Several months ago, I went to visit my 98-year-old grandfather in Mississippi. (We actually celebrated his 99th birthday last week, but that is a story for another day!) Papa has always been an independent, strong, and proud man. His father abandoned the family when Papa was a child, and he helped his mother raise his siblings. When he started his own family, he worked day and night to provide for my grandmother and my mother. He talks about working sunrise to sunset for 50 cents a day! He worked hard and played hard! He raised quarter horses, participated in rodeos, hunted in every hunting season allowed (deer, turkey, dove . . . you get my meaning!), and tended a huge garden that kept them with fresh vegetables all year.
Sadly, my grandmother and my mother are gone now. Papa remarried (spending his honeymoon at deer camp!) and is still a pretty independent guy for 98. His mobility and short-term memory are not great, but neither are mine!
On my visit we were eating soup for lunch, and Papa spilled a bit of soup on his shirt. My grandfather’s wife said, “Oh, I forgot to put on your bib! You know, Ginger, I take it to the Piccadilly when we eat there after church. Your grandfather seems to always spill something on his shirt.”
At that moment, I looked at my grandfather’s eyes and saw a sadness in them. He didn’t say anything (which surprised me, since he loves to tell us what to do), but I could tell he was embarrassed. In what was an effort to be helpful, she had pierced his dignity!
In that moment, I pictured the faces of students with whom I had worked who had similar experiences. Where well-meaning adults were attempting to do good things but not realizing the emotional impact of that act on the student, especially for our students with more significant impairments. Whether it is talking about the student in earshot of the student, taking care of the student’s hygiene needs in a less than discrete manner, or doing things for the student that he/she could do if given time—most of us have been guilty!
This experience with my grandfather reminded me of a story that someone sent me years ago. I have shared it with you below. I am sorry that I don’t know the author, but I thought sharing it was worth the lesson it teaches us all. (By the way . . . somehow the bib mysteriously disappeared from Papa’s house!)
The Wooden Bowl
A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and a four-year-old grandson. The old man's hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered.
The family ate together at the table, but the elderly grandfather's shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, milk spilled on the tablecloth.
The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess. "We must do something about Grandfather," said the son. "I've had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor."
So the husband and wife set a small table in the corner. There, Grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner.
Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a woodenbowl. When the family glanced in Grandfather's direction, sometimes he had atear in his eye as he sat alone. Still, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food. The four-year-old watched it all in silence.
One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor. He asked the child sweetly, "What are you making?" Just as sweetly, the boy responded, "Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and Mama to eat your food in when I grow up."
The four-year-old smiled and went back to work. The words so struck the parents that they were speechless. Then tears started to stream down their cheeks. Though no word was spoken, both knew what must be done.
That evening the husband took Grandfather's hand and gently led him back to the family table. For the remainder of his days, he ate every meal with the family.
And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer whena fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth soiled.