A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

by Bob Hinkle (Aug 2010)

In early spring, 1959, Roy and Geraldine Parnell’s firstborn son, Darrel, becomes sick. What should be a normal childhood disease is accompanied by symptoms of pneumonia: fever, extreme vomiting, dehydration, and chronic bronchitis. His appearance turns haggard, his stools foul and bulky.

Darrel, born in 1952, shows early signs of physical problems. He can’t gain weight, and he can’t exert himself without feeling drained.

Roy, Geraldine, everyone in the family, including Ernest, pray for him. But the prayers seem to no avail.

Roy takes Darrel to a doctor.

Diagnosis: tuberculosis.

But when Darrel continues deteriorating, Roy takes him to a second doctor, who runs further tests.

The second diagnosis: An advanced state of Cystic Fibrosis.

The doctor breaks the sad news to Roy and Geraldine that Darrel will not likely live long. He is amazed the boy is still alive. “Normally,” he says, “this disease kills at the toddler stage. A seven year old celiac is highly unusual.”

“We are at this community in Texas called Ding Dong, a place where Papa preaches every year since we were all young children. We are building a church house, us and Papa and some of the men there in the community,” recalls Roy. “Well, there is a river close by Papa likes to fish, and he takes Darrel with him. He carries a five gallon bucket, just an ol’ five gallon open-mouth bucket to cart his minnows in, and he gets Darrel a half gallon jelly bucket to carry his in, you know.

Darrel never asks his grandpa to tarry, not one time. He follows him all day long, carrying that minnow bucket. And when Papa stops to fish, he sits down on his minnow bucket, and Darrel sits down on his, beside Papa…and his Grandpa tells him about how God performs miracles. Tells him Bible stories about healings, and about how God healed Phyllis when she fell off a slide, way back, and how God healed different ones in the family.

Darrel comes home and tells us about it and begins asking questions.

One day when Papa and Darrel are fishing and walking along, they get too close to the river and all at once Darrel falls in. Course, it is just mud there, and he falls down in the mud, and Papa grabs him by one leg and jerks him out, and Darrel spits mud out of his mouth and says, ‘Whew, liked to of fell in, didn’t I?’ Papa comes home laughing about it. Well, in all of this Darrel and his grandpa become very close.’”

“Darrel comes to the house,” recalls Camilla, “every morning there at Ding Dong, first thing, and asks, ‘Where’s Grandpa?’ And I say he’s off in the woods praying, cause Ernest nearly always goes off early to pray. Darrel just turns around and goes back home. But one morning when I tell him that, he takes off toward the woods.

Ernest comes back later with Darrel and they stay together for the rest of the day. Later that evening, Ernest tells me what happened that morning. He says, ‘Mel, I get through praying and open my eyes and there is Darrel sitting on a rock waiting for me, and he hasn’t made a sound.’

Then there is this time when Darrel and his brother, Carroll, catches the Chicken Pox and they get terribly sick. Ernest goes over one morning and prays for them, taking both up in his arms. Sure enough, they get better in a little while.

I come in later and ask, ‘Well, you boys are better!’

Darrel says, ‘Yeah, Grandpa healed us!’

I say, ‘No, Darrel, your grandpa just prayed for you. And Jesus healed you!’

Darrel says, ‘No, Grandpa healed us.’ And he couldn’t be convinced otherwise.”

Roy recalls, “When we leave Ding Dong, we go on with our ministry and Papa with his. Geraldine and I go and pastor a church in Arkansas, and that’s when we find out Darrel has cystic Fibrosis.”

  Not long after the second diagnosis, Darrel’s lower extremities swell to enormous proportions, and he can hardly get around. “Darrel asks us to take him to Oak Grove, to be with his grandpa,” Roy recalls.


The Hinkle family looks forward to July 4th, 1959. We plan to spend it at Oak Grove. My cousin, Jerry, is there, along with the Mashurn boys. I figure on spending those blistering days swimming in some of the lakes and ponds around the area.

  Too, we plan to talk our folks out of enough money to buy fireworks, and we figure on having the usual firecracker war; lighting them, letting them burn down in our hand until the fire is nearly to the powder, and throwing them at each other.

Dad, Mom and four sisters pile into the 1957 black and white Fairlane Ford, pull away from our rented house on highway 59A between Byers and Ada, Oklahoma, and strike out for Tulsa—us kids doing our usual fighting, one or two needing to use the bathroom.

Mounting the Turner Turnpike at Stroud, Oklahoma, my mother speaks apprehensively of Grandpa’s diabetes, how he has lost so much weight. She tells us that our grandfather, if God doesn’t heal him, won’t live much longer, and she gives notice to Dad that she wants to spend more time with him than normal.

Dad doesn’t believe Grandpa’s condition is all that bad, and he says something like, “We don’t have the money to run up there every week or two.”

  Mom talks about Darrel, thinking he will be fine…now that he is with his grandfather. Mom has the world of confidence in her dad’s prayers.

