by Jan Risher
I called my dearest childhood friend. Both of us had moved and we hadn't talked in a year. Sometimes we permit adulthood to steal away old friends.
I knew my friend was pregnant when we last spoke, but for reasons I didn't understand I was hesitant to ask about the baby.
"You know I had a baby girl?" she asked, then paused.
"She was born with Down's Syndrome," my friend said, "but I don't want you to think that's a bad thing."
All I could think of was my great-aunt MaryEllen.
Six generations of my family have loved MaryEllen. Shortly after her birth on a November Mississippi morning in 1944, many people who "knew so much more" encouraged the family to put her in a special home. Despite the advice, MaryEllen stayed in the most special home of all. As the youngest in a family with 11 children, she happily spent the first 47 years of her life at home.
"We thought the best place for her was surrounded by people who love her most," my great-grandmother told me years ago.
MaryEllen flourished. She and my great-grandmother spent decades living together on their own. They both loved to cook. MaryEllen loved to clean. They watched their "stories" every afternoon. On Wednesdays MaryEllen took great pride in folding the church bulletins during prayer meeting. They went to church on Sundays, rain or shine.
All these years later, MaryEllen is the link that binds our extended family the most. No doubt, my great-grandmother is looking down and smiling. We agree that MaryEllen has created more joy than any other single member of our clan.
For example, one Sunday morning ten years ago, I took MaryEllen to the church where we both grew up. This was her special day. The Mustard Seed Handbell Choir, made up of people with mental retardation from all over the state, was performing. When I arrived to pick her up that morning, she was surprised I was driving a friend's Mustang convertible. Even though we were running late, she insisted on going back for a scarf. Afraid she was upset about the possibility (or inevitability) of getting her hair messed up, I offered to put the top up. She screeched. I left the top down. We both smiled as we traveled familiar roads of childhood in the Sunday morning sun, waving to all the people we knew along the way.
MaryEllen and I--riding down the road in a red Mustang convertible. So Thelma and Louise, Mississippi style.
When we arrived at church, she took her seat of honor with her choir that played a wonderful version of "Ode to Joy." MaryEllen was a ringer with bells on. She was the center of attention as old friends were happy to see her and recognized her musical accomplishments.
Just as the biggest crowd gathered, MaryEllen started to search her purse for her scarf. She caught my eye and announced in her boldest voice, "J-J-Jan, I'm ready to g-go get in my D-D-Doris D-Day car."
Off we went.
"You know I had a baby girl?" my friend asked, then paused.
"She was born with Down's Syndrome," she continued, "but I don't want you to think that's a bad thing."
I breathed a sigh of relief.
Though every child presents challenges, not for one second did I think my friend's news was bad.
Jan Risher's column, Long Story Short, appears in
Lafayette, Louisiana's Sunday The Daily Advertiser.
Jan and her family (including husband and 5-year-old daughter) have been "in the process" of adopting a baby from China for far too long.
Contact Jan at this address.
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