Anna’s Page

THE OUTCAST DOVE was finished shortly before Ann died. I don’t think I could have written it afterwards. When I first met her, she was much like Anna in the book. The accompanying photos will give you an idea of her personality. The following is what I wrote for her memorial in April of 2003.

After Ann’s mother read the book she said, “From now on, whenever anyone reads this, Ann will be alive again.”

I would rather she were still with us, but I want very much to share what she gave the world with the rest of you.

In Ann’s life, I was only a parenthesis, a few years near the beginning and a few more at the end. In between Ann went to school, made friends, traveled and grew up surrounded by love and every opportunity her family could give her. When I moved back to Portland, Ann had forgotten all about me. But I never forgot her.

I first met Ann in 1963. She was one of a very mixed group of children at the Jewish Community Center pre-school, where I volunteered during school holidays and vacations. This was not a school for handicapped children but one in which the uniqueness of each individual was celebrated. Ann fit right in.

I had never known a Downs Syndrome child before and Annie was a revelation to me. She was lively, curious and funny. Whatever was going on, Ann was part of it, especially if it involved music. Ann moved to a rhythm of her own. If there wasn’t music playing, she made her own. One day I noticed her sitting in the hallway, waiting to be picked up. She was rocking from side to side. As I came closer, I heard,” Da..da..da..da, DOWNTOWN!” Ann was singing Petula Clark’s current hit.

These things all attracted me to her, but there was something more, something much harder to define. It’s simplistic to say that Ann had an unlimited capacity for love. That makes it seem as though she gave it to everyone without discretion. I never found out what her criteria were, but I know she had them. And I was honored to be someone she cared for. As a bookish, gawky teenager, I didn’t feel very lovable. Ann not only gave affection but made me feel worthy of it. Knowing her made me feel good about who I was. I treasured every one of her sloppy kisses, even though in those years she usually had a runny nose.

I grew up, went to school and moved away. Ann went on with her full life and I lost touch with her. It was only when I returned to live in Portland in 1997 that an article in the Oregonian led me back to Ann. Somewhat nervously, I contacted her parents to ask if I could see her again. After all, I hadn’t really known them, only Ann. However, they were happy to let me renew my acquaintance with her. Thus began my own version of “Tuesdays with Morrie”, Wednesdays with Ann.

At the time she was going to Edwards adult care center, near my house. Each Wednesday I would pick Ann up and take her home. On the way, we would stop for a coke and conversation. That was when I discovered the wonderful adult Ann had become.

I never knew what kind of day it would be. Like all of us, Ann had her moods. Sometimes she was lively and full of mischief. I had to stay on my toes then or be tickled without mercy. Sometimes she was tired; her heart condition wore her down. But even then there would be a spark, a chance phrase, something typically Ann.

She had a wicked sense of humor and she knew it. She was always teasing, moving my cup when I looked away and then pretending to help me hunt for it. Or laughing at my attempts at art. When the conversation didn’t interest her, she would pick up an imaginary phone and start talking to someone else. But just when I thought she wasn’t paying any attention to what I was saying, she would make a pithy, one-word comment that deflated me entirely.

One thing that never changed was Ann’s love for music. We would spend most of the time in the car singing, car dancing at stoplights. She usually wouldn’t sing the whole song but, if I missed a word, she would always supply it. I shall miss that so much. No one else I know will sing with me. Occasionally, I would sing and she would direct. She was a tough conductor. It was great praise when she let me get all the way through a piece and her laconic, “not bad singing” was a rare treasure.

I’ve tried to understand what it was about Ann that made her such a rare friend. I’m still not sure. But I think it has something to do with the fact that Ann lived in the moment. Despite her questions about what was going to happen tomorrow, she never seemed concerned about the future. She was happy just being. And when I was with her, so was I. Some Wednesdays I was stressed, worried, just out of sorts. An hour with Ann was better than a day at a spa or a year of therapy. She made me laugh; she laughed at me. She could always take me by surprise. Even in her last days, when she needed to be held to sit up, her sense of humor remained. I lifted her once and she belched loudly.

“Ann!” I asked. “What was that?”

She gave me one of her, ‘you are an idiot’ looks and answered. “A burp.”

You have to love someone who is so patient about spelling things out for you.

You have to love someone who gives you complete acceptance, trust, friendship and will car dance with you at stoplights.

What am I going to do without her?