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A story

It's the burden in the past while now It's a gift

When we were kids, my brother felt like a burden to me. Now I realize he's a gift.

By Margaret Carlson

From Reader's Digest

By the time I was born, my parents, high school sweethearts Mary Catherine McCreary and James Francis Xavier Bresnahan, already knew that the charmed life they had dreamed of was over. Two years earlier, after my father returned from the war, they had brought home their first child, my brother Jimmy, who was deprived of oxygen in a difficult delivery at an Army hospital. There was no testing in those days for developmental problems, so only gradually did my parents discover how severe Jimmy's brain damage was.

As a small child, I sensed little of their grief. I did know that Jimmy asked a hundred questions: Can I make Jell-O? Where's my Davy Crockett hat? When's Grandma coming? Unlike other children who know what they don't know and are filled with longing for what they cannot have, Jimmy wasn't self-aware enough to complain. That, in its way, was a gift. It saved us.

My mother wanted our lives to orbit around Jimmy's, which turned her into a manic Martha Stewart and my already sweet-tempered father into a saint. It also made me uncommonly involved in my brother's life -- his protector, my parents' fallback. When I was little, I didn't resist my mother's urgings to "go out and play and take your brother with you." I chose Jimmy for my side ("If you want me, you have to take him"), and I tried to steer the games toward large motor skills that he could manage (hide-and-seek) and away from small ones that he couldn't (marbles, pickup sticks).

Jimmy was never to be left alone, and we never went anywhere he couldn't go -- not to a movie, a museum or a play. So I urged the neighborhood kids to come to my house. They loved visiting us. It wasn't

just the scrumptious food or the home-churned ice cream that drew them; it was the messy, kid-centered chaos.

My parents took care of everything inside the house. In the morning, my mother would try to teach Jimmy practical things: how to brush his teeth (that was successful), tie a tie (that wasn't) or put a belt through his pant loops (a semi-success: back loops no, front loops yes.) I was left to patrol the perimeter, where I administered rough justice. I quickly learned to dislike those who slight the weak or different or unlucky. And I learned that when no one is looking, those who think of themselves as the best people can behave like the worst.

It wasn't the pale kid with asthma who taunted my brother; it was the tall, good-looking one with the Schwinn three-speed and Ted Williams bat. At an early age I kept a list of "People Who Must Be Stopped." Like some tiny, pigtailed Mike Wallace, I tracked down the parents of kids who didn't play fair and squealed on them. Twisting the training wheels on Jimmy's bike was a minor sport among the bullies.

Frustrated, I went to Patrick's house and told his father that his son was the ringleader of the bunch. I was met with a blank stare and the bang of the screen door as he yelled for his wife to come down. She never did. So the next time, I threw a rock and bloodied Pat's nose. Years later, my daughter found my old report cards and was delighted to learn I got an F in deportment -- with a note from Mother Marita Joseph that I was to leave the summary executions to her.

The nuns at Good Shepherd taught as if each of us might win a Nobel Prize. There was no slow track: Each of us had a brain to be honed. But even their expansive idea of who could be taught wasn't enough to encompass Jimmy. What were my parents to do? Their main point of reference was the Kennedy family, whose situation suggested that all the money and experts in the world are not enough. Ashamed of his eldest daughter, Rosemary, who had been deprived of oxygen at birth, Joe Kennedy had her lobotomized and shipped off to a school in Wisconsin for "exceptional children." Our small town in Pennsylvania had no schools for exceptional children, and if it meant living away from home, my brother would not have gone.

Instead, he started going to a "sheltered workshop" nearby, where the production of potholders and lanyards outstripped local demand, but occupied him nonetheless. At first, Jimmy looked around and didn't understand why he was there. "I'm not handicapped," he kept saying. But soon he was engaged in the activities. At dinner, he gave a blow-by-blow of his day, which was exactly like every other day, which was why he came to like it. We were thrilled by every word.

From there, Jimmy went to work at the Navy depot in Mechanicsburg, where my father found him a job unloading color-coded boxes. He was sometimes taken advantage of, and learned words my mother never said in her life. But his boss, Rod Hagy, looked after him very closely, and the 20 years he worked there were better than we could have hoped for when he was weaving place mats. Jimmy won awards, not just the standard kind for never taking a day of sick leave, but also for coming up with ways to move boxes more efficiently. Whenever I hear anyone complain about too many handicapped spaces at Safeway, I want to tell them about Jimmy.

As an adult, Jimmy had become closer to my father than to my mother. They ate breakfast together, packed their lunches and drove off to the depot every morning. So in 1991 when my father keeled over after a golf game and died shortly thereafter, Jimmy was lost. He couldn't see how Dad could walk out of the house with a cooler of beer and his clubs and not come back. In the weeks following Dad's death, Jimmy was dry-eyed until little cracks in his fragile world began to appear.

