Last night, Sydney's choir practiced for the competition on Friday. It was a full dress rehearsal in their long black dresses and strings of "pearls" and fancy hair. Whenever I see the choir sing, I'm always drawn to one girl who is "differently"-abled.

She only stands out because of her inability to stand still. The expression on her face makes it look like it is painful to stand for as long as the other girls do and they put a chair off to the side for her to rest in if they have to stand too long.

Now, I describe her as differently-abled because she has the face of a cherub and long beautiful hair and excels in some of her classes. This morning, I asked Sydney about her. I was careful how I asked because I wanted to know what Sydney thought, not change her thinking...unless I needed to, based on what I heard. Sydney's description was that she has a beautiful voice, but does have trouble walking and also lapses into what sounded like a fugue state ("she goes into her own head and her face goes blank and she stops working") that the teachers recognize and only have to tap her on the shoulder to bring her attention back to the classroom. The girl lives with her Grandmother and I saw the Grandmother pick her up last night. We'd seen the Grandmother in the audience because she was sitting with a boy, about 8 years old, who also had developmental issues.

Okay, a Grandmother that will take in one child is a great thing, but a Grandmother that will take in two, doesn't need to perform a miracle to gain sainthood in my book.

All this took me back to my youth and a boy that I'll call "Wayne" because I can't remember his name (and I am ashamed that I can't remember, but the most recent part of this story is 30 years ago, so that explains why). Like so many other people in my life, "Wayne" was part of the passing parade of people that have had an effect on my life and is still part of my life and how I feel about those that are different.

I think that Wayne had Muscular Dystrophy. I seem to remember that he was in some of the local spots for the MDS telethon. From the waist up, Wayne was a regular guy, with an attactive face and very broad shoulders. From the waist down, he was a mass of steel braces, leather belts, and crutches. And, when he walked, there was a clickety-clack/slide, clickety-clack/slide, clickety-clack/slide in a regular rhythm as the crutches moved forward and then his feet caught up.

I remember Wayne from church. He lived with an Aunt. I never knew the circumstances of that, but seem to remember it being discussed, when I was much too young to understand what it meant, that his parents were not up to the challenge of raising him, but his Aunt was. She was one of those wonderful, quiet, southern women who never had a cross word to say, had joyful and frequent laughter, was devoted to God, lead my Mother's Sunday school class and was loved by all who knew her.

She brought Wayne to church and I remember him being there almost every Sunday, but although he was only a few years older than me, I don't remember him ever being involved in the church youth group, like so many of us were. If I had to guess why, I'd say that he only came when extended a special invitation and that those invitations were only extended to assuage someone's guilty conscience. I don't think I need to explain that guilty conscience. I suspect that every one of us has felt, at some point, guilty about the luck that made us "normal".

Anyway, he was a regular church goer and we could always tell when he'd arrived. Clickety-clack/slide, Clickety-clack/slide down the aisle to a pew near the front where his Aunt and her "older lady" peers sat. When he sat, there was a sharp snap as he released the locks on his steel braces so he could sit. After church, there would be the sharp snap as he locked the braces so that he could stand, followed by Clickety-clack/slide, clickety-clack/slide, clickety-clack/slide as he moved out of the church and to his car that had the "cool hand controls".

A few years later, I was living in my first apartment and had a great job as the supervisor of cashiers at a new grocery store. I remember showing up for my first day, long before the store opened, and behind me, I heard the Clickety-clack/slide, clickety-clack/slide and turned to find Wayne. He had been hired as the store's bookkeeper.

Every day, clickety-clack/slide, clickety-clack/slide as he made his way into the store. Then, he had to heave himself up the two steps into the store's office that looked out on the checkstands. This took varying amounts of time. Sometimes, he was spry and with very little effort, he would be in his rolling office chair and begin counting the cash and distributing it into tills for my cashiers to use. He had very muscular arms from those crutches and would sit in the chair and push himself from place to place, using the counter top and the big steel safe as handles to push and pull himself around. And, at the end of the day, there would be the snap as he locked the braces and then the much more difficult task of getting himself down those two steps and out the door; clickety-clack/slide, clickety-clack/slide, clickety-clack. That's the only time I ever remember him needing help and it seemed that one or the other of the store managers always managed to be there when it was time for Wayne to leave, just in case. And, I can remember a couple of times that he needed that help and I also remember that not one of us ever acted like it was help, anymore than we would have if anyone else had tripped or stumbled and needed an extra arm for balance.

