Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Is That Your Puppy?

Mom was always particularly proud of coming from a large family. Tell anyone how big and they would always gasp. She actually started a few of her stories laying that right out, that she was the 13th of 14 kids.

She does that with this story, one she wrote longhand in June 2011. It's a story that concerns a passer by offering Mom a dog. The story ends before Mom writes whether she actually got to keep the dog. The photo is of Mom, left, in what appears to be her wagon.

I was born into a huge farm family. I was number 13 of 14 children. I am sure I was welcome, but I don't know what they thought when they looked at me and my deformed feet. I am sure I had plenty of people to hold me. Toots has said that she raised the three of us at the bottom.

Mickey came next. She also was born with a deformed hand, but managed quite well. We were together a lot. Karon was often with us. Mom tried to find a doctor for me. There wasn't much out there.

Most of the time I crawled inside and used a trick (with a wagon) by pushing it with the back wheel. It worked real well until late summer when the chickens were out. Then of course the wheels would get rather dirty. It didn't smell too good either, if you know what I mean.

The country was just coming out of the depression. Our farm was on the main highway so we had several people stop for handouts. They tell me that Gypsies camped in the grove for a time. I don't remember that. I guess Mom warned us not to go down there. I guess she thought they would kidnap us.

From what I was told, Mom fed a lot of the extra people during that time. She never turned anyone down. Gas for their cars was also asked for. I do remember the girls told me that she was really concerned about parents driving with a tiny baby and no way to keep milk. Somehow she wrapped one bottle in newspaper and gave them another to feed the baby now.

Another time we were playing in the grove, we were coming back when we saw Mom talking to a strange man. She saw us and called Karon up there.

I said to Mickey, "I bet he wants gas." Mom asked Karon to run down and ask Terry to help this man with some gas. By this time, Mickey and I got there. I spied a little terrier puppy in the car on a blanket.

"Is that your puppy?" I said.

"Yes, someone gave her to me for some work," he said. "Do you have a dog?"

"Not one for me, I have had cats, but they are usually outside," I said as I was petting the puppy.

"What is your name?" he said.

"My name is Connie," I said.

"Would you like one?" he said, "I better go in to ask your mom."

By this time, Terry has put the gas into the car and wanted to know where he went.

"He went into the house to talk to Mom," I said.

"I will go in and tell her I am finished putting gas in," said Terry.

Terry was also so handsome and helped with us a lot, even playing with us. Those boys were so good to us. One summer he gave us a ride down to the pasture to make sure the cattle had water.

Connie, June 25, 2011

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

There Were Some Beautiful Cards

The last couple of years, Mom started talking about writing a book about her life. She talked about sitting down at a computer and writing. But she always seemed to be too busy with her main pursuit, sewing.

When I started going through her box of writing, I was surprised by how much she had gotten done. It wasn't book size by any means, but she went through a few notebooks, writing longhand.

I can decipher most of it. Mom always had good handwriting. If there's a spot that I'm wasn't sure about I put an ellipsis. Unlike her earlier work, written for classes, her handwritten pieces weren't edited. They're Mom's thoughts on the page. Some of the stories were incomplete.

Some of them were revisits to stories she had already written in her classes. One of her favorite stories was of how she had a role in getting her brother Elmer and his wife Peggy together.

What seems to be the definitive version of that story, (Peggy Fit Right In), is up, written for one of Mom's writing classes. This is another version of that story that was unfinished, but goes off in a little different direction. The photo is an early one of Mom with her crutches.

Summer soon started to change into fall. Mickey and I have played all summer. Mickey is taller than I, even though she was younger by two years. I never thought that was really fair. She had jet black hair and it always had some curl to it and was real thick. Everything I didn't have.

Dad was over six-feet tall with a pipe usually in his mouth. He usually wore a set of bib overalls and a long sleeve blue shirt. He had a slight limp and by now wasn't doing much work in the field. He always claimed it was his sciatic.

Mid-afternoon he always wanted to go to this small cafe down the road for a Pepsi. Sometimes we would tag along and get ice cream cones. We never usually got out of the car, as it was difficult for me with my casts on my legs.

I just started with a doctor in Sioux Falls to straighten out my knees and my feet. I was only 5 at the time, so I did what I was told. ...

