Friday, January 3, 2014

Washington Orville Hampton

I was at a bit of a loss today about what to write.  I’ve been so focused on the bigger projects that I haven’t been looking around for fresh flash material.  I had a couple of ideas last night but they felt forced.  On the slippery drive in this morning I reflected on how “writing to prompt” was making me lazy.  I decided to embrace my laziness, sort of like indulging in a marathon of some reality show, and grabbed a couple of words from signs along the road.  The next six miles were trying different things around them.  The train was all about putting it together.  I hope you smile.

Better Than a Cat
By Jon Stark
January 2014, 688 words.
Washington Orville Hampton was born a small boy with a big name.  It seemed that he spent most of his life trying to grow into it.  I remember the first time I met him, riding in the cab of the little steam engine that Giuseppe called Pano.  There had been a mix-up at the station and we jumped out to make sure that Pano’s caboose made it down the other side of the mountain.  I wasn’t much help, but he was able to get it rolling with a hand car.

Wash was big on being big and thought that by doing big things perhaps he would be bigger -- if not physically, then perhaps metaphorically larger than life.  When the Titanic sank in 1912, he swam between the lifeboats scooping survivors out of the freezing cold water with no regard for his own safety.  "There'll be plenty of time for me to be cold after we're all out of the water." he said.

He told me later that he hadn't been that cold since the night he held the lantern for Paul Revere as they rode through New England warning the good citizenry about the impending release of the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

In the winter of 1944 he served as pathfinder for General Patton.  Without his keen eye and fearless spirit, the U.S. Third Army would never have arrived in time to relieve the soldiers trapped in the Ardennes.  Patton was quoted afterward as saying, "That's a soldier.  A fine soldier.  A soldier almost as big as me."

He was on the Apollo 11 mission and Neil Armstrong thought he should be the first to walk on the moon.  But Washington pointed out that if he were to say, "One small step for man" too many people would think it was a joke.  Some people might even think the moon landing was faked just for a laugh.

1974 was the year that he found God who, apparently, had been there all along.  All Washington had to do was turn around.  He used to joke that it was pretty funny how the Almighty Creator of the Universe could hide behind someone as small as he was.  I thought it was more amazing how God fit inside of him.

In 1983 he won the Nobel Prize for winning the most Nobel Prizes in a single year.  I still don't understand his masterwork -- "Bytes and Peaces: Quantum Computing and the End of War" -- but the world stopped to read it and NBC aired an after school special trying to explain it.  Gary Coleman was quoted in TV Guide as saying, "Man, for a dude that makes me look tall, he's got some seriously big shoes." 
We used to hike a lot.  Once, when we reached a fork and I was going to take the one on the left, he suggested that perhaps the one less traveled would be better.  Chuck Norris caught up to us and I asked him what he thought.  Chuck said, "I take both paths.  At the same time."  Washington asked if that excess consumption was the best way to live or if, perhaps, just a little taste might be more enriching.  Chuck took the road less traveled.  He was, of course, back in just a moment and thanked Washington profusely saying, "I took the one less traveled and have to tell you, it has made all the difference."

I heard all of his stories – like the time he helped Dartanian find Athos, or the time he helped John Little plan Locksley’s escape from the Sheriff's dungeon, and of course, about cutting timber with Paul Bunyan who often said that he never would have been able to clear the Great Plains if it weren’t for Washington clear cutting Iowa, Missouri, Manitoba, and Nebraska.

Washington Hampton was quiet in his personal life.  Few people truly knew him and I think that was a tragedy.  You are here today to honor the smallest among us who became the greatest, but I tell you this.  I am here to say good bye to my friend.


  1. OK, I admit it. I'm smiling. I thought I had heard every mixed metaphor ever devised, but I was wrong.

  2. Washington Hampton wrote a pamphlet in 1776 entitled, "Thinking and Writing Big: The Use of Metephor in Fiction and Rebellion."