Wayne and I got to know one another sort of well while we worked together. We had the issue of going to the same church that kept us from being really close at work...neither of us wanted to do or say anything in the workplace that might be frowned upon in the church. We didn't talk about girls or what we did after work. I was a closeted gay person and I doubt that Wayne had ever been able to go too many places other than home, church and the store...this was around the time that all the laws about equal access were starting to be enforced and his crutches would have made it hard to go to most of the places that I took for granted. But I did find out how those really cool hand controls in his car worked. We shared many laughs about the things we had in common and the funny things that happened in our workdays. He helped out the cashiers when I was out and I helped him count money when we'd had particularly busy days and there was more cash than could be counted by one person.

I remember once that I did a truly stupid thing. We were extremely busy and I had taken a till so I could open a register to help out. One of the cashiers needed help and I sat my till on the register and walked away from it for just a second. But, as so often happens when I'm distracted, I was away for longer than I planned to be and I remember that when I helped my first customer, it was strange that there were only a couple of $20 bills in my till. I didn't think any more of it until a couple of days later, when Wayne said that my till came up a few hundred dollars off the other day. It must have been his mistake in counting the till before I got it and he wanted me to know what he'd assumed to be the problem in case anyone ever asked me. But, I knew in the back of my head where those dollars had gone. I was so young and had been so sheltered and did not know what people were really like. And, yet, I was kept out of trouble by a friend that went clickety-clack/slide, clickety-clack/slide.

It wasn't too long after, that the store owners brought in a new manager and our little happy store full of happy employees making happy repeat customers came crashing down under the heavy foot of a small man that wanted to feel big. Over time, all the managers left the store and eventually, the small man put them out of business by making everyone unhappy, including the customers.

But, I'll never forget how close all of us were while it was open. And, I'll never forget the friendship that developed between Wayne and me. And, I can still hear the sound of his walk in my head. Clickety-clack/slide, clickety-clack/slide.

Working with Wayne helped prepare me to take a job with the Association for Retarded Citizens. I no longer felt guilty about being "normal". And I was able to look beyond the differences and see the people that I worked with there. And, I still am able to look those that are different in the eye. And I think that in large part, it's because of the man that walked clickety-clack/slide, clickety-clack/slide. I don't know where he is now, but I know that a part of him is now a part of me.

clickety-clack/slide, clickety-clack/slide


P.S. Got an email about this not being very politically correct. I don't want to offend anyone with what I remember as a wonderful story. Please remember that this was 30 years ago. The times were not very politically correct for people that were different and it's people like "Wayne" and their advocates that helped change that for people like the girl in Sydney's choir. I wish I had always been as open as I am now. Unfortunately, I was not. So, while I don't want to offend anyone, that lack of political correctness is part of the story I want to tell. Wayne had a hard row to hoe and for a time, I was a friend of his. Good or bad, tha's how it was. PPS. Got an email from a Mom that made me cry. The story of her daughter is as inspirational to me as the one I told. Imagine a daughter that wanted to be a cheerleader and didn't let her wheelchair get in the way. Can you imagine what it took her to win the School Spirit award at graduation? Now, that's inspiration and while the Mom didn't take credit, that's raising a child right. My Mom also wrote and she remembered that Wayne's name was really Dewayne, so I got really close. Guess I don't have to worry about where my keys are for a while longer.


Becky said...

Lane, thank you for your thoughtful post. My little miracle granddaughter Libby has "leg issues" and though she can walk and run in a cumbersome manner, they are crooked and her feet are turned. Because of the crookedness she is unable to stand still for any length of time. She will be going to Pre-K this fall and I hope she has a classroom full of understanding, caring, supportive children that feel like you in there with her. (I'd hate to have to go smack a bully!!)

