Thursday, July 7, 2011


I've written about the town my father grew up in and I spent so much time with my grandparents in before.  It's a little town, about the size of a postage stamp, nestled between Philadelphia and Atlantic City. And I am pretty sure it's the same town from which a certain Down syndrome publishing house gets it's name, but I can't confirm that anywhere, try as I may.

The people of this town are no strangers to disability.  The Developmental Center, opened in 1921, is a large intermediate care facility supporting developmentally disabled men and boys, and is also currently the primary source of employment in the County.  The Developmental Center's residents would and can often be seen around town, with caregivers or even on their own, working and interacting in the community.  This surprises me, because the place is so small, its population so diverse and its poverty level so high.  Not like that should really have anything to do with anything, but somehow it still surprises me.  Most of the original families who came from Russia and settled the town in the late 1800s have gone (aside from ours), replaced by new immigrants and new families struggling to keep it, its one pizza place, its one restaurant, its two blinker lights and its volunteer fire department, alive. 

This past weekend, we visited the town, making a trip to the beach and attending my high school reunion nearby.  As mentioned in my previous post, we went to pick blueberries on Saturday morning.  As we were leaving, the farm's owner shared with me that she hosts a summer program for young adults with developmental disabilities, a program that keeps them active and busy, doing something enjoyable and productive with their time, rather than sitting cooped up in a home somewhere or working a mindless, nothing-type job.  Steve spotted a young man he assumed had autism, interacting with one of the men who helps with the program.  The farm owner also revealed that she is the adoptive mother of 5, four of whom were born with fetal alcohol syndrome.  She had been drawn to Samantha for more of a reason than just seeing a cute 5 year old - she understood her

On Saturday afternoon, we went to the local ice cream stand on the main drag.  Seriously, this place has the BEST ice cream ever, and buggy picnic tables and a volleyball court outside to go and enjoy the day, enjoy the ice cream, enjoy being out in the fresh (humid) air.  As we sat at one of the tables ("Go 'way, bug!  Shoo!" said Samantha.  Then, smack!  "Got it!" - ugh, who taught her that?  Sure wasn't me, rescuer of all things creepy-crawly...), a young man in a white wifebeater and jeans, covered in tattoos (not the cool kind of tattoos, but the scary, gang-looking kind) over his arms, up his neck, onto his face, a man we would ordinarily have avoided, who we certainly avoided eye contact with, sat down at the table next to ours.  His voice was gruff as he called to someone in line, but we didn't look up to see who he was talking to (hoping for a woman or someone else less-threatening to join him), as we didn't want to attract any unwanted attention...  "Your little girl is beautiful," he said.  Huh?  You talking to us?  Crap.  I thanked him quickly, then looked back down at my vanilla peanut butter ice cream cone.  "I have a little cousin up in New York like her."  Aha!  There's that connection again!  He was then joined by another guy and two little boys, one of whom called him Dad.  Eavesdropping a bit on their conversation, I heard him tell his friend that he needed to get back to work at the Developmental Center.  Again, more connection.  I wonder how much his little cousin may have influenced his job choice...

We attended an outdoor event in town, last year, where we were approached by a young girl who spotted Samantha and said her baby brother is like her.  The last time we were there, we spotted a young man with Down syndrome and his caregiver picking up a meal to go at the pizza place where we were having dinner.  A pizza place just down the road from the Developmental Center.  Nobody blinked an eye.  Just another day, just another customer.  Just part of everyday life in town.

Connections are everywhere, whether we see them right away or not.  If we know about those, in just this one little, tiny town, think about all those connections we never make but still exist all around us anyway.  Invisible, but comfortingly ever-present, waiting just as we are.


Cathleen said...

Sometimes, you have to love those connections: we were in line at CVS in NYC two weeks ago - about to wait the typical hour for a prescription with the typically rude staff (not that it's anything wrong with CVS - but most people who worked in NYC were typically rude-ish) - and I went to ask the pharmacist a question - and she saw Lilly and said: "My sister has Down syndrome, she just graduated yesterday from high school." And she proceeded to show me pictures and tell me about her and asked questions about Lilly, and when we sat down to wait for our medicine, suddenly it was ready 2 minutes later. (And the other NYC customers were subsequently pissed that we didn't have to wait long and that the pharmacist was talking to us - but oh well, can't please everyone!)

Unknown said...

in the beginning of this journey...I was not comfortable with connections...I was very scared of them...these days I search for longer is it satisfying to have a connection just because we have kiddos but kiddos with a similar journey ahead...I try to learn from others instead of reinventing the journey many have traveled before me..connections are a safe place of hope...I judged a person for a mo-hawk and tats...I was informed very quickly that he was my husbands best, smartest physic student and he will change the world someday and he is...smiles

Carol N. said...

I hear you, Becca! It's nice to meet people who get it. When we were on the plane recently, the attendant kept paying extra attention to Aidan.

Then she mentioned that her nephew looked just like him. I've learned to ask, "does he have Down syndrome too?"

JC said...

Great post! I am starting to notice connections everywhere I go too :)

Meriah said...

Yes! Did you read 'No Pity' by Joseph Shapiro yet? In it, he talks about a "silent army" of these connections, and that the White House is chock-full of them. Which is why, he says, the ADA was passed and stayed passed. Because lots and lots of people in the White House have a connection.
Do you know that they don't even know WHO wrote Section 504 of the ADA? It just slipped on by, under the radar. Amazing, huh.

Great post, I really enjoyed this. As always :)

Crazy Beautiful Love said...

I find it amazing how many people tell me they have a cousin or niece or best friend's child or...this list goes on. So many people it's like a cobweb of tolerance and awareness that is spreading ever so rapidly. I love it. :)
Sammi is beautiful. He has good eyesight. :

mama to j and bean said...

Connections are so, so important to me. I love being around people who can truly relate. And that sounds like an amazing summer program!

Heather said...

Connections ... always there if we only open our hearts to hearing them.God being anonymous.By far my favorite explanation of the magical connections.

Hey,would you still love us if I told you I have not one but two tattoos??

Pallavi said...

Yes, even I have experienced it. On our trip to Kolkata(this is the place Navya was born later we shifted to Mumbai), we(just me and Navya) were waiting to visit her doc and I saw a little girl playing cheerfully, running around and talking to her parents. It took me few minutes to say for sure that she has DS. Then her parents saw Navya, we exchanged smiles.

Then on the very next day, while coming back to Mumbai, at the airport lounge a young lady came to me. she wanted to play with Navya. She told me she has a younger brother of 11 yrs old with DS, and this is the first time she is going away from him on a business trip. She was happy to see Navya as she was already missing him a a lot. Later she also told me that after her Brother's birth they opened a school for under privileged kids and kids with disability.
She was just 23. Later she told me that she is wants to adopt a baby girl with DS and has already started searching.

Seriously, so many connections.

krlr said...

I love this but I sometimes think it SHOULDN'T be such a big deal - diversity & those w/disabilities should be as much a part of "mainstream" society as various races are (now, as compared to 60 yrs ago), right?

But then I've been thrilled when it's happened to me so... Yeah. Am shutting up now.

krlr said...

You won't believe this but someone approached me tonight. Awesome timing! It was a little weird because she was talking to me like I was 6 while I was waiting to change my stinky child, but sweet & well intentioned.