This month is the annual big read for The Joy Luck Club. In the book, one daughter looks back over her life and sees the importance of replacing her mother's role as the East corner at the Mahong table where it all begins. The East represents a place where the sun rises and the day begins to warm up to the new possibilities.
Just as in the stories of Joy Luck Club, of the moms recalling to their daughters lessons growing up in China as they are now living in the United States, I recall the times that our family gathers around for a family meal and my parents and I reflect back on the early formative years at the Henry Viscardi School. And how it was so important to all of us.
When I was born in the early 60's , man was beginning to face challenges. President John F. Kennedy looked to the skies and challenged our country to fly a man to the moon by the end of the decade. Also during this time, many programs were not present for those with severe handicaps such as mine. Of learning how to fit into the world in an orderly manner. Of not knowing what the next course of treatment was to be. Yet, one golden blessing that I had was the fortitude and insight of my mom and dad who could see into my eyes at birth to see what could be accomplished for me.
A time for both society and our family to creep forward in the uncharted land of medical research of how to treat those with brain abnormalities and physical limitations.
My mom wanted to continue her education and go onto library science. But when I came along and presented the challenges, Mom told me, "this was the greatest gift that I could offer teaching and instilling into you what I have learned. And to continue to volunteer in school libraries as well."
They went to New York to scout out the best place where insight could be found of what to do with me. They met with someone from the Rusk Institute at the recommendation of my pediatrician . Dr. Greenspan reccommended the Viscardi school in Long Island which was just beginning. It would be a very good start for your son, they reassured my parents.
AS I said in the other piece last month, I left the one country, the country where I was immersed in the handicapped community. Yet, I never really gave you a good look into that world and how important it was to me.
A community at the Henry Viscardi School where I did not see or find beauty in the everyday. I was immersed in a world of suffering. Yet, at that time, the beauty that I found the constant and steady hand of my mother who roughed up her knees and kept me in the ring of life- boxing and fighting even if what I ultimately wanted was to surrender and call it a day. I recall her lovingly tell me how she often stroked the balls of my feet if I was to take a nap as an infant not wanting to drink or eat. The times when I would sit near the family room closet built by my dad filled with toys such as the yellow giraffe which helped me to gain my balance for walking or the many games of puzzles that mom and I would solve.
When I attended the Viscardi School, I was surrounded by children and adults who used wheelchairs and walkers and crutches and canes to get around. Seeing some people with hemophelia that had to be very careful not to get pricked and bleed. And seeing some who were badly deformed on litters propped up by pillows so that they could read and get ahead.
Some had spina bifida and some had muscular dystrophy. Some of the students were very bright and what they had in brains helped them in what they lacked in brawn. One young woman who my parents got to know well was Linda Wilson who had to use crutches and wear long braces to help her to get around. She used a wheelchair and draped her crutches over the back of it. She was dropped off by her mom at our house as we waited for the small yellow school bus. One time while we waited, we played with my pet turtle and it ended up escaping from where we had it on the family room floor. It was my first chance to interact and understand as an immature youngster how to react to someone with a handicap. Linda ended up graduating from the school with high honors since my mom kept up correspondence to her family during the times when I attended public school.
When I was at the School, I participated in the annual pageants that we would put on being a limb of a tree or an animal. Nothing profound yet those times helped propel me to be one of the leading roles in the sixth grade as the elderly man in his red cardigan sweater. A time when I got applause for what I mastered eight years from when I began to speak.
The classes were very small with 6 to 8 in a classroom where students could obtain individualized instruction as needed.
I periodically reflect back and think on what I lost growing up. A lot of friends that I know have vivid memories from their childhood. Mine are somewhat hazy and faded since I went through much hardship. I don't know if this was to protect me or if it was to help me deepen the appreciation for what I have now. Maybe this is why I keep going back to the early years to better fine tune and immerse myself in it so that I can have a greater influence later on to those who may be waiting for my words to propel them forward in life. To grab the scissors to find the connections between the many worlds that they find in the words.
The phrase Joy luck used in the book frequently expresses the time of when preparation meets opportunity. It represents a golden chance to shine forth a light on rather dark waters. I remember many times in Maine being on the front porch looking into the dark ocean and seeing the beam of light casting across the waters. Luck for me was those times that Mom and I would spend time together after my time in preschool or therapy and we would get out my black and white composition notebook.
To spend some intimate times bonding while doing the mundane, assembling words of similar phonetic sounds. We pored over magazines looking for words which had a sh sound. I would find some such as shoe, shoulder, shelf. i would cut them out and we would paste them into the book.We repeated that with the ca sound with cats and cabs and cabbage leaping out of the pages of magazines into my first word book that we published for ourselves. That helped me gain some hand to eye coordination and a sense of focus that I would need later on in life. And even the love for words and writing that I carry on to this day.
When I am in Maine on a real stormy day and hear the rolling surf pounding against the rocks at Ocean Point, I sense the force and wonder of nature. Maine as my coach helped me to put on those boxing gloves as I climbed over the ropes and into the ring. Ready to take on my opponent. The opponent was formidable to me. yet during the summer sabbaths, I could put the ring behind me and place an aloe template over my body. Almost like walking through an aeroia borrealis in the summer sky. To see the beauty of nature and the beauty of creation. To be in an isolated land, a cocoon where pioneers like Rachel Carson promoted the well being of the shores of our planet Earth. Ripples of rhythym filled the air and sustained the sounds of life that I had to endure for the upcoming year.
Indeed those times spent in nature got me ready for my next bout for the upcoming school year. Nearing the end of those summers were never pleasant since I knew I would face some of the same bullies and never knew how I would handle and react to the pressures of the upcoming days. Yet, I bagged up on so much of the munchies, sleepies and beauty of Maine. And I had the small victories of the past at the School and the milestones that were evident. Giving a sense of confidence and calm during often rocky moments outside of the protective cocoon of the Henry Viscardi School.
These sounds and sights in my life ripple onward and echo back to the days when I searched and assembled the meaning of my life. Finding my place in the world on the Planet Earth.