This was grain cutting season. Mom was busy making all these meals. There may be some extra men also, as when we were finished, we went over the neighbor's farm. You could share equipment and help that way.

Mom was still making sandwiches when we got home. After I got into the house, I jumped into a chair to help. One of the girls gave me a cloth to wash my hands.

Mom always had everything in hand. She was a short 5 feet, 2 inches, had her black hair short. She was heavy-set, just like "moms were supposed to look."

"Connie," mom called, "there are some letters and some cards on the table. You remember Aunt Norie put your name in the Dakota Farmer. She told them that you needed pen pals." She laughed a little. "We know you have enough pen pals right here in this room." I wasn't sure what pen pals was, but it must be good.

Bernice, who was helping with sandwiches, said "That is for sure."

Mickey, a 3 year old, by this time has gotten the letters down off the table and had them half opened.

There were some beautiful cards. Some of them had pretty hankies in them. I liked stacking them and arraigning them in different shapes, like a house, living room, bedroom, kitchen, etc. Such color, I loved them.

Alice came in and started to read the letters. Some of them were really happy. She started to keep a little book with names and addresses of these people. This lasted over a month. Some of them, if we wrote back, if they lived close.

There was one 14-year-old girl that lived in Montana with her dad and three brothers. Her name was Peggy. She seemed like fun so Alice wrote her back. She shared the letters with Elmer and Loren then eventually with mom.

This correspondence went on through the school year. There was one old gentleman that also kept up correspondence. All his letters were decorated. He drew birds pen and ink. His name was C.F. Park. He was going by our farm and stopped by. He had cardboard short letters with pen and ink birds on them. He had one for everyone, and a couple for me.

He then took his whiskey jug and played "Little Brown Jug." He was cute, reminded us of Burl Ives, who was popular at the time.

Mom, 2011

Monday, February 27, 2012

Peggy Fit Right In

This story has to be among Mom's favorites. It's the story of how she indirectly got one of my aunt and uncles together, her brother Elmer and his wife Peggy.

It's also a story that she returned to a few times over the years. This would seem to be the definitive version. I may post another version in the future.

The photo is Mom when she was probably 7 or 8. The caption on the back doesn't say. The caption, though, identifies Mom, and it also identifies the bird sitting on her shoulder: Corky. It's a bird Mom mentions in this story.

I was born with a physical disability, number 13 of 14 children; raised on a farm in eastern South Dakota. When I was 6 years old my aunt decided I needed some pen pals; so she put my name in a farm paper saying I was a shut in and wanted letters.

Well I got them - letters from all over the area - about 100 of them. I couldn't read or write yet so my two sisters Alice and Bernice helped open and process the letters and cards. They recorded all the names and addresses and answered some with short letters. One young girl, living on a remote ranch in the southern tip of Montana wrote a nice letter. This young girl was the same age as Alice about 12, so she wrote her a letter back. Thus began a letter communication between the two girls, who seemed to have a lot in common.

Some time the following summer, Alice and two of our brothers, Loren, age 17, and Elmer, age 15, talked Mom and Dad into letting them drive the 750 miles to Big Horn, Montana. I heard much about this trip, as I was too young to go. I can't imagine my folks allowing such young teenagers to make this long trip.

Her name was Peggy. She was the oldest of four children, the only girl. They lived with their dad on a ranch only accessible by car in dry seasons. Otherwise, horses were the mode of transportation. Peggy fit right in with the three teenagers. They did everything from rounding-up cattle, then branding them to camping outside. The ranch had no electricity and little running water. For Peggy and her brothers, it meant staying in a boarding house during the school year; but summers were spent on the ranch. Peggy did the cooking and cleaning for the family.

She had red hair with the temper to match, when she felt she was right. A fiesty teenager but with a big love for life. Even though she lived in the remote part of the state, with no TV, of course, no radio, only newspapers and magazines, which came only when they could get into town to pick up the mail, she kept abreast of all the happenings in the world. She tried the latest fashion and cooked the usual dishes. She seemed the typical teenager and got along with the three from South Dakota. So much so that her dad allowed her to come back with them for a visit.

Once at our house with all of my family, she was one of us. It's like she belonged. My Mom and Dad loved her. As for the rest of us, she was like another sister. She was interested in everything we did. She loved every living thing. I will never forget the baby sparrow she named Corky, who had fallen from a nest. She took it and fed it for weeks. She was ready for everything. She worked in the fields making hay; she helped feed the livestock; she helped me and made me feel important. She never felt sorry for me; but always encouraged me in everything I attempted.

