Monday, June 30, 2014

Storm Clouds

On the surface, the salient passage in a very short Chapter 3 has nothing to do with Gloria Steinbrecher, although most of the chapter concerns her or the growing problems in her marriage to Ben. Instead, the heart of the third paragraph uses the absence of a reference to Gloria to paint a picture of a home in trouble.

The paragraph begins by saying that Ben, overworked like most coaches, slept later than he planned on the one day a week when he is able to make the five-hour roundtrip to the Boise area to visit their institutionalized son _ a trip Gloria refuses to make:
By the time he showered, dressed and recalculated the percentages of some new defenses he was considering, it was early afternoon. He crossed the rectangular living room, a brick fireplace at one end, a bay window the only structural embellishment, and beige walls with two small paintings. Aside from a framed portrait photograph of Gloria in her cheerleading outfit, there was a curious absence of family pictures _ nothing to indicate they had a child.
The final sentence discloses my intention in understating the details. Teddy, the couple's only child, is unwelcome in the home of his parents because of Gloria's inability to deal with his disability. Indeed, as Chapter 11 explains further, Teddy is unaware there is such a thing as a warm, supportive place where parents, not teachers, care for and work with their children. In Teddy's world, warmth and support are what he receives once a week when his father visits. A later paragraph suggests that the opposing viewpoints of the Steinbrechers have become a constant source of discord between them.

A young reader might be tempted to question whether such a time ever existed, but segregation of learning-disabled children was common during the Vietnam years, in Idaho and elsewhere. The movement to take them out of institutions and return them to homes, wherever possible, was in its nascence near the end of the decade. The history of Special Olympics is instructive here: The first International Special Olympics were held in Chicago in the summer of 1968, and it wasn't until 1970 _ two years later _ that Idaho officials caught on and staged an outdoor sports festival for special children in Pocatello.

As a community relations specialist with the Idaho Health Department, I was fascinated with the proposition behind the spectacle _ that sports competition fosters not only physical health in those who participate, but stimulates mental growth as well. It was affirmation to me that Juvenal's mens sana in corpore sano (translated: "A sound mind in a sound body"), which educators had used for centuries to justify physical education classes, could be scaled down and applied to the handicapped as well.

My strongest memory of the first Idaho Summer Games, though, relates to my work assignment _ to write a TV script for Grace Edgington Jordan, honorary chair of the event. Mrs. Jordan was married to former Idaho Gov. Len Jordan, a prominent U.S. senator at the time. I'd never written television dialogue before, and my boss kept warning me to get it right. I was as nervous as a skier in avalanche terrain while Mrs. Jordan smiled and spoke as the cameras rolled, and it made my weekend when she told me my script was the first she'd ever felt comfortable reading. My first thought: Maybe I've got a future in this business after all.


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