Chapter 1 The “Crippled” Infant

Posted: December 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

As promised, the following is Chapter 1 from my autobiographical notes. This chapter marks my introduction to the real world, outside the safety net of my parents loving and caring arms. My introduction in how words can simply knock you right off your foundation and question exactly who you are. I was so young at the time this story took place, too young for school, but not too young to learn how cruel and disheartening a seemingly innocent comment can be. My introduction to a very strong defense mechanism and coping, coping with whatever life throws your way. My introduction to life.

Chapter 1

The “Crippled” Infant

In 1958, I was born. The fourth child of the most wonderful mother and father in the world. My sister and two brothers are each two years apart, and me, the oddball from the get go is 3 years apart. To this day I wonder about the timing issue and have a secret fantasy that I was left on the doorstep of a family with three children, the products of Catholic birth control, perfectly spaced and perfectly healthy. While I on the other hand, have been messed up since day one. Maybe my “real parents” had a crystal ball , saw far into the future and dumped me while they had the chance.

Shortly after birth, it was discovered that my left hip was badly deformed. Not properly in the socket and thus began my relationship with doctors, hospitals, procedures and heartbreak. The very beginning of my “medical career”, as I like to refer to it.

Back in the 50’s, there was a lot less known about the condition I had, congenital hip deformity, than today. I do know in my heart of hearts that my mom and dad sought the very best help they could and placed their confidence as well as their infant daughter into only the best of hands. X-rays were performed much more freely back then at much higher doses of radiation. Once gingerly handed over to the medical professionals, I was promptly stretched, pulled, twisted, turned and thoroughly radiated. Pictures of my tiny bones hanging on the doctors’ lighted box, professionally pondered over, discussed, diagnosed and finally placed in a cast that covered my entire lower body.

Some of the stories I remember hearing are of my courageous dad carrying me on a bus, proud as hell of his little misfit, mummy child. He smiled at all the staring, horrified faces that met him and I, sat down with me on his lap, ever the proud papa and rode that bus like all of the other passengers who were not holding a half visible infant in their arms.  Another charming tid bit is dad building a wooden ramp for me so I could lay on my belly and look out the picture window of our home. I am not sure that there was all too much for me to be entertained by through that window, but knowing my dad, there was a method to his madness and he didn’t want his child with mobility issues to miss out on a single thing. So there I was, on display, like the little doggie in the window for the world to see, or as I like to think of it, for me to see the world.

I know for sure, that this malformation of my body just devastated my parents. I was going to be different, walk funny and have a spine that curved like a carnival ride. I may not be able to bear children and God knows what else the MD’s scared them with. I believe that my parents were more or less prepared for a child who would end up in a wheel chair unable to do the things that a child does. Little did the doctors know who they were dealing with….

I do not believe that the medical profession was overly concerned about radiation back then and the effect it may or may not have on my future health, so it must have been a non-issue in my care plan. I was x-rayed dozens of times throughout my childhood. Going through my parent’s papers after their passings, I found all of the original medical invoices from my birth. Paper documentation of the financial burden I placed on my family. On those many bills, are credit and debit columns with numbers much smaller than in today’s world. The five, ten and twenty-five dollar payments to doctors and hospitals must have put a terrible strain on my folk’s budget. Not to mention, possibly depriving my three healthy siblings the extras in life. If this were the case though, we were never aware of it. We had everything we ever wanted and needed. My mom was an amazing bookkeeper. To the penny. Budgeted, journals filled out neatly and accurately with every cent that flowed in and out of our household accounted for. And knowing my careful and frugal mother, probably a cash filled sugar bowl stashed somewhere for a rainy day.

My very first life memory is of climbing out of my crib. I remember clearly facing the challenge of those wooden bars surrounding me and at just shy of two years old, funny little legs and all, found the strength and tenacity to get over the obstacle keeping me caged in. Diapered and in a t-shirt marching out to the living room, proud of my break out and much to my parent’s surprise, I am sure, there I was. I don’t know what they were thinking at that moment, but I do know that even before I knew too much about life, I had no intention of missing out on anything and that not a damn thing could ever keep me down, or in this case, kept in my place, as safe as it may have been. The memory ends there. Thinking about it, I bet my dad got a kick out of it and my mom got very worried about providing a new bedding environment for her little escapee.