I hired someone to live with him and drive him to work. But no matter how much I tried to make things stay the same, even Jimmy grasped that the world he'd known was over. I asked, "You miss Dad, don't you?" His chin quivered. "What do you think, Margaret?" he said. "He was my buddy."

My mother died of lung cancer six months later. Every child is sad when a parent dies. I was panicked. I was divorced, my daughter, Courtney, was moving out into her ownlife, and my younger brother, Edmund, had just gotten married. Now I would be the one who had to look after Jimmy.

What I have learned in the years since then is that my work with Jimmy will never be done -- but there was no need for panic. He didn't adjust to going to work without my father right away, so he came to Washington to live with me for an extended stay. At first, Jimmy, who had never once been

left alone, went everywhere I went. One morning he put on his funeral suit and accompanied me to a downtown hotel for a press breakfast with Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan. The reporter next to Jimmy asked, "Who are you with?"

"My sister," said Jimmy.

"Who's your sister with?"

"She's with me," Jimmy said quizzically. When the waiter came around with orange juice and coffee, the only things served at these affairs, Jimmy asked for a stack of blueberry pancakes -- and got them.

Eventually I set Jimmy up according to his wishes. He wanted to keep his job at the Navy depot in Mechanicsburg and live in my parents' house. He has done that for 11 years now, with a succession of caretakers. He's become indispensable to the neighborhood. Leaves on your lawn? Jimmy's got the leaf blower. Mail to be picked up, dog needs walking? He's your man.

It took me a long time to realize that my mother was right, of course: that if she didn't make Jimmy a part of our lives, he might have no life at all. And that it was possible to have a household that accommodated both Jimmy's limitations and my ambitions. Jimmy doesn't take away from my household -- he enriches it.

That's what hit home a few days after the disaster at the World Trade Center. Jimmy came to see me in Washington for his 57th birthday on September 16, but because of the chaos after September 11, none of our family could join us. So I called on my friends to help make the day festive, even though most of them were drained and exhausted from working round the clock. Instead of a decorous, "No gifts, please," I shouted, "Gifts! Please!"

Jimmy set the menu: pizza made with Mom's bread dough, German chocolate cake and ice cream. The guests were people he'd met over the years. They brought the ideal presents: microwave popcorn, Turtle Wax, CDs with a mix of country songs, a sweatshirt, and enough cans of pretzels, potato chips and peanuts to give Dr. Atkins a heart attack. Considering the week everyone had just lived through, our crooning "Happy Birthday" felt like singing "America the Beautiful."

At breakfast the next morning, my brother pushed a stack of white envelopes toward me and said, "Why don't you take a look at these?" He'd been so poised the night before that I'd forgotten he didn't know which card went with which gift, except by making conversation with his guests. As I read each card, he nodded, as if the treacly sentiments of Hallmark had been written just for him.

And in a way they were. Jimmy had given my friends an outlet for their best impulses and most generous sentiments after a singularly devastating event. He had reminded all of us that a tightly knit network of family and friends can buoy you, if you ever should need it. Those birthday cards are now lined up on the dresser in his bedroom in the house where we grew up. In a way that I couldn't quite imagine when I was younger, my parents had built a house sturdy enough to shelter us all forever.



------- 玛格利特卡尔森





吉姆不能独处,我们也从不去一些他去不了的地方--- 电影院,博物馆或剧院。所以我总是劝说邻居家的孩子们到我家玩。他们也喜欢到我们家,不仅仅是因为美味可口的食物或是自家搅拌的冰激凌;而是喜欢那种凌乱的,以孩子为中心的那种气氛。









从那以后,我意识到我将永远与吉姆在一起---但这也没必要惊惶。吉姆还没适应没有爸爸陪伴上下班的日子,因此他来到华盛顿,跟我住了很长一段时间。起初,从没独处过的吉姆,整天跟着我。一天早上,他穿上了送葬穿的衣服,陪我去一家市内的旅馆,与校长侯选人帕特布鍥南共进新闻早餐。吉姆旁边的记者问道:“你跟谁一起来的?”“我妹妹”他答道。“你的妹妹跟谁一起来的?”“她跟我”吉姆滑稽地回答。当侍者拿着此类记者招待会提供的唯一东西--- 桔子汁和咖啡走过来时,吉姆却要了许多蓝莓薄煎饼—而他竟然拿到了这些薄煎饼。



世贸中心灾难之后的那几天,那是一件最令我感到痛苦的事。吉姆上华盛顿来看我,庆祝他在9月16号的第57个生日。但由于“911” 之后的混乱,我们的家人都不能过来。因此,我邀请朋友来帮忙庆祝,虽然他们大多数人工作一整天后筋疲力尽,但我并没有彬彬有礼地说:“请不用带什么礼物”,我大声喊道,“送礼物来!”