Over the succeeding several summers, she spent time at our house, sometimes with her brothers, sometimes with her dad - who was a wonderful mild-mannered rancher. The brothers of course, sent all these girls hearts fluttering. Elmer, however, had his sights set on Peggy, or was it the other way around. They were married when she turned 18. I told her once that she married Elmer so she could have all of us.

Peggy has been more of a best friend then a sister-in-law. There is nothing I can't talk to her about and she would understand. She is gentle and loving with everyone and demands nothing in return. She and Elmer have nine children and many grandchildren. Five years ago, she returned to school and became an LPN. Her compassion is now directed to her patients at the Veterans Hospital in Sturgis, South Dakota.

If I had a choice of who to visit - it would be Peggy. We could talk a week and not run out of things to say. She has this effect on everyone she meets. She can walk into a room and people are drawn to her. She makes everyone feel special because she is special. God made only one Peggy and He gave her to us.

Connie, April 28, 1992

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Is This Your Town? (Part 3)

This is the third and final part of Mom's paper on barriers for people with disabilities in the early 1970s. In this part, she writes about restaurants, movie theaters and other public buildings. For the first part. For the second part.

The paper is undated, but clues, including Mom's maiden name and address signal it is from the early 1970s. The photo is of Mom at Mount Rushmore in the 1970s. Mom went to school in nearby Rapid City, before moving to her new home and new state in Iowa for a job at a hospital.

Is This Your Town? (Part 3)

What kind of entertainment can Mary expect in her new town? Several restaurants are ground level. Maneuvering room is nonexistent. When a room is full of people sitting at tables, there is barely room for anyone walking much less room for a wheelchair. Several of the newer chain restaurants or hamburger places do have accessible restrooms complete with grab bars.

One of the nicest places to eat, drink and have a nice evening with friends, is impossible. Many steps adorn the front with more steps to the ground floor bar. The dining room is on the second floor, with the ballroom on a third level. A Chinese restaurant is accessible to the eating area, however, the bar is down narrow steps and the restroom is small.

There are four movie theaters on ground level in Mary's town. You will have to get out of your chair and sit in the theater seats, so your wheelchair does not obstruct the aisles. The university shows movies in the Memorial Union. This is accessible from one door with an elevator inside. They have some removable seats along the aisle so you can remain in your chair.

The football stadium and the community theater are easily accessible. The auditorium connected with the university shows many plays and concerts throughout the season, but will present the same problems as the theaters.

When we take a look at the university's nearly 200 buildings, we find few are accessible. Most of them are old, multi-storied buildings converted to classrooms. Many tax dollars are wasted sending the handicapped students out of state to college. Much needs to be done in this area.

"Mary, this survey has really been interesting. Many of these things I hadn't thought of before."

"Beth, would you make a telephone call for me, cause I can't get into that telephone booth?"

"Guess that would be difficult with a wheelchair."

"Yes and I also can't reach that water fountain. And those revolving doors, escalators, turnstiles are impossible."

"Gosh Mary, I never realized all these problems and I've known you for a long time. I just never have paid attention."

"You know, Beth, society tends to build buildings for normal people. But who is normal? Everyone has something different about them. That's what makes us unique. Some of us have obvious handicaps, while others hide their handicaps. Some handicaps are temporary, while others are permanent. The amateur or temporary handicapped finds it much more difficult than those of us who have to live with it each day."

"That's right. I broke my leg last year and I was helpless. I don't think I went anywhere for a month because I couldn't manage our front stairs very well. It would have been great if our house had been barrier free."

Nearly every American will have a handicap of one kind or another during his life that may be temporary or permanent. It has only been in the last 15-20 years that the handicapped American has been permitted to be a productive member of society. All of the Marys of the country are no longer satisfied being barred from buildings so they have organized committees to check them out. As a result, a recent federal law now states that any federal building has to be built with accessible features. This should include the long door handles so the amputee can grasp them, warning signals for the blind, and sight signals for the deaf. A state law has also been passed that states - "any newly built, privately-owned public building, such as a restaurant, must be barrier free. Any five unit or more apartment house has to have at least one unit with some accessible features."

