First, and foremost, I need to apologize for the title. I realize that some of my readers will, and should, take offense to the term “Nigger.” It’s a derogatory, racist term from the past, and should have been buried there with a stake through it’s heart. What surprises me is I hear people using it today.

My only defense is I want to show the transformation of someone from a title to a human being. Also as a child, it was the first term I ever heard applied to a human being with a different skin color than mine. Everyone called him that, probably behind his back, but well, there you are.

George earned my respect as a child and without really realizing it, he’s one of the rulers I’ve used to measure myself against as a man.

George was the first black man I remember. During the mid 1950s, I lived with my parents in a small town called Costilla in northern New Mexico. Poor doesn’t begin to describe the people who lived there. Most were farmers, and they eked a living from the rocky ground of the San Luis Valley. Some had a few head of miserable sheep or cows. Some worked on the county road crews, or in the logging camps in the surrounding mountains. It was hand to hand combat for the next meal or tank of gas (sometimes it feels like not much had changed).

I don’t know where George came from. Those that knew him best are long dead, and I have no one to ask. Where he came from, I don’t know. What happened to him, I don’t know. What I remember are two things.

One, he was always very good to me as a child. I have a memory of sitting in front of my grandfather’s store, and he handed me a Dr. Pepper.

The other thing I recall was an experience where he defied the odds and saved a life.

It seems George had been a combat medic in Korea. As such, he’s pulled more than his share of shot up GIs off the battlefield, patched them up enough to get them to a MASH, and then gone out after the next one.

I remember that every time some farmer chopped off a hand or someone got seriously injured, George seemed to just appear, do what he did, and helped that person get medical attention. As a rural community, we had no doctors. The nearest hospital was an hour and a half away, and EMS didn’t exist yet. George was the closest thing we had in town to a medical expert.

One day, a couple of kids were out hunting. In the course of hunting, one accidentally shot the other in the stomach with a high powered rifle. The soft bullet shattered and tore the kid apart inside.

When things like this happened, two people always got called. One, of course, was George. The other was my grandfather because he owned the only station wagon in town, and it often served as an ambulance or hearse, depending on the need.

George had shown up with a battered old aid bag. For all I knew, it was the very same bag he’d crawled through Korea with. He bandaged the kid best he could, covered him with a blanket, and was comforting him when my grandfather and I got there.

I wondered what my grandfather was doing when the phone rang. He talked on it for a minute, then suddenly closed his store. He grabbed blankets and a pillow, and since he was watching me, told me to get in the car.

When we got there, I looked wide eyed at my first shooting. In years to come, I’d see more, but the scene of a young man bleeding through his dressings, and the worried and tearful looks of his parents and family struck me. It was a hurricane of despair and fear the family had been thrust into because everyone knew the score here. The boy was horribly injured. The hospital was a long ways away. He’d probably be dead before he got there.

In the eye of the storm, two men acted like they knew what to do. George took care of the young man, my grandfather tried to calm and reassure everyone, and both organized people to help get the young man into the back of the station wagon.

Making a litter from two blankets, George directed people how to lift and get him into the back of the vehicle. With three people on each side, they picked the young man up. He screamed in pain as they moved him across the rocky field to the station wagon. George and my grandfather had sprinted ahead. My grandfather had laid the seats down so it was flat in back. George got in where the front seat had been laid down, and my Grandfather dropped the back gate of the station wagon. As the men positioned the kid to load him up, George reached out and grabbing the blankets, pulled the kid in.

My grandfather slammed the gate shut, told me to get in, then got behind the wheel of the station wagon.

I can honestly say it was the only time I’d ever seen my grandfather travel faster than the speed limit. We made the hour and half run from Costilla to the hospital in Alamosa in forty five minutes. All the while, I heard George in the back, talking to the young man, comforting him, and telling him things were going to be OK.

His low rumbling voice almost made me believe that it would turn out OK.

The scene at the hospital showed that few shared his expectations. The doctors looked at the shredded stomach, internal organs, blood and rendered their medical decision. The young man was going to die, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

Today, we’d have had him on flight for life for a trauma center in Denver. Back then, such thing’s didn’t exist. The best that could have been done was load him into an ambulance that often times doubled as a hearse, and make the long trek to Pueblo. Without the advanced medical equipment of today, it’s doubtful the young man would have made it over the mountain pass.

Enter one exceptional doctor. Dr. Bunch was making rounds when the case came in, and so wasn’t there when everyone else admitted defeat. I was sitting in a chair, wondering like four year olds do why someone wasn’t doing something, and completely oblivious that nothing like this had ever come through the hospital before.

Dr. Bunch comes  in and talks with George. George referred to him as “Sir,” and in later years I would find out that Dr. Bunch had been a MASH surgeon. He and George knew each other and had worked together. All the other doctors are telling Dr. Bunch that there’s no hope. The kid had lost too much blood, and the damage too extensive. The best they could do was make him comfortable till he died.

Unimpressed, Dr. Bunch pronounced, “He’s still breathing. He has a heartbeat. He’s still alive, and that means there’s hope. Get him into OR.” Then he turned to George. “And I want someone in there with me that isn’t afraid to fight for his life. George, scrub up.”

A few minutes later I saw George like I’d never seen him before. He came out not in the old work clothes I was accustomed to seeing him in, but in hospital scrubs. He joined Dr. Bunch and both disappeared down the hall in the direction of the OR where they’d taken our gun shot youngster a few minutes before.

I remember it was late when they came out. The sun had already set, and the street lights had come on. George and Dr. Bunch came into the waiting room. I remember their scrubs were spattered with blood. We’d been sitting with the young man’s family. My Grandfather had been talking with them, praying with them, and trying to keep their minds off what could be a very real possibility. I sat watching adults deal with something they never expected.

Dr. Bunch and George stood in the middle of them, and George said it had been a hard operation, but they felt confident the boy would live.

We drove home that night. The back seats had been folded back up, and the station wagon was once again a family vehicle and not a makeshift ambulance. I was fascinated by a blood stain on the carpet where the seat had folded flat. My grandfather told me to get in the back. He’d bought some candy bars from the hospital and that was our supper.  He and George sat in front talking and soon I drifted off to sleep. The last thing I remember was George carrying me into my grandfather’s house, placing me on the couch, and putting a blanket over me.

The next few days saw an interesting change in the community’s relationship to George.  Gone was the somewhat derogatory term people had called him.

From that day on, he became Mr. George.