Author’s notes: This true story takes place in the 1950’s when “retarded” was used in reference to the mentally handicapped. The events in the story are true, but the details have been invented as all but one person in the story have passed. I grew up visiting my Aunt Roene and loving her funny and spunky personality. It wasn’t until I became a mom that I appreciated the sacrifice her mothers made so that Roene could live a happy, love-filled life at home.
Home Is Where the Heart Is
Dr. Evans opened the heavy wooden door and ushered Ora and Leo into the sitting room. Leo sunk into the upholstered upright chair and watched as Ora paced in front of him. Moments later the door opened again and eight-year-old Roene staggered in. Her dark brown hair was clipped short and combed straight, her dress was clean, but wrinkled. Ora walked toward her, arms open for a welcoming hug, but Roene flinched backwards. She glanced at her father, Leo, and began to utter her loud guttural cries. Leo looked between his wife and his retarded daughter and finally stood.
Roene thrust her always-present fist into her mouth and waited. Dr. Evans firmly pulled her fist from her mouth. “No, Roene, not in your mouth,” he said.
Ora slowly moved closer to her daughter and asked Dr. Evans, “How is she doing?”
“She is a hard one, very stubborn. She spends a lot of time in isolation.”
Ora’s eyes narrowed, “Isolation?”
Roene looked back and forth between her father and mother, collapsed, and began pounding her fists on the spotless wooden floor.
“No!” Dr. Evans roared as he reached down to pull Roene to her feet.
But Leo was faster. He knelt beside her and held a hand up to stop Dr. Evans. Ora reached down to hold Roene’s hand.
Roene let out a terrified squeal and crawled behind the chair. Leo sat beside her and reached to pat a curled fist. She pulled her arms back as if she had been pricked by a needle. Roene began moaning and crawled her way around the chair to kneel next to Dr. Evans.
Ora watched as Roene moved away from her father and then looked into Leo’s eyes. She could read the pain disguised behind his strength.
“We are taking her home today,” she stated.
“No, Mrs. Reeve. This is her home now,” Dr. Evans pointed out as he patted Roene’s head.
“She doesn’t even know us,” Ora spat as tears began to form in her eyes. “She needs to come home.”
“Mrs. Reeve, I can see that this visit is upsetting all of you. That’s why I suggested you not come. Most people realize their children are better off here. They quit coming and the children are just fine.”
“Dr. Evans, you don’t know me very well, so I’ll excuse your talking to me like I am ‘most people,’ but let me assure you, I am NOT ‘most people.”
Five years later, Roene sat on a hard wooden chair with her father and new stepmother beside her. Leo wrapped his arm around his wife, Ruth, and held his daughter’s twisted hand while they waited for yet another doctor to dictate Roene’s future. Roene rocked side to side in her chair and kicked the legs. She cocked her head and mumbled, “Mama.”
“Yes, Roene,” answered Leo, “It’s your new Mama.”
It had been less than a year since Roene’s mother, Ora, had died, and Ruth had taken on
the challenge of two teenage boys and a young Roene with all her problems. Ruth wasn’t sure what she had gotten into, but she had faith that marrying Leo was the right thing to do. So, she rolled up her sleeves and got to work. She surely was not going to give up on her new step-daughter without a fight. So, the family sat waiting to hear what Dr. Parker would recommend.
Dr. Parker slid behind his polished desk and opened the file marked, “Reeve, Roene.” He removed his glasses and set them carefully next to the folder. “Mr. Reeve,” he began, “I’m sorry to tell you that after extensive testing, we have to concur with the earlier findings. Your daughter will never be able to care for herself. She falls well below the mark of ‘mentally retarded.’ She needs to be placed in a facility where she can get the help she needs.”
Leo’s grip on Ruth’s shoulder tighten, and she looked away from Dr. Parker to her husband. She hadn’t known him for long, but the devastation was unmistakable. Dr. Parker may as well have pushed a knife into his heart, as to suggest his daughter be sent away again.
Ruth firmly placed her hand over Leo’s and moved it from her shoulder. She stood, and tugged Leo to his feet. “Thank you for your recommendation. We will be going now.”
“My assistant can give you information about the nearest facility for Roene,” Dr. Parker said as he stood to usher the family out.
“No need,” Ruth replied. She placed her arm under Roene’s and began to guide her jerky movements through the door. “She has a home. She doesn’t need a facility.”
Written By: Patricia Haggard