One may wonder why the title of this chapter has the word crippled in it. Crippled was never, ever a word used in front of me as a child. In my home, in any doctors’ office, anywhere. Crippled is a strong, scary word, not even used anymore in this new millennium. Political correctness is now the order of the day when referring to any human with a disability. Today, we use terms like disabled, physically challenged, mental illness, visually impaired, on and on. Much gentler terms for sure that the unbefitting title, CRIPPLED. When I think of that word, the first thing that comes to mind, is little Tiny Tim, Charles Dickens’ character in the beloved Christmas story, Scrooge.

Before this word entered my life at the tender young age of four, thanks to my parents love, I never thought of myself as anything but me. I had not yet had the true awareness nor any emotional issues with my birth defect. And one may think, why in the world would this woman consider herself crippled in any way, shape or form when she can get around just fine and live a normal and fulfilling life? Let me explain.

A visit to my maternal uncle’s home, many decades ago, changed my young world dramatically. Routine family visit one might think. Food, cocktails for the grown-ups. Laughter and enjoying being together because we were family and loved each other. Right?

My Aunt was a lovely, well put together woman. Married to mom’s movie star, handsome brother. They had two children, my cousins who were close in age to me. Since we were fortunate enough to all live in the same general vicinity back then, we knew them well and adored each other accordingly. Though the perfect hostess, gracious and obviously the product of a very good background by the way she carried herself, decorated her beautiful home and cherished her children and husband, she is responsible for a devastating blow to little me. A comment made out loud at some point in her perfect household, prior to our visit, came back around to me through one of my cousins. Rocking my little world and really pissing me off. You see, even at the tender young age I was when this blow to my precious ego happened, I was on my way to being a  person not to mess with. A product of my mom’s philosophy, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. And my sharp, classy dad’s code of ethics, “just dazzle ’em with bullshit and they will buy anything.” He was a salesmen by trade.

“MY MOM SAYS YOU’RE CRIPPLED.” An innocent comment blurted out by one of my cousins. I can’t recall which one, but I vividly remember exactly where I was standing in their lovely home that day like it were yesterday. Okay, I am four years old, thinking everything is cool, not much life experience at that point in time, but just enough to realize how damn mean people can be. At that moment, I hated my aunt more than the Wicked Witch of the West. And yes, another great childhood memory is the Wizard of Oz annual event. Life stopped, popcorn popped and the four of us kids sat mesmerized once a year when Dorothy and her little dog came to visit our home via black and white TV.  I don’t remember exactly what my reply was to being labeled by my dear relative as crippled. I didn’t have a little cane with me, nor one leaning up against the fireplace as Tiny Tim did. I wasn’t terribly physically disfigured, nor did I view my four-year old self as anything but  my four-year old self. I do remember being indignant and defending myself in a firm but tactful way to my young cousins. I explained that their comment just did not apply to me. Their must have been some sort of miscommunication regarding the hearsay of my crippledness and left it at that. I never, ever uttered a word of this to anyone and hid my shame until the words were nothing more than a childhood story.

I was being raised to be a very special human being. Though this episode may have upset me, it truly was used by my forming personality as a tool, a cruel tool, but life happens and we all have to learn how to dodge the bullets that come at us. It is how we react to these blows on the inside that is the most important to our over all health and well-being.

So, in summary, call me crippled, call me stupid, but PLEASE don’t call me late for my mom’s famous, freshly baked coffee cake ring!

  1. terrepruitt says:

    Nice that this helped form the strong woman you are. Glad it did not assist in creating a self-pitying person.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Becky Sain says:

    Did you start this a few months ago? I mean publishing it here.
    Anyway… Love! Love! Love!

  3. dani says:

    how about if i call you beautiful, strong, brave, bestie? ♥ i can just see the look on your face when you made it out of that crib! {smile} i love you, bunny! ♥ *Giant Glittery Squishy Hugs*

  4. Eileen says:

    Joanne keep writng, i’m looking forward to an autographed copy of the finished book !!!

    • Aww, thanks so much Eileen. I don’t really know why I’m doing this, but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it! LOL Big love your way and thanks so much for reading and commenting! You WILL get the very first copy, I promise. 😉

  5. deirdre says:

    J, you were already beautiful when I met you as a youth, I admired you so. I wished to both look like (I thought you so pretty and lithe) and be just like you with your wonderful personality. I stll do … 40+ year later. *hugs*



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