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Different kind of ‘acting’ required for this award

By Ernie Williamson / Special to The Bulletin

It’s awards season. There are Grammys, Oscars, Golden Globes and, as of this writing, the Ernies.

The what? Glad you asked. The Ernies are awards given to people who went out of their way to help this wheelchair-bound paraplegic.

There is no academy of voters. Only me.

There is no Pricewaterhouse- Coopers. I don’t need help making mistakes.

There is no Meryl Streep, perhaps the only awards program without her.

There is, however, honesty. Each award is based on a true story.

And the winners are…

BEST SUPPORTING PEARLAND CITY WORKER: Getting into the Pearland Natatorium can be challenging. There are two heavy doors, and I usually have a gym bag on my lap and a clunky flotation device dangling from my neck. One day, while rolling toward the entrance, I saw a worker at the far side of the parking lot get into his pickup and head for the pool entrance. He beat me there. He exited his van, ran to the doors and held them open for me. I assumed he, too, was going inside. He wasn’t. He climbed into his pickup and drove back to work.

BEST SUPPORTING GARBAGE COLLECTOR: I was in my wheelchair outside my Shadow Creek Ranch home when the garbage truck came. As our trash bin was being unloaded, I exchanged pleasantries with the man on the back of the truck. The truck proceeded down the block. Suddenly, the man jumped from the truck, jogged back to our house and asked if I needed help. I didn’t, but he took it upon himself to roll the trash bin up the driveway and into the garage.

BEST FEEL-GOOD MOMENT: I was catching up on my reading at the Pearland Westside branch of the Brazoria County Library. Newspapers and magazines were full of the controversy about Muslim immigration. As I started to leave, a young girl darted across the library and opened the door for me. She was wearing a hijab.

BEST DRAMA: A disadvantage of going to the movies in a manual wheelchair is that it is nearly impossible to roll and, at the same time, carry popcorn without spilling it. But this time I had a plan.

I asked the young lady at the concession stand for a medium popcorn but in a large bag. I figured I could prevent spillage by folding over the top of the larger bag.

The girl informed me that nope, no way. It was against company policy. I tried again, emphasizing that I didn’t want more popcorn, only a bigger bag. Not allowed, she repeated. By that time, 15 or 20 bystanders were rallying to my support. They, too, argued with the poor teenager. Some even offered to pay the extra cost for the large bag. It was becoming a spectacle. I needed to defuse the situation. I thanked my supporters and left … without a kernel.

HUMANITARIAN AWARD: Jeff Cohen, my former boss at the Chronicle, invited me to a party for a retiring colleague. I wanted to go, but there was a problem. Private homes are not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and I have declined several invitations over the years because the homes were not accessible.

I knew Jeff lived in a beautiful house, but it was an older house in West University. A reconnoitering confirmed my suspicions. There was a series of steps that would be difficult to navigate, even using the portable aluminum ramps I carry in my van. Also, there was no direct walkway to those steps, only impenetrable thick grass.

Reluctantly, I called Jeff and told him I couldn’t go and explained why. He called back the next day and asked for my wheelchair’s dimensions. He had hired a handyman to build a wooden ramp that he thought would work. It did … and I had a great time at the party.

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: This isn’t the retirement my wife dreamed of either. Kelly, in the early days of my illness, had to help me bathe and dress.

Before I got a special driver’s license and purchased a ramp van, she chauffeured me to countless medical appointments, each time breaking apart the wheelchair and loading it into the car.

Then she coordinated the move from our two-story house to a one-story house she had made wheelchair-friendly. All this while taking over the household chores and putting aside her dreams.

The winners don’t get a statue, they get my gratitude. Kelly gets my love.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com)