There is still much to be done. These laws must be enforced. Each building must be checked out, preferably by an "expert" - one who lives with the problems. We all need to be barrier conscious. After all, who knows what's in our future.

Connie, early 1970s

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Is This Your Town? (Part 2)

This is the second part of Mom's Is This Your Town? paper, written in the early 1970s. This section contained some of the cues as to the paper's age, confirmed when I noticed Mom using her maiden name. For the first part go here.

In this section, Mom talks about the problems of curbs and parking, as well as transportation around town. They are problems that today are virtually no longer exist. One more part is coming. The photo is of Mom in the 1970s pointing to a sign for her new home state of Iowa.

Is This Your Town? (Part 2)

What kind of transportation is available for Mary? Have you ever gotten on a transit bus in a wheelchair, or with crutches? If you are close enough, you can 'wheel' to work. Street curbs are a problem. It is only a few inches but a definite obstacle.

The private car is best. A taxi every day is expensive. You could arrange for a friend to pick you up; but Mary has just moved into town so hasn't made many friends.

It would be best if Mary could buy herself a car. She can have a hand control installed on nearly any kind of car. These can be adjusted to touch depending on the strength of either her right or left hand. The car should have an automatic transmission, with power steering and power brakes, since she will have to do all of the steering with one hand and control her accelerator and brake with the other hand. A car, however, is also a great expense for one who has just gotten her first job. In addition there is the problem of where to park it. More room is needed to get a wheelchair in and out of a car. She doesn't want to travel blocks between parking and her work or home. There is still that inevitable curb. In Mary's town they are eliminating the curb on some downtown streets.

Mary's town has churches of many denominations. By doing some checking she found at least one church in each of the major denominations that is accessible. Nearly all of them are less than ten years old. Most of them are, however, only accessible as far as the immediate church sanctuary. The social hall is usually in the basement or upstairs with no elevator. Often the stairs are too steep for the crutch walker or the elderly. This bars them from receptions and social functions so important in their morale. She found one old church with the foresight to include some accessible features when they remodeled. They installed ramps when possible and also an elevator. From the front it is still the old style church with a flight of stairs. From the back door off the parking lot it is accessible.

A high school in Mary's town, also less than ten years old, has an elevator. One junior high is accessible and ten of the sixteen elementary schools are ground level or near ground level. Should Mary be a teacher this is good news. Most of the restrooms, however, are too small. Schools are important as nearly sixty percent of the handicapped children now attending "special" schools could attend a public school with these barriers removed, saving the taxpayer money.

Mary has some important business to take care of downtown. She is barred from the federal post office immediately as there is a flight of stairs in front. There is hope here, however, since a new federal building is under construction.

Mary will be excused from serving on a jury or testifying in a trial because the court house has thousands of steps. Indeed, she can't even register to vote in an election. What about getting her car license?

The recreation center is in a new building and is adorned with steps. The public library has a ramp in front then a flight of stairs to get to the main floor. Can't even read a good book. The university library is accessible from the front door, however the library officials have seen fit to lock that particular door so the only way in is to have a key. There is also a narrow turnstile inside.

Mary's town has several shopping centers. Downtown is out because of the difficulty with parking. She may have to walk, or wheel, several blocks to her destination. The majority of these stores are on two levels and have very heavy doors.

The mall shopping center on the outskirts of town is better. You need transportation, but there's lots of parking so you can get close to the door. The main entrance has a level curb and wide doors. Maneuvering is a bit tricky in some of the store aisles, and merchandise is sometimes piled out of reach. The grocery stores have wide aisles and the carry-out boys load your car. One store has a couple of wider parking spaces reserved for wheelchairs.

Go to Is This Your Town? (Part 3)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Is This Your Town?

This story from Mom is undated. When I first read it, I assumed it was another story from one of her early 1990s writing classes. In it, Mom talks about barriers in society to people with disabilities.

Mom, who had leg braces and used crutches to walk, chose to write the story from the perspective of someone in a wheelchair. The crux of the story is that person getting a new job and trying to get around town.

Reading the story, though, it seemed out of sync with the 1990s. Some of the barriers she wrote about were there then and have been long gone by now. Then I looked at the header again. While the story is undated, the name she used at the top was not her married name. It was her maiden name. The address was her Iowa address.