Mad about Craft said...

I understand about 'Wayne' remaining part of you. When I was at school I did voluntary work in a 'special' school. The children at the school and disabilities ranging from spina biffida to Down's syndrome. I got friendly with one particular boy who ended up being 'sweet' on me. One Valentines he gave me a Valentines card which made a reference to me being able to love a cripple. It broke my heart at the time, I kept the card for a long time and every time I looked at it, it upset me so I have since got rid of it but I often think about him and where he is now.
I am very glad that most children that have special needs are now in main stream school in the UK, I think it is better everyone. We also have 2 boys in Beaver Scouts with difficulties and it great to see them learning and developing from what we do for an hour each week.

Elaine Adair said...

Thanks for that nice, friendly story.

It's good to know that as a nation, all of us are slowly learning to be less judgmental.

Judy said...

Thank you for your thoughtful post. I, too, have special people in my life who have stayed with me through the years in mind only. Where are they now? How are they doing? They will never know what a positive influence they were in my life.

I have been following your blog for a few months now and appreciate your humor, vulnerability and candor about your daily life and raising a teenager. Sometimes as a parent having a sense of humor is what gets us through the roughest of days, isn't it?

Anyway, keep blogging, please. Of course, I enjoy the quilting part too. You have come a long way and become quite accomplished in your skills.

Thanks again.

Elizabeth said...

OK, so you know me and my quotes. There's one that goes something like this (sorry I can't find the exact reference): sometimes we learn the most from lessons that are meant for someone else. There are many brave people in this world who have to face more than their fair share of trials and we are wise to learn from their wisdom and grace under such pressure. Wayne seems like a great man. Thanks for sharing.

xo -El

Cynthia L. said...

I am sorry someone said you told you were politically incorrect. As you said, things were different years ago. I, and all those who love you, know there was no ill meaning in your story. You told of a friendship and wonderful memories of a young man who was different. I only saw good in the story.

I am so glad that you have continued to share about your past and your present and not just quilting!

Shay said...

I work in the disability field and am quite sensitive to anything "politically incorrect". I deal with and assist parents to deal with discrimination and ignorance on a weekly basis and honestly I read your whole post without once feeling like you were being politically incorrect or disrespectful.

People with disability have broken down many barriers in the last 20-30 years but there is still a long way to go. There is still ignorance and fear. Wayne sounds like a man who just wanted to live his life and being accepted for who he was -which is all any of us want isnt it?

I enjoyed your post today Lane.

Michelle said...

I enjoyed your story, and did not once think anything was politically incorrect. Your story warmed my heart, and like someone else said, I enjoy hearing about your quilting, but I think I enjoy your stories just as much or more. You are a wonderful writer, and I think you are doing a wonderful job raising Sydney. She is very blessed to have you.

SubeeSews said...

I really enjoyed your post and do not see why there are "nay-sayers" for every positive emotion.
I was in leg braces until 2nd grade. Could not be in gym classes but wanted to be. My gym period was spent trying to walk a straight line without the braces. I am still very pigeon-toed to this day. (is that a bad description too?) Children can be cruel. And way back then there were no laws to stop the bullying and shame that comes with being different.
It did change me. And I think in a positive way. I had a very close friend in high school who was like you. We never talked much about it. All I knew was he was different and so was I. His name was Mitch and he was the best artist!
Thanks for your blog. It made me think of my friend.
XOXOO Subeee

Pokey said...

Thank you for this story, Lane. I had a "Dewayne" in my life as a girl. These strong people and the influence they give to us make us the people we are, with the heart we have. It keeps us caring. I pray to influence my students with that strength, too. Truly it is us who wear the braces when we cannot reach beyond the outside appearances.

cindyquiltsOR said...

To hell with politically correct!

So many of us are afraid to share our experiences or thoughts because they might offend some. As long as it was not presented in anger or an attempt to damage another: speak up!

I loved the story. I understand how people end up embossed in our hearts. Thanks for being REAL.

Best Wishes!
Cindy B.

lw said...

I really enjoyed this story, it's thought provoking and very loving and human.