Moss


There are challenges in teaching and understanding those who are affected by physical, mental and emotional disabilities. This is a formidable task figuring out what is a best approach whether teaching or simply being friends. These special people are quite vulnerable and in need of caring compassion.

Our daughter is a clinical psychologist, her specialty is children. She tells us, "Lot of theories and diagnoses flying around out there. Those PhD types are blowing smoke out their backsides. Just about everyone fits some standard and measure of being crazy." She gives me a straight face, "Momma, I could administer a battery of psychological tests and results would come back you are crazy." I serious face her, "I am not crazy I am simply a nymphomaniac and so are you!" Her forced composure cracks and she laughs, "I got it from you!" I fire right back, "You did not, I still have all of mine!" Our cowboy shakes his head, "Boy howdy."

Around our childhood rural Oklahoma farming community, there is a boy who is loved by all. Everyone loves Moss and tends to him. When I come to know Moss he is in his late thirties and enjoying a naive and innocent life of an eight year old boy. Moss is severely mentally disabled.

Most of us kids stop attending school around sixth to eighth grade to become full time farmhands, this our purpose for being born. Many parents and grandparents never attended school. Our grandma cannot not read nor write but she sure is smart. We are an ignorant but honest and hard working lot.

People say, "Moss is that way because his daddy was drunk when he got Moss' momma pregnant." We sincerely believe drunkenness and pregnancy is what messed up Moss in his head. Our daughter is right, lot of talk about mental illness but little understanding.

Moss spends his days walking about our town and our farms while spinning his twiddle-stick and asking folks if they have a Babe Ruth candy bar. Moss is always smiling.

Some call Moss, "Twiddle Stick Maker". In our native Choctaw tongue Moss is "washoha ikbi" - a toy maker. We Choctaw believe Moss is touched by a good spirit; Moss gives toys and happiness to people. Moss is respected and revered by traditional Choctaw.

Moss walks around a same path each day, always the same route without fail. Moss walks and watches for colorful paper, any type of paper to use to make toys for all of us.

Our first meeting I suppose I am around five or six, Moss would be almost forty. Standing out on a plank boardwalk front of Hendon's general store, I see Moss walking across our dirt road playing with something in his hands. He causes me concern, I cannot read his face, I cannot read his body language, my Choctaw elders did not teach me about this. I am a little bit frightened. Moss walks right up to me but never looks up, he keeps spinning a thing in his hands. Moss asks me, "You got Babe Ruth?" I tell him "no" and Moss walks on into the store. Ten or fifteen minutes Moss comes out, sits on edge of boardwalk, pulls out his pocketknife and takes to slicing up a Babe Ruth candy bar wrapper. Moss says, "Stick".

Makes me jump, an old boy sitting on a bench playing checkers with a friend swats my butt, "Girl, go fetch Moss a stick, about the size of a pencil. He is making a toy for you." I run around side of the store to under a pine tree, find a small stick then run back. I sit next to Moss and hold out this stick. Moss does not look at me, he takes the stick and whittle sharpens an end. Moss begins jabbing his stick through centers of his candy bar paper slices. Moss has a half dozen papers on his stick, he arranges those then holds stick ends between his thumbs and index fingers and twirls his stick like crazy, back and forth. Moss makes a kaleidoscope of glimmering ever changing colors with his toy. Moss stops spinning and holds this toy out to me. I take his toy and start spinning, I cannot help but grin and laugh. Moss is washoha ikbi!

Moss never looks at me, Moss gets up and walks on up our dirt road. Old boy sitting behind me says, "That there is a twiddle-stick. Here girl," I turn around, he fetches a coin from deep inside his overalls' pocket then tosses a dime to me, "next time you see Moss you buy him a Babe Ruth, you owe him for your toy."

