Saturday, March 24, 2012

1994 From Dependence to Independence (Part 1)

As I get deeper into Mom's stories, some answer questions raised in earlier stories. This is one of them. In the earlier posted "Connie's World," Mom uses names of her family and herself to tell a story very similar to her own.

This paper carries a direct recounting of Mom's youth, including why the first day of second grade, as depicted in the "Connie's World" story, was so important in Mom's actual life: that year, she got her new braces and crutches.

This story is undated, but it appears to have been written for one of her 1990s writing classes, likely 1994. Mom also uses the same title as an earlier posted story, From Dependence to Independence.

The photo shows Mom in her braces about the age she would have been in second grade. The significance of the dress is not recorded on the photo.

From Dependence to Independence

When I was a little girl, I was unable to walk. I got around the house by crawling or with a small walker. Since I was the youngest of a large family, my brothers or sisters would carry me. Then I was old enough to go to school. I couldn't crawl in school. Yet I wanted to go to school. The year was 1949. No one thought much about teaching kids like me. I was already bright as we played "school" with my sisters showing me the letters. My mother just decided to send me to school. My brother carried me every day to the first grade. Boy, did I feel important. I got along fine in school.

In the middle of the first year, though, Mom heard of this new doctor, Robert Van DeMark. He worked in a nearby town and was doing some wonderful things with disabled kids. We were in the middle of the polio epidemic. This was the dreaded crippling disease that struck many children and adults. Many died and many more were crippled for life. Mine was a birth defect, but everyone assumed that I had polio as there were so many. Dr. Van DeMark responded to the need, I guess, that was really created by this epidemic. He cared very deeply for his patients; many of which were quite young.

The doctor immediately casted both legs and, after a few months, I had full-length leg braces. All of this caused me to miss a good deal of school the first year. I still managed to keep up, and by the beginning of the second grade, I was able to walk with the aid of these braces and crutches. They were ugly, but they worked. Oh, how I longed to wear pretty shoes. But I was happy with at least some shoes, and I was able to walk.

The biggest problem was that the building was so difficult to get into. There was no way I could handle the stairs, which were really frightening to me. I would have loved to have some of the schools that Iowa City has today. Near as I can find out, my hometown school still has all the steps.

My mother, who never had any doubt that I could learn, assumed all along that I could go to school. I give her a lot of credit for that. She could have sheltered me from the difficult world. Not that it would have done any good, as you can't be sheltered. The world is here and we must learn to live in it and let others live in it, too, and as easily as possible.

My brothers and sisters, too, played a large role in this. They never treated me as "different" and took me along with them so I could really see the world. They made me feel important. The teachers also made me feel good. Since this was a small school, the class was very close-knit. We only had 18 kids in our grade. This number increased a little in later grades. There were always two grades in a room. For example, first and second grade in the same room. So every other year my sister, Karon, was in my room with me. It always gave me a little confidence knowing that she was there.

I asked my older sisters and brother, Dolores, Bernice, and Melvin, if there were conversations of objections to my attending school. They can remember none. One of my classmate's mom, Mildred Klein, also could not remember any problems connected to my attending school. Sister Mary Pius, my first and second grade teacher, recently wrote in a letter, "We probably needed you more than you needed us. For you made us go out of ourselves to help you when needed." There were always many volunteers to help with me. She said she had a red wagon to pull me at recess, otherwise someone stayed inside with me. Small wheelchairs were unheard of at the time.

Many changes have occurred in the education of disabled children and adults, the most important of which is the recognition that disabled people can be educated, and can fit into society as responsible adults and shed the stereotype of the helpless invalid in a wheelchair.

Small children who also had polio about this same time, had nowhere to go to school. The few who could get around on their own probably went to public schools. My guess is that many stayed home or were put into homes for retarded children. At some point in time, whether it was due to legislation or what, the idea was brought forward to have special schools. In South Dakota, ours opened in the early 50s. I was established in my school setting, so my parents were not anxious to send me to this "special school." They would also have to pay my tuition to attend this school as well as transportation to and from, as my father had his name on some land and I didn't have polio, so we were not eligible for aid. It didn't matter that he had 13 other kids to support.

Go to Part 2

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