That information placed the story firmly in the early 1970s, just after Mom moved from her home in South Dakota for her new job hundreds of miles away in Iowa. While the story is about a woman named Mary who uses a wheelchair and Mom used crutches, Mom had to have used her own experiences to write it. It is really about a woman named Connie.

The story is longer, so I've broken it into two posts. The photo is of Mom in May 1974.

Is This Your Town?

Could These Be Your Problems Now or In the Future?

"Congratulations Mary! You've made it! You've graduated! Now, what are your plans?"

"I'm not sure, Beth. Guess I'll get a job. I want to be independent."

"You know the problems you'll have. It's not easy out there in that cruel world for anyone, and for you it will be even harder. What kind of job do you want? Where will you live? How will you get to work?"

"Beth, I know more than anybody that it won't be easy, but I have to know it can be done. I've many skills which I can use. I want to live by myself in an average-sized town - not too big or too small. I know, I'll write the Chamber of Commerce and ask them about their town."

"Great, Mary! I'll help you check it out."

The rundown from the Chamber of Commerce on Mary's inquiry didn't tell her what she wanted to know. You see Mary's mode of transportation is a wheelchair. Now, let's check out Mary's typical town.

Mary is well-qualified for nearly any position. She did well in her school subjects with little absenteeism, an asset to any business firm or organization. The employment office sent her on an interview. The company needs a secretary. Mary can type, take shorthand, handle the telephone with ease. Oh! Oh! How does she get into the building? There are several steps in the front. She can't mount them every day by herself. After investigation she discovers a back door that is accessible to a point. It's a tight squeeze through the door but possible. She wheels down the hall through the storeroom and finally finds herself in the main lobby to which most people enter through the front door. Mary took the "scenic" route. A quick check at the ladies room and Mary decided not to powder her nose. She couldn't get her wheelchair through the door.

After many tries she found an office building that is accessible. During the interview she must work twice as hard as most people to overcome that first impression of pity. She has to convince the prospective employer that she can do the job as good as, if not better than any of her competitors. Her boss sees her confidence and gives her the job.

Mary had it made or had she? A job with no place to live. She bought a newspaper and hunted through the ads. "Hmm. They didn't say whether this is a ground floor apartment." A telephone call told her it was upstairs, or only a few steps (might as well be a brick wall). Finally! A ground floor! The bathroom, however, had only a 26-inch door. In the kitchen, she couldn't reach the cupboards or the stove. It was much too small.

Most efficiency apartments have little maneuvering room. Many apartment complexes are several floors without elevators or ground floors. Renting a house is difficult. There just isn't much to choose from. Houses without basements usually have few steps but invariably the doorways are too narrow. Of course there is no remodeling of rental property. How nice it would be if "standard" doors were a little wider. Buying a house is impossible. After all, Mary had just gotten her job. A war veteran has an advantage here with GI benefits. How does Mary "make do" with less than an ideal house when she is barred from some rooms.

Mary's ideal house would consist of the following items. The doors to all rooms, including the bathroom, should be 32 inches wide and hallways should have clearance of 36 inches. There should be a ramp, or the possibility of building a ramp, to eliminate the existing steps. If possible, there should also be a railing at not more than 40 inches from the ground. The ideal kitchen would have the cupboards set several inches lower with knee room under the sink. The faucet handle should have both hot and cold on the same control so it can easily be reached from a sitting position. The automatic clothes washer and dryer should be front loading. Light switches should be lower and electric plug-ins higher. Many of these features could be standard on any house and wouldn't cause any inconvenience for the able-bodied housewife.

In the next part, Mom continues, addressing transportation and public buildings. Go to Part 2

Thursday, February 23, 2012

To Begin the Day

Mom worked at the same hospital for nearly 40 years, starting as a secretary and later serving as staffing coordinator. She would always get up early to go to work early. The schedule let her be home when we got home from school.

This story is from one of her writing classes, written in 1992, chronicling her early-morning drive to work. The photo is of Mom at her desk in 2001.

The alarm goes off. It's 4 a.m. I groan a bit and start to move. It is cold, so I move quickly. I put my robe on and go up front. I need a cup of coffee and breakfast. Now, I'm ready to face the world. Ugh!!

