Someday I hope to write a sketch and give you a better picture of Luann. Today, just a snapshot will have to do. When she got in Steve's car, my life changed. Junior year of college, St. Paul, Minnesota, I had just started dating Steve. He took me to meet his aunt. I remember her getting in the front seat of his Datsun B210. Then she cheerfully started talking up a storm. Most of it went by me in a blur. Sometimes you need an interpreter with Luann. But, that day, I was clear about one thing, she is her own person.
Luann is now 54 years old. This is unusual for people with Down's Syndrome, as they typically don't live long lives. She is an exception in many ways. She is all things pink. And, she is a woman of regimen. Low Fat Milk. Diet Pepsi. Salad. And a regular counting of daily Food Groups. She has lived in a group home for many years, taking the bus to 'work' and aerobics classes. Over the years her pace has slowed, and so has her ability to flex. Steve's sister, Sue, is Luann's legal guardian. And when they come to visit, via airplane, Sue says, "It takes a village" to travel with Luann. Security check is a particular problem as Luann hates taking off her shoes and will not be parted from her fanny pack or purse. But, once through Security (with the patient help of the entire Brooks family) it's free flying ... because there is free Diet Pepsi, after all!!
Isaac calls Luann's arrival "The Luann Factor" as we all have to start talking VERY loudly, and be ready at a moment's notice to put on boots, find a certain pink fuzzy-poster marker, or provide skim milk. When I was pregnant with Isaac, we received a false positive on a prenatal test. Up until the moment he was born, we had every reason to expect that he would be a Down's child. We had two names picked out for him; Gabriel, if he was Down's Syndrome-- Isaac, if he wasn't. Obviously, he is now Isaac. But, had he been Gabriel, we were ready and willing to embrace him -- because of Luann. We all love her like no one else on this planet. We are good with "The Luann Factor."
When her Mom, Ethyle Johnson, died a year or so ago, it was Luann's loss that impacted me the greatest. In a most heartbreaking way, she will still, out of nowhere, tearfully explain that 'my Mom and Dad died.' But, equally random, are her outbursts of utter joy at being a great-aunt to her niece and nephews. Wow, she loves my sons. She is a bubbly effervescence. And, yes, she can be grumpy. There is no knowing when you have landed yourself in the 'doghouse' with her. My father-in-law, Don, spent most of our Christmas break in the doghouse because his "Check Engine" light came on at Taco Bell, and they had to sit in the car and wait for him to read the Instruction Manual "when it was dark outside!" This Luann found to be a most grievous offense. But her grumpitude it far outweighed by her unadulterated moments of true happiness -- bowling, mini-golfing, sitting on the couch. It's no matter. There is much to learn from Luann's uncomplicated joy.
The one thing I remember about that first ride with her in Steve's college car was black olives. Somehow, in the middle of so many words that I couldn't understand, we struck up a conversation about black olives. Oddly, olives are something we both love, and occasionally both put them on the tips of our fingers like finger puppets. That day, in the little brown car, Steve's love and patience with her became one more reason to love him. And since then, Luann's sweet presence has been a gift in my life. We are all blessed to know and love her.


Laura Parker said...

holy cow, i have tears in my eyes as i read your account of this precous woman. thank you for sharing. what a GIFT she is to your family, and to you. love you friend. love the way you live and love and write.

KELLY said...

Kel, your aunt is a beautiful woman and with out doubt, touches lives in ways that only God knows. Thanks for sharing!!