Monday, May 14, 2012

Living a "Chipper" Life

I met my cousin Chipper in 1959. We were taking one of the dreaded cross-country family vacations in the station wagon. We consisted of father, mother, three children, and my maternal grandmother for a total of six souls in a very, very close proximity.

I wish I could say my memory was clear on all the details of this family venture, but I was the one who became car sick.

Mom told the story of my being adopted. It was winter, I was a year old and Mom and Dad dressed me up in a new snowsuit and traveled from Ohio to Michigan to visit family. I was standing in the front seat between them (a common practice back in the day). Dear old Dad was smoking his cigar. That’s probably when I turned green and vomited down his neck and arm. He promptly stopped the car, got out, went to the side of the road and repeated my act.  I wonder if they felt they had been given a defective model and wanted an exchange? More than likely that feeling was compounded during my teen years…

Back to the Road Trip: Riding in the back area of a station wagon only made the issue of getting motion sick worse. Therefore Dramamine was administered in mass quantities and I slept. And I slept… and I slept… and I slept! Fortunately I was awakened to see Carlsbad Caverns, Mt. Rushmore, Old Faithful, the Petrified Forest, the grand sequoias and the ocean! We were actually living and traveling the Woody Guthrie song THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND! Well, perhaps in title and chorus only.

words and music by Woody Guthrie
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me 
As I was walking a ribbon of highway
I saw above me an endless skyway
I saw below me a golden valley
This land was made for you and me

We stopped in the evenings and stayed in motels. It was always a treat when the motel had a swimming pool. Out came the swimsuits and my younger brothers and I would have preferred not to eat any dinner, but just to swim. Back then, one had to wait for half an hour after a meal before swimming to ensure you wouldn’t get cramps and drown. After being confined in the car for hours and hours, getting out and swimming was a wonderful release of tension and energy.

I don’t know if there was ever an actual travel itinerary for these road trips as we ventured around the country. We stopped and visited various family members as we traveled. That is when I met Chipper.

He and his family lived somewhere in country of Texas. Chipper was approximately my age and was a special needs child. We fell hard and fast into the comfort of each other’s presence. I loved him and Chipper loved me. For that very short period of time, Chipper and I could not or would not be separated.

Chipper’s special needs were consuming for the adults in his life at that point in time. He had limited mental capacity and then some physical aspects that also needed time and attention. He was “hyper” before the term had been coined and when he got going too fast, his mom would say, “Chipper!” and he would respond, “gotta relax, gotta relax…”

My brother was teasing me in some manner and Chipper became my defender and picked up the bug spray and ‘hit’ him with a dose of it. To this very day my brother believes that was the single, solitary event that caused him to need glasses!

I cannot imagine the strain of having a special needs child has on a family unit, but his parents divorced and Chipper went to live with his Grandma and Grandpa. This was a time in history when family took care of family.

Chipper worked around the ranch with his Grandpa and when he misbehaved the implied threat was, “Chipper, do you want me to take you to the woodshed?” He would straighten right up.

As happens in the life and times of family, Grandma became ill and passed on. It came down to Chipper and Grandpa. One day while the two of them were working away on the ranch, Chipper disappeared for awhile. When he reappeared, with his limited abilities and speech, he took Grandpa to the house where Chipper had prepared lunch for the two of them. As I was told the story, he even offered prayer for the meal. Even now as I write this, I am so very humbled by this act of reverence and love on Chipper’s part.

So life continued on… then Grandpa became ill and had to be hospitalized. Grandpa died. Chipper had been placed into an institutional environment. He was there for six months and then he too, died. I believe it was from a broken heart. I also believe that Chipper is in the arms of a Savior who loves him and is surrounding him with such a pure love… I look forward to seeing Chipper again someday.

Things I learned from Chipper…

…special needs children (and adults) are truly special

…they are probably much closer to Christ than I can fathom

…they love totally and completely when they trust you

…that I can behold the heart of Christ when I am in the presence of someone special


PS Psalm 4:3
You can be sure that anyone who serves the Lord faithfully is special to him.
 The Lord listens when I (they) pray to him.