I finish dressing hurridly to be out of the house by 6 a.m. It's cold! This sweater and slacks feels good. I'm glad my car is in a garage or there would be ice to scrape. The car starts with no problem.

As I back the car down the drive, I always look at the sky and everything around. If it is a clear day, the stars pierce the blackness. The moon no matter what stage it is in, is always gorgeous. I am partial to the full moon, but the quarter is also neat. Later in the year, the sun will begin to rise. That can be spectacular.

Nature is wonderful if you stop to watch. There is the occasional rabbit crossing the street, the birds in the trees, or the dog barking as you drive by. The occasional deer running across the road can be both gorgeous and frightening, should you hit it.

Before you know it the ten miles are done. Coming into town, the atmosphere changes. The traffic is heavier, the buses are pulling out of the bus barn, delivery trucks are starting off and many others, like myself, hurrying to work. All of this hassle brings me back to reality. I really have to go to work, to face all the day's problems. All day long there is someone with a problem expecting me to have an answer. Another long day of stress.

I believe this relaxing drive in the morning is God's way of preparing me for the full day at work.

Connie, January 1992

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What a Class Discussion

My mother regularly taught religion classes at her church. I actually came to find out after her services that it was a friendship she developed teaching religion classes in her South Dakota hometown that played a role in her eventually moving to Iowa.

In this story, she relates a discussion she had in her third grade religion class. The story is undated, but it was found next to a letter she wrote related to her 2008 trip. The photo below is of Mom teaching one of her classes.

The discussion in this story deals with what happens after people die.

Today I was teaching my third grade religion class with my helper. We have ten students. We were talking about the Paschal Mystery. We read each page and explained the different points. We prayed the Apostles Creed. In the lesson was this quote, "If you believe in ME you will never die." This girl was elated. She said, "I'm not going to die." Everyone laughed.

Wait a minute, your body as we know it will die. But our Spirit or soul will never die. Then the questions really started, "How will we look? Will we know each other?" We don't know as none of us has died. We can only use our imagination. We have heard of people dying and they appear to have gone someplace. One girl said "that when my grandma died, it was very peaceful and they were sure they saw an angel."

Yes, I said "when my mother died, all the family was in the room. We prayed the rosary, and it became very still. There were only our prayers and Mom's breathing growing so quiet. It was as if someone else was there with us... I TRULY think it helped us to heal and face the loss."

The kids were still concerned about what they will look like. I told them that since (I wear leg braces and walk with crutches); I hope that I will walk normal, if we walk at all. Again, I don't know.

We started learning the Creed. The discussion got serious again. One little girl said, "Why did Pontius Pilate have to have Jesus crucified?" I said what would the world be like if Jesus had not died. God sent Jesus to live with His people. He came to save us all and to start Christianity. I used to think why did he come down from the cross when the guard teased him. We knew that he can.

One girl said "Why did God say Jesus is on his right when the in the Sign of the Cross Jesus is in front?" I don't know where she got that.

What a class discussion.

Connie, undated.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Night That Changed My Life

This is the story my mother had me read on my last visit with her, a month before she passed. The title is hers, as well. The photo is her photo from her graduation from high school, in 1961. For the explanation of this blog, go to Connie from South Dakota.

This hospital room is so quiet. There are lots of us in the room, but no one is talking. It's like a church when you are not supposed to talk. We were called earlier to come, as our mother was not good. This doesn't seem real. I can hear her breathing. She'll be all right. She has to take care of me.

Five months ago, I had back surgery which left me flat on my back for six months. When I came home from the hospital, I insisted that I have the phone close to my hospital bed. I thought at least I could help Mom by answering the phone. I was the only child left at home. The rest of the family had married and gone on with their lives. Some lived as far away as Nashville, Tennessee, some much closer. One brother, Loren, lived across the field from us.

Mom and I had a good relationship with each other. I was 22 years old but felt I had an obligation to her. She wanted me home with her. Even though these words were never spoken, I felt them. She never helped me, or insisted, that I find a career. It was understood that, because of my physical handicap, I stay at home and take care of them. I lacked the courage to leave her and go off on my own.

One morning, as I lay in bed recovering from the back surgery, Mom started acting funny. At first it was strange. She dropped things and talked a little bit slurred. She lay down on the couch and continued to mumble. Dad was gone for the morning. I was worried. I reached for the phone and dialed my brother's number. He was there within minutes. He took one look at her and called the doctor and hospital. They took her away. My sister took me to stay with her.

