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My Roots and Disability

When disability comes into the life of an individual and a family, it does not make its imprint on a blank slate or on some abstract, unblemished reality, but impacts individuals with all the strengths, failings, character traits, and idiosyncrasies they have already, and in the locale, circumstances, and living conditions in which they find themselves. You’ll learn where I came from, geographically, parentally, and emotionally, as well as in regard to socio-economic status – as I started my journey toward dealing with my disability and finding out where I would, or would not, fit into the world.

Early Years with a Disability

Learn about the origin of my disability as an infant in 1949 when waves of a major polio epidemic were sweeping the country, and how my mother and grandmother discovered that I had contracted the disease. I describe how polio operates and the variety of effects it can have, ranging from no residual damage to paralysis to death, and the immediate effects polio had on me. Medical personnel had my parents subject me to a regime of exercises and wearing a brace. In kindergarten I delighted in being part of a herd of kids running around having fun at recess – a feeling of belonging that was in contrast to the separation and isolation that I began to experience as I went further in school. I had difficulty with writing because I had to do it with my non-dominant left hand, and I began to understand that my classmates often felt uncomfortable and standoffish toward me, a situation exacerbated by teachers who treated me as “special” and made me a “teacher’s pet.” You’ll laugh at my disastrous attempt to try out for a Little League baseball team, and you’ll learn a key fact about this part of my life: within my family, my disability was treated as a shameful secret that was almost never alluded to or discussed.

  1. Bobby’s Arm
  2. How “Crippled” Is He?
  3. Kindergarten and Early Grade School: Fitting-In, Learning to Write, and Teacher’s Pet
  4. Sports and My Baseball Fiasco
  5. Boyhood Fights
  6. Contact with Others with Disabilities and Family Taboo on Talking about Disability

Family Background and the Gray Period

My hometown and neighborhood, and my family background, particularly in the phase of my young life that I characterize as the “Gray Period” – involving poverty, child-rearing limitations of my parents, and familial alcoholism – are depicted in vignettes and reflections. I recount childhood events and circumstances that shaped the adult I became and the work that I came to do.

  1. Hometown
  2. Aspects of Poverty
    1. Food
    2. Shelter
    3. Other Effects of Poverty
  3. Parenting Skills
  4. Alcoholism

Better Years, and Not

A new phase of dealing with my disability occurred when I had surgery on my right shoulder the summer I turned 11. Other big changes to my family’s living conditions had begun shortly before. Dad finally finished his apprenticeship and became a journeyman electrician. Within a few years, his annual salary grew to what we considered a princely sum of $10,000. We were able to move out of the so-called “two-room shack” to a larger house in a somewhat better neighborhood, changes that had a big impact on our family. You’ll learn of the surgical procedure I underwent and my summer in a waist-to-neck, “Statute of Liberty” cast (without air conditioning), the excruciating wrenching out of a big metal pin from my shoulder, and improvements the surgery engendered and the limitations I was left with. My progress and setbacks during high school and college, including my feelings of social inadequacy, especially problems in relating to young women will be recounted. Big disappointments in my life were being cut from the high school basketball team because of my disability, and, when I was working at a summer job, being thrown off a work site by a contractor who said he didn’t “want any cripples on the job.”

  1. Moving from “Two-Room Shack” to “Haunted House” in Better Neighborhood
  2. Corrective Surgery and My Summer in a “Statue of Liberty” Cast
  3. Life and Activities with my Remodeled Shoulder
  4. Entering the Workforce and a Smorgasbord of Jobs
  5. Fired from Electrician Job Because of my Disability
  6. Longing for Interaction with Women
  7. Weight of the Why-Me Question about Disability
  8. Highs and Lows of my College Experience