 My heart always beat a bit faster in those days when we reach the end of the turnpike on the outskirts of Tulsa. We are nearly there, in my mind…but from there to Oak Grove always seems to take forever.

By and by we top that last hill and see the white church on the left, L.D. Baker’s store on the right and, next to the church, the 3-room parsonage.

Mom cries out, ‘Oh no! Dad! Oh no!” With unmistakable fear in her voice.

An ambulance is backed up to the parsonage front door.


Around the middle of June, 1959, Roy brings Darrel to Oak Grove for the last time. Roy and Geraldine are worn out, having alternated nights sitting up with him.

Grandma Camilla recalls, “Darrel acts like a person with asthma. He chokes so bad he has to prop up to get his breath, and he vomits or heaves dry a lot, an awful amount of mucus in his lungs.

But he is the most precious little thing you ever saw. Ernest puts his chair outside in the shade and we sit and talk, One day we talk about Ernest’s diabetes. Darrell thinks a minute and says, “Grandma, if Grandpa dies, I don’t want to live either.’ And then he gets quiet, sits and studies, and says, ‘No, I don’t want to die, Grandma. Who’ll take care of you?’

Darrel likes to eat slivers of frost off the refrigerator freezing compartment walls. He takes a glass, shaves the frost into it, and eats the frost with a spoon. I figure it probably has something to do the abnormal secretion of salt and electrolytes in his body, a symptom of Cystic Fibrosis.

Geraldine’s sister comes with her husband, James, and on Wednesday some conversation prompts Roy to call a Dr. Nelms, in Coweta, Oklahoma. He says to the doctor, “Doctor Nelms, can you tell when a person has Cystic Fibrosis?”

Dr. Nelms says, “Yes, I can.”

Roy says, “Would you mind taking a look at my boy?”

“Certainly, bring him over.”

When Roy tells Darrel he is going to be checked over by another doctor, Darrel begs his Daddy not to take him to another doctor, but Roy feels he has to do something. Perhaps, his son is dying of some curable disease. Perhaps the second diagnosis is inaccurate. Whatever Roy thinks at the time is uncertain, but standing around watching Darrel die has become very traumatic. And too, having witnessed multitudes of people healed of so many things in his father’s ministry and in his own ministry, that this small child for whom countless prayers have already gone up remains untouched by God’s healing hand confuses him.

Ernest also is experiencing a great amount of anguish for his inability to pray the prayer of faith for Darrel.

Roy and Geraldine take Darrel to see Dr. Nelms on Thursday, July 2nd, and are not encouraged. Not only does Dr. Nelms verify the earlier diagnosis, but he says the disease is in the final stages. He says candidly, “Your son—if rushed to the hospital and placed under oxygen might live another 48 hours, but if you don’t take him, he probably won’t live through the night. That he is still alive now is little short of a miracle.”

Roy and Geraldine leave Dr. Nelms office heading for Tulsa and the hospital. In route, Darrel, told where he is being taken, and sensing he is going to die whether he goes to the hospital or not, begs to be returned to Oak Grove, to his grandfather.

Roy turns to his wife and says, “Geraldine, you carried this boy for nine months. I’m leaving it up to you.”

“Take him to Oak Grove.”

Camilla recalls, “When Darrel is lifted out of the car he is smiling from ear to ear. He seems terribly happy to be back, even though he knows he is dying. We put him in the living room on the same rollaway bed he has slept since mid June. His legs are enormous, his feet round like soft balls, but today you couldn’t have found a happier child.”

In no time at all Camilla catches him hobbling into the kitchen, getting down a glass and with a spoon struggling over to the refrigerator. He shaves off some frost and then struggles back to his bed and eats it. We know he is in tremendous pain, but no one stops him.

The doctor is wrong about one thing. Darrel lives a full 48 hours without the oxygen tent. Saturday, the 4th of July, comes in bright and sunny and, not having received moisture in weeks, the roads around Oak Grove are putting off dust clouds that stand motionless in the air and give the thick, leathery Live Oak leaves a dingy appearance.

As noon breaks into afternoon, Camilla sees Darrel’s small frame stuck half in and half out of the refrigerator, obtaining for himself a few more slithers of frost. Darrel then drags himself back to bed not allowing anyone to help him. The small living room is crowded—Ernest, Roy and Geraldine, Geraldine’s sister, along with Deward and Virginia Mashburn, and others.

Not much time passes when Darrel puts down his glass.

He can’t get his breath.

His lungs are filled with mucus.

Virginia Mashurn recalls, “Roy picks Darrel up and sits him on a cushion and Darrel takes a breath and as he exhales he puts his small forehead against his Daddy’s forehead. He repeats this two, maybe three times, until he can’t get his breath at all.

Roy takes him in his arms and lays him on the bed, where he takes a final breath, 2:00 p.m., Saturday afternoon, July 4th 1959.

Brother Parnell picks the child up and with him in his arms he sits down in his old rocking chair, praying in tongues. He just cries and cries and cries, and it is so pitiful, really, because the very last thing Darrel says to him is, ‘Jesus can help me, but he won’t.’”

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