Let me tell you about my niece
March was a busy month. Binging on NCAA basketball, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday was hearty, followed by Penitent Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten season.
On the 13th there was summer time to argue about, four days later we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with a parade where everyone is Irish.
Then we have a day on the calendar that doesn’t get much attention, March 21, Down syndrome day, the day chosen to signify the uniqueness of the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome, which causes the Down syndrome.
Sixty years ago, these afflicted were called “Mongoloids”, a word rightly recognized as offensive ever since.
There is no cure, but a lot has changed, and for the better.
Let me tell you about my niece who was born with Down syndrome, our Beth, our joy.
Helen Elizabeth, eldest of Lib and my brother Martin, arrived on 09.11.62 at Telfair Hospital in Savannah.
The young couple’s parents rushed to see this new grandchild only to be told no, they should wait for the doctor to speak with Martin, who was returning from a meeting in Macon.
When Martin arrived, the doctor asked him, “Do you want to show the baby to Lib or just send the child immediately to Gracewood?”
At the time, it was an institution in Augusta created to take care of “those” children.
They never even thought of it.
Our Beth has returned home with her parents.
It was not easy. Children with Down syndrome do everything like a snail, sit, talk, teethe.
Martin and especially Lib have been incredibly patient.
By the time Beth was 5, they lived in North Palm Beach and had access to South Olive Elementary School, the only school in Palm Beach County with a special needs unit, a facility often visited by Rose Kennedy, who has encouraged everyone. innovative procedures to enable these children to be productive and independent.
During her studies in the Florida public school system, Beth was always at the forefront of discoveries about the ability of children and young adults to adapt to the needs of society.
Beth sees herself as normal, does not acknowledge that she is different. At sporting events with special needs, she can be found with the coaches, the teachers, not with her fellow competitors.
I’m the most jealous of one of his talents. Beth never forgets a name. If she met you once 10 years ago, she will remember you and she will remember your birthday and your age.
Along with their three daughters, Janet, Lynn and our Beth, Martin and Lib have become seasoned campers, favoring the mountains of North Carolina, a decided change from their home in Florida.
Beth would scour campsites to introduce herself and make friends. Not a shy bone in his body.
Thirty years ago they discovered Tall Pines, a camp in Tennessee at the back of Fontana Dam that offered a session for people with special needs and Beth became a dedicated camper.
After 10 years, Tall Pines closed and Beth moved to Sky Ranch in North Carolina. It’s too closed. Now, every summer, Beth spends two weeks near Lake Hartwell at a camp run by Clemson University and supported by JAYCEES.
Many people with Down syndrome are wonderful at doing repetitive work, or as Martin told me, “on the factory assembly line, who do you think puts those cans of Tide in the washing machines ?” Lift the lid, put in a box, close the lid. Lift the lid and so on.
At one point, Beth worked in the cafeteria of a Florida power company. His job was to wipe the tables after lunch. She had a system, same course, tables 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
Every day the same. One day as people were leaving, tall Kahuna was still sitting at a table eating when it was time to do her routine, wipe down tables 1, table 2, 3, 4, oops the boss was still eating at table 5, didn’t matter, she wiped around.
Everyone laughed. He complained. Beth could have cared less. She had a job to do.
At Christmas, he sent her a present, a talking bass.
Beth turns 60 in September. Slim and neat. She walks two miles every morning on her exercise machine, takes her dog for walks at least three times a day and follows a strict diet. Slow down a bit, but she can outmaneuver many of us.
If she gets angry, which is rare, she turns her hand back and waves. I haven’t figured this one out yet.
We are so lucky to have you, our dear Helen Elizabeth, our Beth.
“Teach us to appreciate the simple things
And the joy that has no bitter springs:
Forgiveness without harm,
And love to all men under the sun”
Annelore Harrell lives in Bluffton and can be reached at [email protected]