I decide Moss is a best friend. I always watch for Moss and work at being a friend. On a day I grab Moss by arm, "Come on, Moss, I'll take you for a horseback ride!" I tug at Moss then walk. Moss falls in behind me and walks along like my shadow. He stares at and spins his twiddle-stick while walking. Couple miles down I lead Moss to our pasture and whistle up our stallion. I tell Moss to climb up on our pasture fence then get on. Moss just stands and spins his twiddle-stick. I show him how to climb and get on, nothing from Moss. In time, I start telling him about our horse, "This is his mane... these are his withers... this is a hoof... here is his tail...." No reaction.

On another day I learn something. "Come on, Moss, let's go skinny-dipping!" I walk Moss over to our swimming hole at Mountain Fork river. Like before Moss walks a few feet behind me like a shadow, eyes stuck on his twiddle-stick. River edge, "Take off your overalls, Moss! We'll swim in the river!" I take off my overalls then bare butt walk out into the river a few feet. I kick water around, "Moss, get off your clothes and come on!" Moss never looks. The other boys always look and stare. Not much to see, I barely have breasts. Not Moss, he is smiling and watching those spinning colors.

Frustrated like when trying to get Moss on our horse, I scoop up water with my hands then dump water on top of Moss' head and rub my wet hands around on his face. He never looks, watches his twiddle-stick but Moss does make an odd grunting laugh sound. Back in the river, I kick splash Moss, he grunts a laugh. I dump water on his head, a grunt laugh. Rub water on his face, grunt laugh. When done skinny-dipping Moss is all wet and I am mostly dry. We have fun.

Later we are sitting on Hendon's boardwalk. Moss is making a twiddle-stick. His momma comes walking over to the store, we know each other, she gives me a smile then turns to her boy, "Moss, you missed lunch, where you been?" She is as surprised as I am, Moss says, "Skinny-dipping!" She and I look at each other, we are wide-eyed. His momma recovers, "Is that so!" then gives me a big grin. I playfully hit Moss' arm, "Yes, ma'am, that is so. Moss swam all the way across Mountain Fork then turned around and swam back. Moss is a good swimmer!" His momma is ear-to-ear grinning. We learn Moss does sometimes pay attention, maybe always.

Not enough years later, day before my tenth birthday, Moss is killed out on our dirt road just below Church House Hill. Moss is walking and spinning his twiddle-stick. A motorcyclist from elsewhere comes roaring along and strikes Moss. Both are killed. Moss is found still holding a twiddle-stick in his hand. Moss is forty-six years old. Our entire community turns out for his funeral.

Too many decades later our girl, her daddy and I are standing and waiting our turn in a cashier line at a favorite grocery. This is a day before Valentine's, we are preparing for a wild-eyed love-fest, we are valentines. Three of us always notice her, a bag girl around twenty-five or so. She is pretty, dark smooth skin, long glossy black hair, perfect facial features, slim and trim and petite. Standing on her tiptoes she is almost five feet tall. Endearing, her store manager provides this exotic beauty with a small rubber mat covered bench to stand on so she can reach groceries to be bagged. She works hard, she is quick to smile and laugh. She also is challenged by mental health issues.

Our cowboy tells us two girls, "Be right back." His girl asks, "Where are you going, daddy?" He looks at us, a little bit somber of face, simply says, "Twiddle-stick". Our daughter knows all our stories about Moss and his twiddle-stick. Two of us girls respect our cowboy, we know this is an important decision of some sort, we do not question him. We will wait, will allow people to cut in front of us until he returns.

Few minutes my husband returns carrying a single red rose which is wrapped pretty with tiny decorative white flowers. He eases by us, quietly advises, "Take your time unloading our cart, I need some lead time." He looks at our favorite bag girl then looks at us. We are not curious, no need to ask, we know he is about to display heartfelt kindness.

Our turn, we diddle-dally while this cowboy gentleman of ours walks to this lovely bag girl. He takes off his hat, holds out her rose, waits for her attention, then, "Would you be my valentine?"

