‘It’s dear to my heart; I do not want anything to happen to that railroad.’ –Eddie Morris
By TIFFANY RONEY
After a fall down the stairs at Christmastime left Eddie Morris paralyzed from the chest down, Morris found herself wondering as to the purpose of her life.
Why would God have her spend her life in bed while her and her husband’s retirement funds pour into her medical bills? In June, Eddie Morris got her answer.
After a fall down the stairs Morris, a retired guide for the Smoky Hill Excursion Train, found out the train received a grant to repair a bridge over the Smoky Hill River and upgrade the track on which the train travels. The catch: while the grant provides 80 percent of the funding, the other 20 percent must be raised by other means. Morris decided right away to make it her life’s mission to raise the other 20 percent.
“It’s dear to my heart; I do not want anything to happen to that railroad,” Morris said. “I sincerely want it to be successful for the city of Abilene and for Mary Jane (Oard, general manager) and for Joe Minick (steam engine repairman) and all the guys that have dedicated themselves to the success of the train.”
A new mission in life
In June of this year, Morris’ son Tim stopped by her room at Village Manor and shared with her the latest news of the railroad. He had attended a railroad meeting and learned of the need for the other 20 percent of the grant’s funds.
“Tim came in here and he said, ‘Hey, Mom, you’ve got to do something for me. You've got to,’” Eddie said. “’Lots of people come in and see you so you just have to be my person that tells people they need to make a contribution.’”
Tim became involved with the railroad three years ago because Eddie told him he needed to join the board. Since joining the board, Tim has become enthusiastic about the train, Eddie said. Tim and his wife volunteered to trim all the trees off the track between Enterprise and Woodbine and they spent several Sundays for four years freeing the train from branches.
“He moved back here after living away and doing well,” Eddie said. “He was manager of ethanol plants and was in the corporate world and he added, ‘I left a job that I had to work 365 days a year and 24 hours a day and I moved back to Abilene and life is easy and I don’t have any stress'."
After being wrangled into the railroad by his mother, it was now Tim’s turn to invite his mother back to the train. Since her son’s invitation, Eddie now asks almost every visitor to her room at Village Manor to make contributions to the railroad.
“One of the persons, as soon as I said ‘I need a contribution' said, ‘I’m going to go right home and write a check' and the next day, we had a check in the mail,” Eddie said. “So I do know that people will respond. Not everybody does that, but I felt really proud to think that somebody took it to heart.”
Life before the accident
Though Morris’s body is incapable of movement – she cannot feed herself or move her fingers – Joan Thayer, volunteer caretaker and a friend of Morris’s for 35 years, said Morris has 100 percent of her mental faculties.
“She’s so mentally astute and so with-it that she’s fun to talk to,” Thayer said. “She’s a positive, positive person and she’s okay with where she is and her circumstances in life. She really, really wants to make this her own personal mission.”
Morris served on the USD 435 school board for 16 years and all four of her children received education through Abilene’s gifted program. Morris was one of the first instigators of the Food and Clothing Center. Additionally, she volunteered at the Great Plains Theatre.
“She’s been very, very active in community affairs: quite a volunteer for our community,” Thayer said.
Now, Morris spends her days being moved from her bed to her chair and back again, receiving assistance to shower and eat her meals and receiving physical therapy.
“It’s the saddest,” Thayer said. “But, I think this can turn something bad into something good.”
Despite her inability to move most of her body, Morris said she finds joy in her family and friends. She has plenty of visitors and the people who give her physical therapy are close friends who volunteer their time. Her husband visits her frequently and she spends time talking on the phone with family members and friends. Each week, Village Manor staff takes her and other residents to see Abilene Municipal Band concerts at Eisenhower Park, which Morris counts as some of her favorite outings.
“People probably say that my days are boring but they’re really not,” Morris said. “The staff is really good and I enjoy them and I just make the best of what I have.”
An unlikely accident
Morris said she was staying at her daughter’s house in Olathe. They had attended an orchestra concert her granddaughters played in and were planning to head to a Kansas City Symphony performance the next day. In the middle of the night on December 15, 2012, Morris was headed to the bathroom in the dark. She did not turn on the light because she had made the short trip through the house many times.
When she came to the stairs in the bi-level house, she needed to make a step with her left foot, but instead, she made a step with her right foot. She went head-first down eight stairs and bashed her head against the wall.
“I was immediately paralyzed and I couldn’t feel my arms,” Morris said. “But luckily, I didn’t pass out, and I was able to call my daughter and that was it. One wrong step in the wrong direction. I was a healthy person and had lots to live for. And just like that, it was all taken away, and that’s how it happened.”
The fall broke Morris’s spine in three places. Since she was taking Cumadin for a heart problem, her blood was thinner than normal so it leaked into her spinal cord. Because of the broken spinal cord and the blood stuck inside it, Morris is unable to move her legs, and she has no use of her hands.
“I still have my mind so I do have some assets that I can use but it’s been a disappointment to think my life was basically ended as it was, and now I’ve had this life that is just a whole different pattern,” Morris said.
Morris some people will make fun of others falling but falls are serious business.
“If you fall in a certain way, it can do just this exactly,” Morris said. “If kids think it’d be fun to push somebody down the stairs; no, don’t do it. You never know what could happen. The chance is there that you could have that happen to you.”
In addition to falling, there is another danger Morris said she wants to warn people against. Though it may look like a different issue altogether, Morris said it is another avenue that can lead to paralysis.
“I have three grandsons that are teenagers. They want to take chances, and one of them said, ‘oh, I can text and drive’. I said, ‘yeah, okay, do you want to be like me?’” Morris said. “Most of the people that are in my situation are 17-year-olds that have taken their chances and have paralyzed themselves by getting in a car wreck that broke their neck. This texting thing is just such a disaster. And so, it only takes one step in the wrong direction to have this happen, and it happens so fast.”
Lemons into strong lemonade
Though Morris leaves Village Manor only once a week, her paralysis does not keep her from working toward fulfilling the mission she has found. Thayer said Morris talks about the railroad’s needs to every volunteer and visitor that enters her room. Morris aims to find 100 friends who will donate about $1,000 each so she can single-handedly come up with the remaining $160,000.
“My paralyzation doesn’t keep me from doing the things I want to do with my mind and my voice,” she said.
Value of the train
Though Morris volunteered for many opportunities in the community, the train rose to top priority.
“It’s been top priority in my life now for quite a few years,” Morris said, “It became the only thing that I volunteered for after I volunteered for a lot of the other things. It became THE thing.”
Morris started volunteering for the train when Joe Minick, antique engine restorer, volunteered with Morris at the Historical Society.
“He’s such a friendly guy and he saw me and he said, ‘Hey, you know what, you need to be a charter member of the Abilene Smoky Valley Railroad,’ and I said, ‘Oh, okay,’” Morris said. “I didn’t know anything about trains or have any interest in trains up to that point.”
Despite her lack of interest or experience, Morris jumped into the opportunity because, she said, “I’m one that contributes to these things.”
It did not take Morris long to fall in love with the train.
“People go to Colorado and want to do the Cog Railway in Colorado Springs or Central City, or they go to Durango in Colorado to ride the Narrow Gage, but here they can ride the steam engine right here inside of Abilene so it’s a pretty neat thing,” Morris said.
She started out as a guide and car attendant for school runs and the dinner train then moved onto the board. Additionally, she picked up slack for slots when other volunteers were unavailable and she worked overtime to ensure the train’s success.
She said the train is a major tourist attraction. Train visitors patronize Abilene’s restaurants, gas stations and motels.