Still Life

Thirty-five years ago Dallas—and the country—was gripped by the tragic story of John McClamrock, a high school football player paralyzed during a violent tackle. But after the newspapers moved on, another story was quietly unfolding, one of courage, perseverance, and a mother’s fierce love.

Compared with the glistening two-story mansions that surrounded it, the house looked like something from another time. It was only 2,180 square feet. Its redbrick exterior was crumbling, and its gutters were clogged with leaves. Faded, paint-chipped blinds sagged behind the front windows. Next to the concrete steps leading to the front door, a scraggly banana plant clung to life.

Built in 1950, it was one of the last of the original single-story homes on Northport Drive, in Dallas’s Preston Hollow neighborhood. The newer residents, almost all of them affluent baby boomers, had no idea who lived there. Over the years, they’d see an ambulance pull up to the front of the house, and they’d watch as paramedics carried out someone covered in a blanket. A few days later, they’d see the paramedics return to carry that person back inside. But they’d never learned who it was or what had happened. Some of the local kids were convinced that the house was haunted. They’d ride their bikes by the lot at dusk, daring one another to ring the doorbell or run across the unwatered lawn.

None of the neighbors knew that mailmen once delivered boxes of letters to the front door and that strangers left plates of food or envelopes stuffed with money. They didn’t know that high school kids, whenever they drove past the house, blew their horns, over and over. They didn’t know that a church youth group had stood on that front yard one afternoon, faced the house, and sung a hymn.

In fact, it wasn’t until the spring of last year that they learned that the little house used to be one of Dallas’s most famous residences, known throughout the city as the McClamrock house. It was the home of Ann McClamrock and her son John, the boy who could not move.

On the morning of October 17, 1973, John McClamrock bounded out of bed; threw on bell-bottom jeans and a loud, patterned shirt with an oversized collar; jumped into his red El Camino with a vinyl roof; and raced off to Hillcrest High School, only six blocks away. He was seventeen years old, and according to one girl who had dated him, he was “the all-American boy, just heartbreakingly beautiful.” He had china-blue eyes and wavy black hair that fell over his forehead, and when he smiled, dimples creased his cheeks. Sometimes, when he sacked groceries at the neighborhood Tom Thumb, Hillcrest girls would show up to buy watermelons so that he’d carry them out to their cars. On weekend nights, they’d head for Forest Lane, the cruising spot for Dallas teenagers, hoping to get a look at him in his El Camino—or better yet, catch a ride. One cute Hillcrest blonde, Sara Ohl, had been lucky enough to go out with John

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