David was born with Downs syndrome in the new Monterey Peninsula Hospital in September of 1961 while I was attending the U.S. Foreign Service Institute in Washington, D.C. The immediate question was whether we would place David in an institution or take him with us to Colombia. Feeling that there was nothing they could do in an institution that we could not do better we decided to take him with us.
In Manizales, the city where we lived in Colombia, children who had developmental disabilities or other problems were not ever allowed outside the house as this was considered a terrible shame for the family. Then here we come, a family of prominent social standing, taking David out in the stroller, sun bathing him in the local park, taking him to the Country Club with us, etc. This openness on having a developmentally disabled child in public was refreshing for many of the families who were hiding their child from public view.
David traveled with us as we went on trips around Colombia and to Ecuador and Peru. I carried David in a packapoose, a form of back-pack that allowed him to see everything around him. We have some lovely photos of him with villagers high in the mountains above Huancayo, Peru and also of our visit to Machu Pichu. On our way home from assignment in Colombia we visited Guatemala and Mary Ann decided to wait in the small village of Panajachal, on the shore of Lake Atitlan, while I went back to D.C. to fill out the forms for leaving the U.S. Information Agency. Then I had to decide where I would study to pursue the Ph.D., find an apartment, move our furniture in and only then inform Mary Ann that she and David had to leave Guatemala and come to their new home in Madison, Wisconsin.
David interacted well with the normal kids in the housing unit at the university which we feel was great for his development. Our goal was to help David reach his potential, whatever it was. After spending another six months in Colombia as I conducted the research for my doctoral dissertation, this time with his newly adopted brother Todd, we moved to Bellingham, Washington which was to be our home for the next 50+ years.
David did well in school and learned to read and write at a time when many of the local teachers of the handicapped said these kids will never learn to read. From the time in Colombia David had his own books, cloth books to begin with. Then he went through two copies of Family of Man. In Bellingham I read to the children most nights, one sitting on either arm of my chair as I read from the book on my lap. After having read the same book a dozen times I memorized parts of them and David or Todd would say “Turn the page daddy you are ahead of the story pictures.” After awhile I would encourage them to read the story themselves. I would also read them poetry and once I read from Shakespeare which they loved.
Early on we got the kids a library card and they began taking books of their own choosing from the library. One day David came home with a large pile of books on sex. I asked him what he wanted all of those books for and he responded “Daddy, I’m normal and I’m interested in reading about sex.” OK. He was normal in many things and as a teenager he was exploring this subject. The books went back and he did not bring up the subject again until one day he asked that I get him a porno film to watch on the TV and proceeded to give me a list to chose from. He had found a porno magazine by the roadside and secretly brought it home. It had a list of films which he copied. So one day I went to the local adult book store and rented one of the films he wanted and brought it home. One night while his mother was working we watched the film. After a short while David said “Turn it off. It’s boring” and that was the last time he asked that I get him a sex film.
I tried to teach the boys how to play chess to no avail but David really took to Backgammon. Many evenings David and I would play a three-game set. After awhile I gave him no quarter but he would normally beat me one game of the three. Then as he got better from time to time it was two out of three. He would whoop with joy when that happened. It was inevitable that finally he won all three games. What a scene that was! You would think he had just won a million dollar lottery. I was really proud of him.
When Todd gave up his paper route David wanted to take it over but I felt he could not handle it as Todd had over 50 customers and adding or subtracting numbers was beyond David’s ability. David insisted so I said he could take half the route and see if he could handle it. On payday his customers would have to write him a check or, if they gave him cash, had to put it in an envelope that he provided whereon they put their name and address. Then I took David on a ‘dry run’ showing him all the houses that got a paper and where he was to put it. At the end of the ‘dry run’, I asked David if he could remember all that and to my astonishment, he ran through the entire list and told me where he was to put the paper — by memory! I was astonished and decided he could take over the entire route.
David was a hit! The customers loved him. David got up by himself at 5 a.m., in rain and shine and snow and did his route. I asked him what he liked most about the route and he responded “Collecting the money.” On those occasions David chatted with the customer. He loved that interaction. Many of his customers said David was the best paper carrier they ever had.