The doctor said Mom had a stroke. I knew what that meant. No one Mom's age recovered from a stroke. I cried. The thought of living without her was inconceivable. Even more inconceivable was the thought of her living as a helpless old person not knowing what was going on around her. I cried again.

The weeks went by slowly. The doctors were discussing nursing home. She would have hated that. Then came the phone call when the nurse said we should come to the hospital. My sister and her husband loaded me in the van, as I was still laying flat. At the hospital they put me on a cart and wheeled me by her bedside. I tried to talk with her. She opened her eyes, but I don't think she knew me. One by one my family got there. The nurses moved the other patient out so we had more room.

Somewhere around 11pm my sister from Iowa arrived. My brother was leading in praying the rosary. Suddenly the breathing stopped. She was gone. Surrounded by her family, she passed away. It was August 26, 1966. She raised 14 children to be good people. She loved us all and loved all her grandchildren.

The next few days, weeks and months have become a blur in my memory. After recovering from the surgery I again felt obligated to return home for Dad's sake. It wasn't the same without her. I needed to get on with my life. With the help of Vocational Rehabilitation of South Dakota, I went back to school and became a Medical Secretary. I got a job in a hospital in Iowa City, Iowa. I married and have two children. None of these things were ever 'expected' of me. I feel that God knew I wouldn't leave my mom, so He took her to Heaven to guide me from there. I really loved her and I know she approves of my life so far. I only wish my children could have known their grandma.

Connie, Oct. 9, 1991

Connie from South Dakota

My mother, Connie, on a visit to Upstate New York in 2010.

Sitting in my parents' living room last November, my mother, Connie, pulled a folder out of a box by her chair.

Inside the box and folders were stories, stories my mom had written over the years in her spare time or in writing classes. I'm sure I'd seen the box or folders before, but I'd never taken the time to read through the stories it contained.

She pulled out one story in particular and handed it to me to read. The story took place in 1966, at her family's farm house in South Dakota, when she was 22.

It was a story that encompassed some of the same themes of many of the rest of the stories in that box. It was a story of her family, her recollections of growing up in South Dakota and her eventual move to Iowa, where I came along.

It was also a story of the impact that her particular form of Muscular Dystrophy had on her life, both to that point and going forward.

I read that story, sitting in the living room of the Iowa house where I grew up. The rest of the stories, though, I wouldn't get to read until later, after my mother passed away.

She passed away just before Christmas, just over a month after my visit. She had been losing weight for some time, so the thought that she would pass was there. But we never thought it would happen as quickly as it did.

In the whirlwind days that followed, my wife and I, went through the house, filling boxes full of memories to send back with us to our home in Upstate New York.

What has helped me in the weeks and months since her passing, has been these stories.

They're personal stories of my family. But they're also stories of her experience growing up in a large South Dakota farm family in the 1940s and 1950s, growing up with her form of Muscular Dystrophy.

Weakness in her legs required full braces on both, in order for her to walk. With the braces, she also needed crutches to get around.

Her form of the disease was similar, if a little more profound, than my own. I have a lesser form of the braces, but don't require crutches. It's just one of the many ways my wife tells me that my mother and I were alike.

Reading through my mother's stories, it's that disability experience that had me start this blog. These were stories of a particular place and time, of a girl and her family dealing with a disability that the world at that time wasn't fully prepared to address.

The other reason for starting this blog is simply to get my mother's stories out to an audience, or at least to family and friends and whoever might stumble across it.

The stories are written both in longhand and typed up. I think I'll post them page-by-page, trying to post a page a day. I may introduce a new story with a memory or some context. But the rest of the post will be all my mother.

As for the story my mother showed me in November, the one that reminded me later that this cache of her writing was there, it was the story that reflected her life to that point and the path that her life would take going forward.

It was also profoundly prophetic that she would show me that story at that time.

It was the story of the passing of her mother, my grandmother.

That will be the first story I post. From there, I think I'll just work my way through everything, until all the stories of Connie from South Dakota are up.

I'm just so glad to have these stories and be able to share them.

Growing up in South Dakota
Going out on her own
Life in Iowa
Disability awareness
Mom's Family
Mom's 1994 paper on education of children with disabilities
Creating Writing