She looks and looks at him, eyes down to her rose, eyes up to his face, she glances around a bit then back to looking at him. Few moments she makes sense of this. Our Mideast lovely wrings her hands, grins then lets loose a loud happy shriek. A hush blankets this grocery store. People are beginning to look, some are smiling, some are grinning. Cashiers look over, customers look over, people see her rose, see this grin on her face then realize what is happening and smile.

Our cashier hand motions for her to take her rose. She reaches out then pulls her hand back. Our girl's daddy nods at her to take her rose, she does. This bag girl grins so big all we can see is her bright white perfect teeth. Holding her rose with both hands she sniffs then looks at our cowboy and grins. Cashier girls steps over with a half empty water bottle, cap removed, "Put your rose in here, we'll set it where everyone can see your beautiful rose!" Then she smiles and teases our bag girl, "You never told me your boyfriend is a handsome cowboy!" Cashier girl winks at our boy. They set her rose out of harm's way on a shelve all can see. Our cowboy's new girlfriend looks at him and points at her rose, "Look! Look!" She is ecstatic, looks at her rose, looks at the cashier, looks at her cowboy, looks at her rose again, she doesn't know what to think of all this.

This petite girl looks at her cowboy then jumps down from her bench, gets her arms around him and takes to squeezing the breath right out of him. There is humor, her nose is about even with his bellybutton and her chin looks to be resting on his belt buckle; she is a tiny princess and he, a gigantic cowboy hero. Tilting her head way back, she looks up at his face, grins, "You're my boyfriend!" He lightly touches her shoulder, she is so petite he probably figures if he squeezes she will break, "I'm a lucky cowboy to have you for a girlfriend."

Glancing at our daughter, she has crocodile tears in her eyes. Slipping an arm around her waist I give her a hug. She whispers at me, "I love that damn cowboy so much I want to hit his head with a stick." She gives me a laugh.

Cashier girl saves us all, "We have customers waiting, we have to get back to work." She slides some of our items through, "beep-beep, beep-beep". Little princess girls steps back up on her bench and takes to bagging while glancing back-and-forth between her rose and her cowboy. Noise starts up and this store returns to hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Government and school administrator approach to special education is "one size fits all". This never works. Much time is consumed simply working at keeping special kids on task leaving little time for teaching. Educating those priceless kids is time consuming and hard work.

Almost all schools fall back to simple maintenance. This is providing a classroom for those kids to segregate from a general population then teaching the basics like how to bathe, how to dress, how to eat and other day-to-day needs. Schools generally do not touch upon personal relationships, romance, love and schools certainly avoid teaching about sexuality.

Difficulty in differences is easily noticed with Moss and our grocery bagging girl. Our family, especially our psychologist girl, discuss those notions. Moss is not withdrawn from life, he simply never expanded outward into life. Moss is trapped within his twiddle-stick world. Moss does display some awareness of emotions, his grunting laughter when I splash him with water. Moss does know gift giving through his twiddle-sticks. However none of us know if Moss senses gratification though making twiddle-sticks for people; this might be habitual behavior. I don't think Moss enjoys an awareness of love, romance and sexuality. He does not display any of those feelings. Moss requires a lot of maintenance which he fortunately enjoyed.

Our petite dark skinned princess is expanding into life. She found herself a job, she rides a bus for work, shopping and other tasks like visiting friends. I think most important is she enjoys her own apartment with some support from her parents. She is living independently. Our grocery store girl is most certainly teachable and she is motivated to learn and succeed which she does. Life is not easy for her but she is bound determined. Her response to a display of affection from our cowboy is a reflection of her enjoying emotional sensitivity and knowledge of love, romance and sexuality. She will likely become a wife someday, perhaps even a loving mother.

Problem with special needs kids is schools treat Moss and our bag girl as equals. They are not, they are nothing alike and their needs are not at all the same. Moss is beyond much help. Our princess is not, she is helping herself through learning and hard work.