My great aunt Mabel was born with Down's Syndrome in 1926 after a long, hard labor that, in the end, left the family mother-less. My grandmother was 2 years old and was sent to live with the child-less neighbors. The doctors suggested that Mabel be put in an institution as she would most likely not even live to the age of 5.
The rest of the siblings, most of whom were already married and had children of their own, decided that Mabel would be passed from sibling to sibling, switching Mabel to her new house every two months. As soon as my grandmother was married (when she was 20), she joined in with the sharing of care for Mabel.
As a child, I was fascinated with Mabel, almost as much as Mabel was fascinated with gaudy costume jewelry. She was a woman of few intelligible words but she had a lot to say.
She loved to say the blessing before eating and while praying in her own language my grandmother would stand beside her yelling 'Amen' in the hopes that she would wrap it up. As children, my sister and I had to bite the insides of our cheeks to keep from laughing out loud. Even then, we knew that Mabel would finish only when Mabel was finished. No need to rush her.
Once my grandmother laid out her breakfast while on her way to take care of business on the farm. When she came back a few hours later to fix lunch, she found Mabel sitting at the table still waiting to eat her breakfast. My grandmother had forgotten to say the blessing with her. She never forgot to pray with her again.
When Mabel would get upset, she would lean over and say, "I'll slap the shit out of you." My sister and I would roll with laughter. I don't think she was humored with us. She never laid a hand on us but would slap her hands together in exasperation, as if she were indeed slapping the shit out of us.
Once Mabel had terrible stomach pains and after a few hours was rushed to the hospital. It turned out to be appendicitis. When Mabel slowly woke up from the anesthesia, she started slapping the bed to get the nurses attention. When the nurses would respond, she'd hold her arms as if she were cradling a baby. She didn't understand appendicitis but she did understand a terrible stomach pain and a trip to the hospital usually correlated with the arrival of a baby. And she wanted her baby.
We bought her a doll to appease her. It didn't really work.
Mabel died in her sleep at the age of 59 while I was a senior in high school. It would take years to realize what a miracle and a blessing she was to our family. She brought us together and taught us to slow down.
We could use a Mabel in our lives right now.
Happy Mother's Day to all - and especially to the ones who are wishing for a baby right now.