catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 12 :: 2013.06.07 — 2013.06.20


God! What’s that?

The first time I heard him talk, it sounded like a bullfrog had learned to speak.  And when I turned to see who was talking to me, I found myself desperately trying to look him in the eyes while the real impulse was to step back and try to figure out how this person had been put together.

I had just begun my work-study assignment from Trinity Christian College as a Saturday janitor at Elim Christian School, an educational and residential facility dedicated to persons with special needs.  It was a way to make a little pocket money while taking business classes as an excuse to try to play basketball at a college level.  As I struggled with the floor buffer that seemed intent to run me into walls instead of brightening the institutional tiles, he had wheeled up behind me.

“Who are you — do you know how that thing works?” the frog-voice asked.

“Yeah, it’s a little tricky — my name is Pete Post and…”  The words stuck as I turned to face my interrogator.

“How you doin’, PetePost — my name’s Danny — do you have a car?”

The impulse to stare was overwhelming and I wasn’t sure if I should explain that he had just merged my first and last name. Danny had what seemed to be an enlarged head and chest, but this illusion was probably due to the shorted arms and legs that jutted out from the seat. It appeared that God had somehow mistakenly placed the legs of a two-year-old and the arms of a kindergartener on a teenager.  To this day, even after teaching pecial education as a college professor for eight years and teaching all manner of children with disabilities at Elim for thirty years, I have no idea what this physical disability was, nor have I ever met anyone else that had anything similar.  Danny was truly one of a kind.

I found out that Danny was a ward of the state of Illinois and had literally been discarded as an infant — thrown into a dumpster.  He had some foster parents that he called “auntie” and “uncle” in Chicago.  I can still remember bringing him from the suburb of Palos Heights to a three-story building at 43rd and Pershing.  There was no elevator and no delicate way to climb the stairs with Danny other than scooping him up by his ample rump and pressing him to my body, trying not to fall as he decided to give me a little “goose” to move faster.  “Auntie” would emerge from the sweltering third-floor apartment and plant a big kiss on Danny’s forehead.  I asked if Danny wanted his wheelchair, but he said there was no need since no one would get him down from the apartment until I returned.  “Auntie” once told me that the doctors had predicted Danny would never live to his teens since the weight on his chest would eventually be too much of a burden on his lungs.  I often left wondering what would happen in the case of a fire.

Danny became my friend and inspiration.  He convinced me that I was needed more in the Elim residence than waiting to get a few minutes on the basketball court and I ended up living in the Elim dorm for three of my four undergraduate years.  He challenged me to bring him to Trinity to meet cute girls and wondered if we could bring Chuckie who had a thing for pulling down zippers. Chuckie was another dorm resident who was non-verbal and communicated with a few signs.  He would approach the “dorm mothers” from behind and attempt to lower the zipper on their very prim nurse’s uniforms.  It was impossible to know if Chuckie was being naughty or just practicing what he was learning in school where they had a large board to practice zippers, buttons and fasteners of various types.  Danny’s plan was to turn Chuckie loose in the college dorm and wait for him to approach an unsuspecting coed and go for the zipper so that we could rush in and save the blushing “victim” (which we never did but some of Danny’s other pranks were equally imaginative).   He chided me into asking out one of the dorm mothers, who had helped teach him how to drive a car using hand controls, and Danny ended up giving the toast at our wedding.

Despite everything that life had thrown at him, Danny never lost his zest for it.  He loved his CB radio, which enabled him to converse without the distraction of his grotesque appearance. It was often amazing to see the reactions of my friends if they happened to come meet the man with the amazing baritone voice.  But somehow, once you got to know Danny, the appearance simply didn’t matter.  You’d forget the sideshow effect — that is, until you went to a restaurant and children would ask their parents what had happened to that boy in the chair, or want to touch him to see if he was indeed real.

I’m not always sure how much that happens to us is “God’s plan” or our own reactions to the opportunities and challenges that come our way.  I do thank God for the relationship that I was able to have with Danny and for the 20-plus years he was able to live and make a difference in the perceptions of others as well.  Danny’s physical appearance had put him in the margins, yet his attitude and desire to form relationships enabled him to enrich those who would give him the chance. 

I still have Danny’s Bible and, at his funeral in 1980, I tried to summarize what he meant to me with these words.

In Tribute to Danny Brewer

What manner of man could this possibly be?

     Be glad for Danny — for now he is free.

No more stares,

     no more gawking,

Feelings bruised

      from behind-your-back talking.


A head and chest not meant for the rest,

     You’d live a few months, maybe years at the best.







How’d you ever learn to drive?

How’d you even survive?


I guess you now know

          why it had to be so

That when God created

          you he compensated


For those twisted, strange outsides

with hopes and loves inside.


You could make us realize

that our eyes told us lies,


For in you there was



               and strength.

We’d soon come to forget

arms and legs the wrong length.


Thank you, Danny,

     for teaching us, too,

that size sets no limit

     on what one can do,


For a guy whose chest was his biggest part

was eternally created with a whole lot of heart.

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