Saturday, May 15, 2010

Cookie Campbell: My Annie

The last piece in our Mother's Day series was originally published here several weeks ago. I first met Cookie Campbell, Annie's mother, when she came to the Randolph Senior Center one Monday morning and explained that although she didn't really consider herself a writer, she had "a story that needs to be told." Over the next 18 months she set down an extraordinary memoir—excerpted below—about raising her daughter in an era that called for parents of children with Downs syndrome to be pioneers. Ann was born fourteen years before Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975; children like her were routinely denied a public-school education. Many were institutionalized. In making the decision to raise their daughter at home, Cookie and her husband could count on little support apart from family and friends. But the story Cookie had to share is one of triumph: Today, Ann Campbell is a loving and beloved member of the community, and if opportunities for children with Downs are far greater today than they were when her life began, it is in no small part due to families like the Campbells.

In 1961 "politically correct" had not been invented, so my poor friend and doctor had to come to us and say, "I'm sorry. She's Mongoloid."

Our long road began.

Stunned? Well, yes. Speechless? Oh, yes. So speechless I fell asleep and spilled my ice water. Prepared? Is anyone ever? These things happened to other people.

We were given choices which really were no choices at all. We could take her to Brandon and leave her or take her home. There was no way in God's world that I could put her in Brandon, so when she was five days old we bundled her up and headed for home.

Ann. Easy to say, and easy to spell, if the time ever came.

Hank and Clayt, at nine and eight years, were in school, but Herbert was four and a half and came to help fetch us home on a sunny Friday. He hardly made a sound, but watched and listened and every once in a while he gave a little pat. By the time the school bus rolled in at 3:15 he was feeling fairly comfortable and a bit proprietary.

The two big boys came in, gave me a hug and took a quick peek at the little sister before snacking, changing and going outdoors.

The next morning they were ready to ask questions and more importantly, to hear the answers.

She's Mongoloid. It means she is retarded. She'll be slow. She won't be able to learn as much as you. I don't know if she'll learn to walk. I don't know if she'll talk. I just don't know. We have to take good care of her. Love her. Teach her everything she can learn. We've got to wait and see.

My sister came that day—Saturday—and immediately fell in love with Ann. Since I wouldn't give her Ann to take home she took Hank, saying it would lessen my work load. I think he was anxious to go (he who had never been away overnight) because he was unsure about his feelings for Ann and maybe thought he could sort things out if he had time alone. He was supposed to stay for two weeks, but by the first Friday he was homesick and miserable and happily came home to all of us.

Clayt was much more accepting and hopeful. "Well, if she can learn a word, fine, and the next day she can learn another word. She should be okay." And so went about his business.

Herbert, meanwhile, is still watching and listening and doing kind little things.

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