Award Winning Best Selling Florida Author Yvonne Mason

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Dream Catcher, Failure Was Never An Option- Excerpt

       In the fall of 1959 Stan started out on a new road.  This road would lead him to many challenges and victories.  The journey began with Stan and Barry walking four blocks to school every day.  This simple act, once again, was a learning tool for Stan.  It taught him how to find his way from one place to another and how to follow a set of directions.


     Every morning we got up at 6:00am and got ready for school. Breakfast was cooked and then we set out for school. Stan had to get his clothes and books ready the night before. There were chores that had to be done before we left. His bed had to be made, his teeth brushed, hair combed and the other things that go along with getting ready for the day. He was always ready before anyone else. He could not wait to get his day started. He was like a blank sheet of paper ready to be written on.  Rain or shine the boys walked to school and back home again every day until high school.


    Stan’s teacher throughout his Elementary School years was an exceptional lady, Mrs. Caskey.  She was light years ahead of her time in the educational field.  This was because she had a son who was emotionally retarded, and she knew what these special children needed in order to make it in the real world.  The children in her class were not just ‘babysat’, they were taught the same curriculum as the rest of the student population, only at a slower pace.  Even though these children were not mainstreamed into the regular classroom setting, it did not deter her from teaching them that they had to be all they could be.  She would accept nothing less than their individual highest possible achievement level.  She was strict and demanding, but- she was quick with praise when they successfully reached a goal.  Mrs. Caskey taught Stan math, reading, writing, and other academic skills needed in order to survive in the ‘outside’ world.  This ‘outside’ world can be a very unforgiving place for everyone, but especially for those with handicaps.


   She reinforced that he had to have behavioral skills in this unforgiving world. Throwing tantrums when he had not grasped the concept of taking the written word and reading it was not acceptable. Mrs. Caskey called mother and told her that she could not get thru to Stan. He had resorted to pitching one of his famous fits. Mother told Mrs. Caskey to do whatever was necessary short of abuse to let him know that this form of behavior was not acceptable.  Mother suggested putting him in the coat closet. This closet had no doors, and it isolated him from the other students. Mother explained to Mrs. Caskey that she was put in one when she was a child for an infraction and it had not hurt her. This form of discipline only had to be done once. Stan got understood from then on that throwing fits was not an accepted form of behavior.


   Because he could not get the thought process connected to the verbal process, it took a while for Mrs. Caskey to understand the reason for the temper tantrums. It seemed the other students in his class were beginning to recognize the written word. They were able to put together simple words and read aloud. This apparently was very frustrating to Stan. He had not yet mastered this skill. It upset him and he did not have the skills to verbalize this frustration. The more frustrated he got the more he tried to let it be known the only way he knew.  One day Mrs. Caskey called mother, I don’t know who was more proud and excited. Mrs. Caskey told mother that Stan’s’ source of frustration had been found, he had finally accomplished reading out loud from a book.


    One must remember in the 1950’s the reading books were very simple. One learned things like Run, Jane run, Jump, Dick, jump. But, for Stan it might have well been a college literature book. When he was to be able to read the fits stopped. Even at this age he understood that there was something that the others could do and he could not. And he wanted to have that ability.  But, he once again proved that he had the right stuff. He never lost sight of the goal that he had set for himself at that young age. Thus began the education of Stan. Thus began the road of opportunity that he took without ever looking back.


    Stan’s vocabulary was still limited and when he got excited he could not make himself understood.  He talked too fast.  He knew what he was saying- but no one else did. Thus, it was as if he was speaking an unknown tongue.  We had to get him to slow down so he be could understand; so we could understand. We spent many hours teaching him words and math.


    He had to do tongue exercises in order for him to pronounce words properly.  This was cause for much laughter because he had to contort his tongue in many different positions. He wanted to learn so bad that he would get angry at himself because he could not learn faster. He was constantly told to slow down and by doing so; it would come to him easier. Stan’s built in determination and our persistence gave him so much more.  Stan never missed school.  He had finally found a place that he could soak up all the knowledge that was thrown at him. From the age of seven until he was fifteen he went to Parklane Elementary School.


    While he was getting his academic education at school, he was also getting his spiritual needs met at church. At age 7, he had a Sunday school teacher, Miss Betty Kerlin, who believed in him.   Her approach was quite unique, considering the times.  For the first couple Sundays she allowed him to ‘just be in class’. He wasn’t required to participate in any way.  He just sat and acted as if he was not interested in being there.  


    On the third Sunday Ms Betty put her plan in action. When Stan came to class she sat next to him and pointed out the words being read in the Bible. Then she would have him repeat the words back to her.  This went on for a couple of weeks, and then Miss Betty went one step further.  She began writing the words on the blackboard and Stan had to copy them.  Not only did he copy them- he understood them!


    Miss Betty was not satisfied. She felt that if Stan was capable of reading with comprehension, then he certainly had other untapped talents. Once again she set a plan in motion. Mother had been painting classes from her. So she decided to include Stan. She taught Stan how to take a blank canvas and fill it with his creations and imaginations. Once again the power of love and determination astounded everyone who knew him. Here was this seven year old child, who was considered retarded, with less than perfect motor skills painting with a natural talent and patience required in using oils. Not only was he painting but he was good.  This was just another bridge crossed – successfully.

    This set the stage for the event that happened later. Stan had always been accepted for who he was by those in our neighborhood.  All the families who lived in our block had moved there about the same time, and all the children had been born about the same time. Everyone knew Stan and knew about him. He was loved and respected for who he was, not for what was wrong with him.  Things, do change, however.


    He began to be slapped with the reality of how cruel the world is. He learned that people do not care; they make fun of those things they do not and will not understand. He learned that children learn their negative behavior from their parents and that adults can be as cruel if not more cruel than children. He learned that adults are afraid that being challenged is contagious. He was beginning to learn how unforgiving life really is. The event that brought this home happened in the neighborhood where he had been brought up. It was supposed to be a safe place for Stan. It was supposed to be a place where he could be Stan. But, it took on a different tone when a new family moved on Palm Drive. What happened that day, taught all of us a lesson.


   Stan, being the social creature that he is wanted to welcome them to the neighborhood. Dressed in an old Army jacket he walked up and propped up himself on the end of the car.  He was ready to be friendly.  What a wakeup call he got.  Not only were these people not friendly; they were very narrow-minded and bigoted. They were shocked that this creature was allowed out, and on the streets. They would not allow their children to play with us, especially not with Stan.  Needless to say, this was extremely foreign, not only Stan – but to us as well. No one had ever treated him as though he was nothing.  He had always known that he was different, but was accepted and loved for who he was. Being different did not affect who he was inside. This new family, it seemed, decided that Stan needed to know just how different he was. They informed him that he was retarded. 


    Stan was hurt and confused. He came home and told mother what had happened.  He asked her what retarded meant! She asked him why he wanted to know.  Stan related what the new neighbors had said to him, and what they called him.   Imagine the shock and hurt mother felt.  It was like a red flag being waved in the face of a raging bull.  But Mother did the right thing; she explained the word to him this way.

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