Tri-City Ledger -

By Earline Smith Crews
Guest Writer 

The childhood adventures of Matt, Mae and Me

 

August 30, 2018



In our community lived two eternally, very young ladies. Matt & Mae. Each lived with sisters by necessity and fate. I was never sure about the order of birth with their sisters, but both had been left in care of their sisters for life.

Both were born with Downs Syndrome.

I was a child and children learn from parents and others. We said Mae & Matt were,"flicted". I personally never heard the words Downs Syndrome until years later and realized our playmates had been born with the genetic disorder.

Matt was living with less than Mae due to economics. Neither of them knew the difference. We knew only that Mae wore pretty dresses of organdy, trimmed in delicate lace on layers of ruffles. She may have worn dresses of feed sack cloth during the week, but I saw her on Sunday afternoons only, as best as I remember. Her sister dressed her to look like a little doll that somehow wrinkled and distorted with time. Her dresses were usually pink and tied with perfect sashes. Mae wore Mary Jane's and white socks on tiny feet at the end of hairy legs, bowed and stubby. Her hair was cut into a bob. Once very black, but now streaked with gray. Her little hands were gnarled with stubby fingers that blunted. Her eyes slanted and looked back with pure happiness. I remember her smiles of joy.

Mae was happy.

Matt wore old ragged dresses of whatever was available and afforded. She had a big hump on her back that was offset by a big belly that seemed to center her balance. She had no teeth but to make us laugh, she sometimes fitted a pair into her mouth of an old darkened set that lay in a Coty face powder box setting on the dressing table. She would take them back out after the fun was over for her. She wore no shoes, she did however own a pair of royal blue velvet house slippers. She kept those beautiful treasures on a shelf in her half of the bedroom that she shared with her great niece, Helen. She showed them to me many times as she traced with her finger the gold braiding on the toes. Matt was very careful with her few possessions. A cardboard box underneath her bed held more "pretties". She walked on her ankles with her toes facing out. Slow and steady as she held onto the door jamb or gatepost or yard fence. Matt got there eventually while laughing and muttering about things we couldn't see or hear. Matt's bottom lip drooped and spilled drool. Her hair too was bobbed and gray streaked. Matt loved wearing old tarnished rings. Any castoff's belonged to her. A wooden cigar box held given or found treasures. Trinkets, discarded and broken, buttons, fishing hooks, small bottles of dried nail polish, tokens from days of rationing, an ear bob with a ruby set, a block of beeswax. She looked and fingered these things for all the years I knew her. Her request every Christmas was for a "fanger rang and peanut brittle". Peanut brittle could have been made at home, but she wanted the mailman to deliver a package with a tin can showing Christmas scenes filled with the candy.

Somehow each Christmas, her sister made her wish come true. The nickel plated ring leached grey stains between fingers. Brittle was sucked away from peanuts that were discarded.

Matt was happy.

I played hide-n-seek with Mae & Matt on Sunday afternoons at Matt's house because we were there to play with her great niece, Helen. They were next door neighbors and convenient. The two sweet little "flicted" girls were at the mercy of our games. We made them "It". They never won a game, guaranteed. Both of them loved hide-n-seek. They would shuffle away to hide behind a pine tree or the truck or car or whatever they found to press faces against in belief that, if they couldn't see us we couldn't see them. They never made it to base or "tickle lock all way around", but loved the screaming, yelling, hollering "Nuh,uh" as all of us scuffled about. The smiles of pure joy was a sight to behold. We never mistreated them knowingly, just used them for our own selfish entertainment. I never thought of being cruel to Mae & Matt, but, thinking back, we were all uncaring in that we would get tired of waiting for them in our games, then we walked away to find our own selfish pleasures elsewhere, leaving the two of them to stand, watch and wonder.

Mae & Matt's sisters would sit on the porch visiting while we played our games. They saw and had full understanding of what was happening. They accepted it and life went on. Things were sweet and simple for Mae & Matt. Both got really good loving treatment from their sisters.

I was at Mae's house one Sunday afternoon with Mama and Daddy and some of my siblings as we all visited with her family. I got off the truck to walk into the yard where Mae stood picking leaves off the privet hedge growing along the freshly swept sand walkway from the gate to the porch. Neither of us spoke, but she smiled at me. I smiled back and picked leaves from the privet hedge with her. I cannot imagine what Mae was thinking, but seeing her smiling face let me know she was glad I was there. I cannot say I ever heard Mae talk words. She didn't really need words to express what she needed or felt or thought. Her eyes and smile did it

Other than that visit the few times I played with Mae was at Matt's house.

Matt was a fixture in my childhood as I spent many, many, many hours at her house playing with Helen. I would simply walk into the house to find Helen. Fun was always waiting. They had a piano that was in need of tuning and missing ivory key covers. We banged on that old instrument for hours on end. Matt had learned to play a hit or miss version of Chewing Gum and Chopsticks with Helen. She loved to have others play, In The Mood or Chattanooga Choo Choo. She requested, "pay noogie plu plu", as drool spilled from a mile wide toothless smile. She humped about to keep rhythm while smiling with her mouth wide open giving us privy to her throat and pink fleshy gums. Matt was a free spirit when the music flowed. Those wonderful times the music flowed..........

Matt played boogerman with us many rainy afternoons. She chose for herself to be the boogerman. Covering her head with an old ragged bed sheet, held with a big diaper pin, the sheet draped to completely cover her body. With that drooping lip and face she made the best boogerman ever. Our imaginations didn't need much tweaking. Loud screaming, clamoring over the settee and chairs to climbing onto the piano keyboard to the top, dropping down behind into an angle on the floor made by placement of furniture. Getting back out was by having others throw a footstool over to assist in getting back over the top of the piano. Matts sister knew exactly where to look for her footstool when needed.

Matt cut paper dolls from Sears Roebuck and Spiegel catalogues for us to play. She had to cut with the scissors upside down because of being left handed, but with time the job got done. Her paper dolls were kept in a shoebox. We had to ask permission. She gladly shared, but only if we ask. Matt may have been "flicted", but she had rights.

We respected her rights, we ask permission.

As I grew up and Helen moved away, Matt was left to the times.

I don't remember when Mae left this world, but Matt passed away after I was working. I remember the day she died and feeling so sad as the family made plans for her funeral. I sat with the family on their porch that sad evening of death while we all cried because of our shared loss. I didn't go to Matts funeral because I had to work.

Life moved on.

My memory of Matt is always a happy memory.

*** I believe those two sweet souls, Matt and Mae were born with the promise of eternal salvation.

I had to ask for my salvation. I'm so thankful for the life we shared together.

 
 

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