Tennessee Kindred Stories of Disability

A collection of stories from individuals with disabilities, families, friends, and disability service providers in Tennessee

Danny (55), Other, Shelby County

"With him [Danny] being 55-years-old, it’s not like it was when he was born. Now, there’s help. There are programs and suggestions, but when he was born there was nothing."

  • A Parent's Perspective
  • Posted on 11/29/2012


Maurine: I have two sons. Kenny, my oldest son lives in Georgia. He’s a minister and he pastors a small church. (Danny walks in) Now this would be my other son Danny. Danny is 55-years-old. Every year when he gets older I think “uh uh,” because that’s my baby. He makes Mom old. Danny has worked since 1979, so it’s been 30 plus years.

Danny: I wash the cans. I did six cards and pins yesterday.  Tying knots. Pack school supplies. I put the pencils, glue, and coloring books in them.

Maurine: He sits right here and watches for the bus for work.

Danny: I got a locker to myself. I come home at four o’clock. The bus is late.

Maurine: We are ready by 6:30 or 6:45 because the bus can come that early, but most of the time the bus is very late and then he’ll be sitting here and he gets sleepy. I’m thankful for the bus service very much, but it would be nice if they were on time. One time the bus got here at 7:40, which is good because they can get there in 20 minutes. One to three mornings they came at 8:00 or a little after. One morning at 8:30. So I called them and they said “Oh our system is down and you’re just going to have to bear with us. We’ll get there as soon as we can.” So I said “Okay, I’ll take him if you can promise you’ll get him home.”

There have been an awful lot of challenges. In 55 years, we’ve had a lot of challenges. I’m gong to lower my voice so he can’t hear everything I say. With him being 55-years-old, it’s not like it was when he was born. Now, there’s help. There are programs and suggestions, but when he was born there was nothing.

He was two and a half when we went to a child development center. They did all kinds of tests and everything. When the doctor talked to us at the end of it, they gave the recommendation to find a good institution. And I said “No, he’s just as much a part of this family as my other son is.”  So my husband and I said, “You know what, there ain’t no way.” And the doctor said, “Your life will be better if you put him in an institution.” We just didn’t see it that way. He’s always been part of the family and he’s done everything we’ve done. He’s just been part of us.

It was a challenge then just not to believe all the bad and know that there was a possibility that he would do good things. One example of when it really hurt me, was around Danny’s 3rd birthday. We had bought a new little tricycle and that was going to be his birthday present. The doctor said, “I hate to tell you this, but he’ll never ride it.” We have a niece whose birthday is exactly two weeks after Danny’s, and I told my husband, “You can’t stand to look at that tricycle, so let’s just give it to Pam.” So we gave it away. Do you know that less than a month later, Danny had learned to ride Kenny’s old tricycle? And I said “We ought to make that doctor go out and buy him a new tricycle.”

My next biggest challenge was when he was testing at the public school. Now he went to preschool and started when he was four-years-old.  He stayed there until he was seven and that helped him socially. He was very, very intimidated when he was little and he has his moments still. That’s not always the case. But anyway, I was glad he had the preschool. It was a private preschool. When he started school at seven, the kids with disabilities had to be tested and then it was decided if the child was “trainable” or “educable.” Dan was trainable.

Of course I knew what it meant to train somebody, but I didn’t know what all would be left out. Now, I think they did work with him on the ABCs and on counting, which I had been doing at home. But the biggest thing as time went on, was there was no attempt to teach reading of any kind and reading is just my life. I love to read anything I can get my hands on. And I was so disappointed, so I talked to the teacher and she said “Oh he’s trainable. We don’t attempt to teach reading of any kind.” And I said, “Well some of them might not ever read, but others of them could.” She saw I was upset, so she sent me to the principal’s office and she said, “We do not try to teach in the trainable classes anything except training.” And she said, “Besides, the best you can ever hope for is that he would read third grade level.” And I said, “Even if he can only read third grade level, I want him to read third grade level. I want somebody to try to help him to read third grade level.” Some third graders could read really well. I lost on that one too, so he was never taught.

So consequently he never learned to read. I think he could have. I think he wouldn’t have made third grade level, but he would have read some. Now words, he can read. Things he sees, repetitive things he recognizes it. Any kind of truck that goes by – Kroger, Fedex, Sears – he always knows them. He likes to read the paper. We don’t take the daily paper, but every Sunday morning he goes through that paper and he picks out just words and he’ll say “What’s that about?” because he’s interested in it. I talk to him about politics, who we are going to vote for. We talk about anything because he’s interested. I think they do a lot of talking about stuff at work. I try to be careful about what I say because I don’t know what he might repeat. But anyway, that was a challenge for me to push him to read as much as he could.

Another challenge is keeping him active. Every time we go for his physical, the doctor says, “Make sure you keep him active.” Of course, I said, “Now, do you know how old I am? How am I going to keep him active? Who’s going to keep me active?” But he keeps me going and I keep him going. I’m 81 and sometimes I think, “I just don’t think I want to go here or there tonight.” But he really wants to, so we get ready and we go and we have a good time. So I get him to as much as I can. Sometimes football games, but not so many. During the summer time he’ll say “I like baseball,” but then in the fall he doesn’t like baseball anymore and he likes football. And then the winter he likes ice hockey. So whatever is happening, that’s what he likes. Sometimes it’s hard to keep going, but we do go to a lot of family things.

One of the hardest things for me was, as he has come along, knowing when to push him and when to stop pushing him. Dan can be very stubborn and sometimes it’s hard to tell whether he wants to quit doing something – has he gone as far as he can go and wants to quit? Or could he go a little further if I pushed him. And it’s hard to know which one it is. And that’s been true always. Of course, I guess that’s true with any child. But when I wanted him to learn something so badly, and I feel like he can do it, it’s hard to not push too hard. It’s always been challenging. I’m learning now that he’s 55, it’s time to let up a little.

The other thing, my granddaughter reminded me of this, “Whether you’re conscious of it or not, you had to make a decision and realize that you are going to be doing this the rest of your life.” Like my other son, he went to college, got married, and went on his own. He’s still my child, but I’m not responsible for him. And she said, “You have to know that this one is different and you’re going to have him always.” And I don’t remember consciously coming to that point one day, but I’ve known it always and I think I accepted it not so much as a challenge, but a responsibility. But I have never resented it. I have enjoyed him. He is a lot of fun and I try to remember the good things. People see us sometime and I bet they think, “They’re crazy.” Like when we go to the hockey games, I get excited and carry on and Dan’s like “Mom, calm down.” But I can’t let myself grow old gracefully. Like one day last week we had a big water gun fight. We were shooting each other with those water guns. We had fun. When he’s with his family he has a good time. And I’m not saying he doesn’t get into bad moods like the rest of us, because he does.

Danny’s story would not be complete without saying what a blessing our church and our faith in God have been. Danny takes up the offering every Sunday and is very proud of that responsibility. God helps us through the difficult times, has given us strength to keep going, and provides encouragement through friends and family. Danny’s Sunday School teacher has been his mentor for years. Our family, both here and away, is such a blessing. Our lives have been filled with love and we are grateful to God for that.

When I’m not here, Danny will go live with Kenny. That’s the plan right now. Of course, they have a plenty big enough house because they had three kids and now they’re all gone. But Kenny told me, “I’m planning on giving him the choice on which bedroom he would want and let him fix it with all his stuff.” I’m thrilled because my daughter-in-law is very sweet and good, and he loves her, but I really hope I outlive Dan because it would be so hard on him.

But anyway, my Dan has had a happy life. We’ve been very blessed. 

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