My views of life were shattered in so many good ways in the summers of 1981 and 1983. This image highlights just one – see the seated and smiling mug of the man standing next to camp counselors Sara Queener and Maria Baker. George was the 1st of many campers to debunk many assumptions I discovered I had in life.
George and his Wheels - - Abe Pachikara, Copyright 1981 (click for larger image)
As context, the photo is taken at Touch of Nature (TON), a summer camp for physically and mentally challenged near Carbondale, IL. It was the 1st of the many 2-week sessions; these campers had cerebral palsy, and were 18 to perhaps 60 years old (the upper age was never clear to me).
Now George had some kind of up-front agreement that he never needed to participate in the evening activities like arts, beach, boating, etc. Rather, after dinner he would wheel himself back to the cabin (a very slow action, to be clear, but George ONLY moved on his own, never wanting help if at all possible; it was a steady but glacial backwards motion, arm hooked over the back grip, looking over his right shoulder). He would spastically slap cologne on himself, often erupting into a smile over how good he smelled; perhaps change his shirt with the help of his cabin’s counselors, and then wheel ALL the way back past the cafeteria to his Caddy.
Getting in his Cadillac was its own journey: opening the back door; rocking back and forth until he was precariously up on his stiff legs; opening the back door; shaking the wheelchair until it collapsed; somehow dragging it into the back seat; slowly moving across to open the front door; falling in, moving around, getting situated.
Finally, with big, enticing grin on his face, he would muster the energy to say to anyone nearby, “I…… am…… going…… out.” The Caddy would back out, and with a burst of energy from the hand controlled accelerator, slide into the evening.
I once asked Butch, “where the hell is he going?” to which I got a trademark thundering laugh, “Ah where does George go? It is one of those Touch mysteries, Abe! Some seedy tavern, local strip clubs, wherever it is a single, virile man would go in the evening. And George is a pretty determined guy.”
It was the same man, seen thru 2 lenses: while I saw the cerebral palsy with its inhibiting packaging that surrounded George, what Butch (and other TON veterans) also “saw” was just another single, virile male. Getting a beer, chasing some skirts sounded pretty pedestrian at that point.
In my incredibly finite brain, large chunks of the world were beyond the boundaries of people “like George” but that was not the case. And it was a tremendously welcome correction, if you ask me.