“Not An Ordinary Man” is a celebration of the life of my father who was stricken with polio in 1954 at the age of thirty, the same year that the Salk vaccine began field trials. There is no cure for polio once infected and Dad became a quadriplegic as a result. For twenty-five years until his death in 1980, he lived dependent on a respirator or his rocking bed when lying down and in a wheelchair when sitting up… a life of quiet dignity with great strength, wisdom and always with a wonderful sense of humor… an inspiration to all who met him.
It’s been said that each time we recall a memory, it changes slightly… similar to the “telephone game” of whispering a story from one person to another until the last person recites a somewhat skewed version of the original story. Likewise, memories apparently include distortions of facts and bending of truths as we recreate the memory. It’s why words in a diary, recorded close to the time of the experience are a more accurate recollection. You are recording your thoughts and occurrences at a moment in time close to when the memory was formed. So before additional time passes and the risk of embellishment further distorts my memories or worse, before my memories are lost altogether, I commit my memories to the words on this blog. “Not An Ordinary Man”, dedicated to my dad will capture and preserve not only my memories, but those of family and friends. I would especially welcome the reminiscences of my aunts and uncles who are in their late seventies, eighties and early nineties. Their longevity gives me the hope that they will have much to add to the memory of my not so ordinary dad.
What is normal? Can it really be defined? In the case of my dad, his limitations were normal to me. One of my favorite memories explains how normal a presence he was in our lives. In 1975 he and my mom were visiting for Christmas. Since my husband and I had the first grandchildren on both sides of our families, we celebrated Christmas Day in our home (also our son’s birthday). As my mom and I were discussing the crowd of people coming for Christmas dinner and who would be coming, she realized that she had forgotten to purchase a gift for my sister-in-law’s newborn baby girl. It was Christmas Eve so we quickly scrambled to get to the store. As we were rushing out the door Mom told Dad “to take care of the kids” and I told the kids “to take care of grandpa” and off we went. Now picture this, my dad sitting in his wheelchair, having no movement in his body except for his head and a slight squeeze of his left hand and his two grandchildren, never questioning that grandpa’s in charge, even though he can’t move. Needless to say, the children’s clothing shop was mobbed with people doing their last-minute shopping. As we were standing at the cash register waiting patiently to be rung up, I looked at Mom, stunned and mortified and said “do you realize what we just did? We left a four and five-year old with dad and if anything happens, no one will know what to do”. We rushed home in a panic to find the kids chatting away, happily playing at his feet and blissfully unaware of the stupidity of the adults. That was my normal.
I write these memories for my children. I have great hopes that family and friends will send their thoughts and memories that I may share. I know that my dad is only one of many “not so ordinary men” who have inspired us and they are not forgotten.