He Lost His Legs—But Not His Heart

We called him Grandpa, but everyone else in town knew him as P. A.—short for Phillip Alma. My earliest recollection is watching Grandpa in his garden, dressed in blue and white pin-striped overalls and a neatly pressed white shirt, hoeing and pruning.

Perfection seemed to be an obsession with Grandpa Ostler. He even shined his shoes before he went out to feed the chickens. His garden was a masterpiece of engineering. He checked the slope of the ground with a level. Just the right amount allowed the irrigation water to enter the front gate, meander down rows of flowers, in and around the rosebushes, down through the vegetable garden, and out the back gate.

Grandpa was blessed with an appreciation of beauty and was a talented sculptor. When he was a young man, Cyrus E. Dallin, the famous sculptor, reviewed his work and invited him to come to Boston and study under him. Grandpa planned to accept Mr. Dallin’s offer, but in the meantime he worked as a fireman on a train to provide for his growing family.

One foggy day, on a run from Salt Lake City to Denver, there was a mix-up in schedules and two trains collided head-on. Grandpa was pinned beneath the engines of both trains. Heavy coal from the tenders threatened to crush the life from him, and steam scalded his face and arms. Seeing that his left leg was pinned in the wreckage and partially amputated, he freed himself by finishing the amputation with his pocketknife. Life was now pouring rapidly from him, and the faithful priesthood holder, in the name of Jesus Christ, commanded the bleeding to stop. It did. The stump of his leg turned white and did not bleed again.

Later, in the hospital, doctors amputated his other leg a few inches below the knee. During his long period of recuperation, Grandpa spent much of his time visiting and encouraging other patients.

After the accident, Grandpa traveled the states of Idaho, Nevada, Montana, and Utah representing the High Heat Coal Company, taking orders and collecting money. Many a hitchhiker found himself riding in Grandpa’s car, sharing his lunch and his philosophy of life.

Sometimes Grandpa’s generosity got him in trouble. A hitchhiker once pulled out a gun and tried to rob him. Grandpa said, “I have only the money in my wallet. Take that and be gone.”

Knowing the nature of Grandpa’s occupation, the fellow thought that Grandpa should be carrying a few thousand dollars. After a thorough search of every possible hiding place in the car, he had to content himself with the five-dollar bill in Grandpa’s wallet. After dropping the frustrated thief at the outskirts of town, Grandpa chuckled and drove away—ten thousand dollars in collection money tucked safely inside his wooden legs!

Later, Grandpa became the owner of a coach line and cafe. At Christmastime he gave the widows in our town coal and a supply of groceries. Grandpa took very seriously the admonition of Christ to visit the widows and fatherless in their affliction. In fact, no one who came to his door was ever turned away.

One cold winter’s day, a couple with five young children came to the cafe. Despite the freezing weather, they wore no warm clothing.

The family was on their way to California where a job had been promised, dependent on their arrival by a certain date. Their car had broken down, and they had walked many miles to town through the snow. Grandma fixed them a hot meal in the cafe while Grandpa took the father to town and bought complete outfits for all of them. Then he called a mechanic to pick up the car and repair it. The next morning, as the family prepared to leave, Grandpa pressed five twenty-dollar bills into the man’s hand. The man cried and embraced Grandpa, asking God to bless him.

Heavenly Father truly did bless Grandpa. Losing both legs at a young age could have turned him into a self-pitying, embittered old man. But he turned his feelings outward and lost himself in the service of others.

Birdie Strong, an administrative assistant for a research company, is editor of the Orem Twelfth Ward newsletter, Orem Utah Sharon South Stake.

The Alcoholic’s Daughter

The miracle began when, with my husband and son, I moved back into the neighborhood of my youth. Jane, * a woman who had had trouble with alcohol for years, still lived there—with her husband, small daughter, and mother. For years, the neighbors had avoided dealing with Jane’s problem by shunning the family.

Although I remembered the stories of Jane’s wildness and drinking from my high school days, I also remembered her compassion as a nurse. She had never seemed too busy to come in the night to ease another’s pain. She couldn’t be all bad, I decided. After all these years I would accept her good qualities and ignore the rumors.

I soon became aware that not all was rumor. Jane was an alcoholic. During her binges anything might happen. But the rest of the time she was a fine wife, a model mother, and a great friend. No one, however, seemed able to help her overcome her alcoholism. She was literally drinking herself to death.

Her family despaired. They accepted, they loved, they tried to cope, and their agonized hearts cried out for help. I could only offer Jane my love and friendship.

Since Jane’s daughter and my son were almost the same age, I began including little Mary in our plans. We took her to church with us and on picnics and outings. She also stayed with us when things at home got out of hand. Soon Jane began to call me when she felt temptation coming on.

One day I met Jane uptown. She was coming out of the liquor store, the familiar brown paper sack tucked under her arm. As soon as she saw me, Jane thrust Mary’s hand into mine and asked me to take Mary home. For several days, Jane’s mother, her husband, and I managed to care for Mary and keep things as normal as possible for her.

Through the years, a strong bond grew between our families. I was amazed at how fast little Mary absorbed gospel teachings. She took the gospel into her home in bits and pieces, insisting on blessing the food when she was only three, and adding daily by precept and example.

Jane’s love for Mary, her desire to be the right kind of mother, and her frustration about her alcoholism almost overwhelmed her. She became desperate to change her life-style. One day she told me of a place that “cured” alcoholics. It was a tough cure—most gave up under the pressure and sank back into despair. But Jane decided to risk all. She would rather die than continue the way she was.

The cure was expensive, but her family scraped the money together. For months, Jane was gone. Later she compared it to a literal hell, full of anguish and suffering.

While Jane was away, I wrote her letters of love and encouragement. One stressed the value of prayer and how much it could help. I never knew how much that letter helped her until years later when she took it from her purse, almost shredded from many readings, and read parts of it in a testimony meeting.

Jane made it. She was one of the few who were really cured. Her health had been practically ruined from the drinking, but her spirit was triumphant. She had won her fight. But there was more to come.

One day Jane came to talk to my husband and me. She told us that Mary, nearly ten now, wanted to be baptized. The real surprise came when Jane told us she wanted to be baptized, too. She wanted my husband to perform the ordinance for both of them.

Jane and Mary became faithful members of the Church. A short while later Jane’s husband and mother joined.

The years passed. Then one day Mary brought a young man to see me. They spoke of plans to wed. Six months later Mary and her young man were married, and Jane’s family was sealed in the temple. The miracle was complete.

  •   *

    Jane’s name and that of her daughter have been changed.

  • [illustrations] Illustrated by Mitchell W. Heinz

    Erma Braack teaches Gospel Doctrine in the Springfield Second Ward, Springfield Missouri Stake.