Once,when far too young, I had a great job working with people who were challenged intellectually. It was a job that made me very happy most days. I got to work with people who tried hard to get through life and succeed at what was placed before them.
The place I worked in was not an institution. It had a British director who did his best to integrate people into the greater community and have the greater community come to where the "clients" were. It was years before anyone else would try this.
I worked as part of a training and assessment team. I also worked as a supervisor in the residence.
The residence was a great place to work. Each resident had an apartment. The building looked like a regular apartment building but with a social lounge and a cafeteria. It was a place for Independence training.
Professional objectivity was expected but I had a favourite person there. I will call him Chucky. He was a person who was perfectly formed but very tiny. He tried so hard to accomplish each task every day. He learned to take buses and to cook. He learned the cleaning tasks better than I did.
He participated in the social events and made plans for us to all go out to movies or skating. He liked the birds and spent time telling jokes.
He liked being there. He made friends with other residents. He learned how to act in a more adult way after being rewarded for being so "cute" all his life. He was a completely charming person.
Just before Christmas I knocked on his door to do a room check. He got a small financial reward if he kept his room clean and tidy. He would not let me in. I asked and couldn't figure out what was happening. I went down to talk with my supervisor and told him I felt that Chucky was upset and might need to talk with a man. The supervisor went up to Chucky's apartment and returned saying that Chucky would not be on my case list for a few days. No explanation. Nothing.
I reeled in shock and searched my brain for something that I could possibly have done. I got on with my other duties in the next few days. The Christmas party was going to be a big deal and everyone was preparing making decorations and food. I was busy but sad.
We all got dressed for the party. Everyone looked smashing in fancy clothes. There was even alcoholic beverages for those whose medication wasn't a problem. Delicious food all made by the residents and gorgeous decorations. The place buzzed with festivity.
Chucky had not talked to me for days and my supervisor had avoided all conversation about it. Chucky appeared with a little package in hand and gave it to me." I made it for you. I didn't have any help so there are some mistakes but that is why you couldn't come into my room."
I opened the flat little package up and inside was a beautiful hand tooled leather wallet. It had rose patterns on the front and enough pockets for my ID and change. It had one rose petal stamped on backwards but it was gorgeous. Tears streamed down my face. Chucky thought the wallet made me sad. I had to do a long explanation of what tears of gratitude and joy were. I am not sure I communicated well enough for him to be able to understand.
Chucky was diagnosed with a brain tumour later that year. The clumsy surgery of the time left him with less intellectually than he already had. I left soon after for B.C. with my first husband. I have carried that wallet with me everyday since Christmas 1973. It is tattered and the cowboy stitching on the edge has come unravelled but it lasted until this year. So Christmas 2011 was the last time I carried the wallet. It will go on my wall to remind me that once a lovely person cared enough about me to spend weeks making my gift. The favourite gift in my whole life.
Tonight I toast Chucky with great love.