Laurie - a guest post
I grew up with a special needs cousin. His name was John Lawrence Jones. We called him Laurie. He was born in 1921 in a small town in Arizona: St. Johns. He spent the first few years of his life there with his mother and grandmother. His father had disowned him when his diagnosis of cerebral palsy was discovered. At that time, that also meant severe retardation. Laurie’s mother and father divorced and he moved to Phoenix. His mother passed away from tuberculosis when Laurie was 7 years old and he was sent back up to St. Johns to live with his grandmother, Helena, my great-grandmother. Being a small town, his grandmother would ask him to run easy errands for her. In town, (I have been told,) if members of his father’s family or his father himself would see Laurie, they would cross the street to avoid him. How unfortunate for them! His father eventually remarried.
Laurie’s grandmother and then his aunt taught him to read and write. He learned to do puzzles, and when they were completed he would take them apart one piece at a time and number the backs so he could put them together faster the next time. He loved spending time on the upper ranch helping his uncles with their ranching duties. He was even able to ride horses before his disease crippled him so that he couldn’t straddle the horses. As a teenager, he became the watchful eyes of my big brother, a responsibility he wrote about. Yes…we have a journal that Laurie kept. It is written in his careful, child-like handwriting and it is precious to us all. Laurie had an amazing memory. He could recite, even into his older years, the birthdays of anybody in the family. He was the go-to guy if you ever forgot a date! My first memories of him include him walking even before a cane. And he was funny. When he would laugh, he would bite on his hand and rock back and forth. He loved to talk and tell stories. It took a long time to tell a story because as his age and disease progressed, it affected his speech. We would constantly ask him to repeat himself or get the story wrong, so he learned to spell out the words we couldn’t understand. So there you would be, listening to a story and trying hard not to get confused when he would talk and spell and talk and spell. And when we got it, understood the story, he would slap his leg and bite his hand. As we all got older, he insisted on having his picture taken with all of the new babies. And when the camera would flash, he would close his eyes…every time!
Jumping ahead many years, I had the wonderful opportunity to become Laurie’s legal guardian; a shared responsibility with a cousin. Laurie had outlived his mother, his grandmother, his maternal aunt and my grandmother, his maternal uncle and his wife…all who had been his legal guardians and caregivers. My cousin and I were blessed to find a wonderful home for him nearby so we could visit. We would trade off on who got him for holidays and his birthdays. When our families would all get together to visit him at his group home, the staff couldn’t get over how many lives this “old guy” had touched. He lived to be 85 years old. His funeral was huge, filled. He is missed.
Several years ago, I was visiting some friends in St. Johns. I mentioned Laurie. The woman I was talking to gave me the phone number of a relative of Laurie’s father. I called this woman. She was astounded. She said she remembered, “the little, crippled, retarded boy in Helena’s yard,” and she had been told who he was. But her family, Laurie’s father’s family, all thought that he died young. When I told her he was 85 and could talk and read and write, she got very quiet. She asked if I had pictures. You bet I have pictures!!!