Butler Hickok, died Aug. 2, 1876, when Jack McCall shot him in the back of the head during a poker game.

Hickok allegedly held black aces and eights — a dead man’s hand — when he was killed.

A dead man’s hand

Legend said Martha Jane Burke, a scout and frontierswoman known as Calamity Jane, loved the long-haired lawman.
Calamity Jane died Aug. 1, 1903, and her request to be buried next to Wild Bill — whose remains had been moved to Mount Moriah — was honored.

Calamity Jane’s grave

Once I went through the cemetery gate, I didn’t have to go far to find the resting places of the two legends of the Old West.
When I arrived at the stairs which lead to their graves, two ladies stood between two memorial signs to take pictures.
I waited until they left before I took my place between the signs, which include Calamity Jane’s request as well as information about Wild Bill’s death.
After a quick picture, I started up the stairs toward the graves.
I had nearly reached the top of the paved path when I met the two ladies, who were on their way down.
One of them looked at me as she walked.
“There ya go,” she said. “Persistence.”
I didn’t know what to say so I just smiled and continued my climb.
I should clarify something before I continue the story.
I know the lady meant well. I was not and am not in the least bit offended by her comment, but it made me think.
I have never known how to respond to people who have used “inspiration,” “persistence” or other words along the same lines in reference to me.
I’ve seen a lot of persistence in my life.
It looks like a Vietnam veteran who used a flamethrower to clear a dense jungle until he ran into hand-to-hand combat. He fought until he could spend the night in the mud with his back against a tree while bullets whizzed by his head.
It looks like an old prisoner of war who lost so much weight in a prison camp overseas he must have resembled a thinly-veiled Halloween skeleton. He made it home, but he wiped a tear from his cheek while he talked about his buddies who didn’t.
It looks like a young lady I saw catch a chest pass, dribble through the lane and sink a layup with her only hand.
It looks like a woman who finished school while she raised a child, went to college and works hard to give her best to her family.
It looks like a mom who works three jobs, and another who went back to college to go after her dreams.
I just climbed a few stairs.
When you have cerebral palsy, you tend to notice details about things like stairs — at least I do.
The ones in the graveyard were wide. When I climbed one, I took an entire stride before I got to the next one.
They were easy.
In my mind, there’s nothing persistent about what the lady saw.
I made my way up the stairs, took pictures of the graves and retreated to the bottom while a busload of other tourists walked to the top as a guide spoke.
Before I left Mount Moriah, I saw the lady a second time.
She spoke to me in the same calm, soothing tone she’d used before.
There was genuine goodness in her voice.
“That poor guy with the prosthetic leg, I hope he makes it up those stairs,” she said. “If you can do it, he can do it.”

I never saw the guy to whom the lady referred, but I hoped he knew what she said was true.
She spoke to me for the last time in the parking lot, after I told both ladies to have a good day.
“Have a great life,” she said.
There’s something you don’t hear every day.
I just smiled and said something like, ‘Thank you. Y’all too.”
I was as caught off guard by her parting words as I was by the unexpected lesson I learned while I explored the cemetery.
Sometimes the living you meet among the dead have really good hearts.

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