Friday, September 26, 2014
Autobiographical Challenge: Days 9 & 10
In the 60’s and 70’s in a little canyon that leads out of Cody, Wyoming on the way up to Yellowstone Park, in the triple digit heat of a Rocky Mountain high Desert summer there would be an old man selling Buffalo skulls and Moose paddles and Antelope pronghorns and deer and Elk Antlers off the back of a black “Ford International” truck. The longhorns were not an all the time offering but pronghorns were and so were at least one curving set of Mountain sheep horns on a skull.
Yes, I know, two different kinds of trucks but it was a Ford cab and an International pick-up box so it said one on the front and the other on the tailgate.
The old man was Lawrence Slack, my Mom’s Dad. He was born there in 1898. The younger man was my Dad and he didn’t really stay out by the truck, he worked for the sawmill at that time. But he was there the day the photo was taken and so was the dog I loved, out hairy “Perp”
My first job was helping my grandpa as an adolescent. I’d saw the deer horns off the skull and scoop out the brains and salt down deer and antelope hides and pull quills from porcupine corpses and skin foxes and bobcats that my grandpa bought from hunters and trappers. I’d stretch beaver skins and pickle jackrabbit skins in formaldehyde and stretch them over a fiberglass head with cardboard in their ears, and screw in small, forked deer horns and glue in glass eyeballs to create the mythical jackalope. It was fun and interesting and it took me through the winter months, but the summer was when I got paid, as we’d sit by the road, and I’d wave in the tourists and convince them they needed the horns for a memento of their Wyoming visit.
Many years later, I got my first teaching job and one of the older, macho male teachers was trying to upset me many times. One day he explained in detail how he was setting of over a three day weekend to kill Bambi. I must admit, don’t hunt, but I took great pleasure in going into the anatomical detail of dissecting the animals that I had done as a child, and he never again tried to, “Get my goat” with one upmanship over who could eat lunch while discussing blood and brains.
It was hot by the road and the truck had no air conditioning or even shade so every summer day of my life mom and grandma went to dairy queen and brought grandpa a milkshake or sundae. Once I was out there with him, that was the high point of the day, I had a hot fudge sundae, or a crème de menthe sundae and left experimenting with other flavors for someone else.
So as I mentioned previously, when I was born, my Mom was 24 and was told that she couldn’t have any more children as she had gone into a very early menopause. So when I was almost 5 we adopted a 6 month boy and thought the family was complete. Then when I was 11 my Mom started getting sick and being treated for an ulcer and before we knew it, the Dr. was telling her, “You know that ulcer? Well, It has a heartbeat.”
My parents thought they were dreadfully old to be expecting an impossible miracle, and my Dad joked about now he would be wobbling around with a walker to play catch in the back yard with this one. Mom was “ancient” at 36 and Dad was 40.
The real shock came when the new baby had the same ABO incompatibility I did, but didn’t need a blood transfusion because a newer treatment using light therapy had been developed. Still, the baby boy, born weeks late, with dried skin and scratches from his long fingernails and almost no amniotic fluid, was airlifted to a hospital 100 miles away and my parents sobbed at the sight of the empty crib waiting at home. Then the diagnosis of being a “Mongoloid idiot” came. It was fought against mentally as mom and dad kept looking for reasons it was a mistake and then the blame came, if only they had not taken ulcer medication, or if they had insisted on the complete blood transfusion. Education relieved some of the guilt and misunderstandings but not all of them because it was a time when most people with Down’s Syndrome were immediately institutionalized and my parents refusal to do so was met by argument from the professionals, “He will never sit up, or recognize you. You are being unfair to your other children. He won’t live past 25 and he’ll only ever be a burden.”
Of course none of the predictions were right, and at 39 Lance is still a joy to Mom and Brett and I. But there were a lot of tears and adjustment of dreams and I remember my Grandma saying, “Look at that poor sweet baby, He’s going to have a hard row to hoe.” Maybe we all have that, and maybe the difficulty only deepens the appreciation of the joy. I know that as Lance Grew, and learned at a different, but steady pace, he proved to have great gifts. He was socially gifted and developed more friends and extended family far beyond what out family had before.
I was 12 when he was born, and Brett was 8, and from that moment on, our family really was complete.