Man, blind son, 14, lose home in Texas wildfire

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by JON MARK BEILUE / Amarillo Globe-News

Associated Press

Posted on May 21, 2014 at 12:01 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 21 at 12:01 PM

FRITCH, Texas (AP) - The drive for Jim Campsey to take son Clayton to the school bus headed for Sanford-Fritch Junior High has been different the last 1½ weeks. Instead of driving down Stoney Drive in Lake Meredith Harbor, Campsey drives his worn 2000 Buick LeSabre to meet the bus from the Best Western Motel in Borger.
   
But the morning goodbye doesn't change for Campsey, 80, and Clayton, 14.
   
"How many 14-year-old boys do you know that will step on that school bus, turn around and give their dad two or three kisses on the cheek?" Campsey said.
   
Other than what they wore when going into Fritch on May 11 to get some gas, and the donations and gifts from strangers, all Jim and Clayton Campsey really have is each other - and that's enough.
   
Fire consumed everything at 239 Stoney Drive. Everything. Theirs is one of 225 homes destroyed. Gone is the Solitaire double-wide mobile home, the one Jim and wife Sheila bought for $59,000 in May 2000 specifically for Clayton. Gone are the two conversion vans.
   
Gone too, is Clayton's laptop computer, the one with the braille keyboard. The tools - the drill press, table saw, bench grinder - that were used for therapy for Clayton's hands were destroyed.
   
A search this week for coins from a collection of Clayton's in a supposed fireproof safe proved futile. Nothing but twisted metal and ash at 239 Stoney Drive. Like many who lost homes in the Double Diamond wildfire, theirs is a fragile future.
   
"God allowed this to happen, and he did it for a reason," Campsey told the Amarillo Globe-News (http://bit.ly/1lQfz6t ). "I don't know why. Maybe never will know."
   
The way Campsey sees it, both should have been dead long before now. He survived a series of motorcycle and car wrecks years ago, including one with an old '36 Ford that rolled nine times. He believes he was meant to care for Clayton.
   
Clayton is what Campsey calls a "miracle baby." He was savagely beaten at 5 weeks old while in the custody of his biological mother and her boyfriend. He spent 47 days in ICU at Baptist St. Anthony's, each day alive one more than doctors thought.
   
Clayton is alive for many reasons, one of which, Campsey believes, is to give irreplaceable value and meaning in the long shadow of this old man's life.
   
Clayton was Sheila Campsey's great-nephew. When they saw Clayton the day he was rushed to BSA, Jim Campsey said it looked as if a bowling ball was set on a pair of tiny shoulders.
   
Clayton's skull was crushed, and nothing on a normal face was recognizable on a baby 35 days old. At that moment, Campsey knew if Clayton lived, he would live with them.
   
"A doctor told us that if Clayton lived, he was be so bad that he would need to be institutionalized," Campsey said. "When I heard that it felt like someone reached inside of me and grabbed my heart. I told that doctor as long as I was alive, Clayton would not go to an institution."
   
He did live, and the Campseys took custody as foster parents. Their Amarillo home had a basement with stairs and a small gate at the top. Too dangerous for a toddler, especially one with Clayton's issues.
   
Campsey thought it as good a time as any to move to Lake Meredith Harbor, where he bought a lot in 1996. They moved a mobile home onto the property.
   
The adoption became official when Clayton was 2½ years old. Shelia was 15 years younger than her husband, an age difference considered during adoption proceedings.
   
"I said, 'Honey, you're a lot younger than me. At least you'll live long enough to see Clayton grow,'" Campsey said.
   
But in February 2006, Sheila Campsey died in a fall at home. That left her husband, who has three grown sons, and 6-year-old Clayton, on a fixed income of $1,540 a month.
   
Clayton is legally blind. His thumbs, because of the infant head injury, tend to fold under his fingers. He has a mild cerebral palsy. Campsey has COPD, diabetes and some other health issues.
   
Yet he gets Clayton up at 5:30 a.m. for breathing treatments and myriad medications, cooks him breakfast and then takes him to catch the bus at 7:15 a.m. He picks him up from school daily at 3:30 p.m.
   
"It's a challenge at my age," he said, "but God gives me the strength to do it."
   
Campsey, a former truck mechanic, showed Clayton how to work with his hands, guiding him carefully on various shop tools. The movement was good therapy for his hands. Together they've built as many as 70 bird houses.
   
Clayton, with the help of an aide, is in seventh grade. He is a manager for the football, basketball and baseball teams, which his dad said makes him feel 10 feet tall.
   
"Living with my dad is amazing," Clayton said. "This town, well, really it's a community. It's amazing, too."
   
Their two weeks at the Best Western in Borger was anonymously paid for. After that, there's a chance of living in a camper trailer on the Stoney Drive property.
   
Clayton, not so jokingly, said they'd pitch a tent if they have to. He's not leaving Fritch.
   
As far as long range, it's tough to think that far ahead. Like all affected families, the vision is not much beyond each day.
   
But every day that Campsey has Clayton, and Clayton has his father, somehow, someway, they will be all right.
   
That's the way it is when it's meant to be.
 

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