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A Man Named Ted

354. A Man Named Ted

When my grandmother was supporting nine children by working as an aide at the Roberts School for Crippled Children in Indianapolis in the early 1900’s, she met a child named Ted Wright and eventually I met him too.

At the age of two Ted had gotten sick. Up until then he was a regular two-year-old, but he contracted encephalitis and was in a comatose state for two years. When he regained consciousness he could do nothing, no motor skills, he could no longer walk or feed himself, any movement he had was involuntary, and he could not speak. Eventually the Roberts School said they could nothing more for him and the Wrights removed him.

But they had met my grandmother and knew of her skills and her affection for Ted. It is possible that even before he was removed from the school, they had my grandmother come and babysit for Ted. But certainly at some point, she became their primary childcare person and we came to know him and care about him.

What everyone discovered was that despite his physical disabilities, Ted could think. His brain was fine. Wrights explored all the resources they could obtain for Ted. They read to him. When “talking books” became available, they ordered them. At a certain point they had neighborhood children come in and do their homework with Ted. Ted’s primary communication was a smile for “Yes” and a frown for “No” with accompanying noises that indicated positive or negative reactions. When a young person would read a paper that he had written for school to Ted, he would get stopped in the middle by a negative sound and he would say, “What? Ted?” and Ted would make the negative sound again accompanied by a frown. The youngster would look at his paper and ask again “Did I pronounce a word wrong?” Ted would smile. The youngster would argue, “No—I didn’t—do you mean?” … and would pick out the word he thought most apt to be wrong and Ted would smile. “No Ted—I said it right.” Ted would frown. The young man would get a dictionary and look it up or ask Mrs. Wright and sure enough he had pronounced the word incorrectly. Ted would beam.

For regular conversation both Wrights and Granny played twenty questions with Ted to help him express himself. I remember one time when Granny lived in a tiny house on a major highway between Indianapolis and Zionsville. My uncle (her son) had a cleaning business in Zionsville and Granny ran the drop-off and pick-up station for business from that little house. One time Mrs. Wright brought Ted out there to be watched by Granny while she went somewhere for most of the day. At one point Granny and Ted were sitting outside because the weather was so nice. A school bus pulled up on the other side of the highway (with some kind of motor trouble) and Granny and Ted watched as children filed off the bus and sat on the grass with accompanying high-jinks which young children do when they’re asked to sit in one place. Eventually they were picked up by another bus and the broken-down bus was towed away—all exciting for Ted to watch. Mrs. Wright came at the end of the day and picked Ted up. About 8pm Granny received a phone call from her, “Mrs. Sanders,” she said, “I just want to check with you and see if there was a school bus that broke down on the other side of the highway?” She went ahead and described to Granny the entire scenario. Imagine getting that scene by playing twenty questions—or forty—or a hundred questions.

Ted lived past both his parents. After the death of his father, Mrs. Wright began to look for a facility that would take both her and Ted and commit to keeping Ted until his death. That worked and now all of them are gone. The learning from knowing Ted has to do with his abilities and the abilities he pulled out of the people who cared for him. And the primary learning was all about love.

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