The Mabley Archive: Thanksgiving is a time to remember those less fortunate
Thanksgiving is a nice holiday because it hasn't been spoiled by commercialism.
Pumpkin growers and restaurants make an extra buck, but otherwise it is a holiday with the uncomplicated theme of giving thanks.
All religions can participate. So can the irreligious.
In assessing our blessings, many of us compare ourselves with those who have more. More money, bigger homes, better jobs, classier cars, fancier vacations or affectionate families where tranquility attends every family gathering.
It is more appropriate, and more difficult, to compare with other humans who have less of everything. There's an abundance of misery and hunger among our fellow humans on this planet.
But most of us don't have to go far from our neighborhoods to find misery and deprivation.
On this Thanksgiving eve, I again relate to the most admirable social organization I ever knew or heard about.
It is, or was, the Chin Up Club at the Dixon State School. Sixty-five residents in unit B-11 formed the club. Their motto:
"HELP THOSE LESS FORTUNATE THAN YOURSELF."
Their biggest problem was finding anyone less fortunate than themselves, even at this huge state institution for the developmentally disabled.
Fifteen of the 65 could walk. Edna May Brown, the first president, could walk, but she was blind.
Aggie Binkowski, the second president, was a quadriplegic. Mary Ujka, the third president, was severely physically handicapped.
These three, and many others, had normal IQs. They had been placed in Dixon at a time when many assumed that severe handicaps meant a low IQ.
Frankie Urbani wasn't a member of the Chin Up Club, but he could match the ladies. He had been placed in Dixon as a severely crippled infant. The patience and love of attendants and volunteers helped Frankie reach his teens as a bright, outgoing kid whose arms were paralyzed. So he used his feet the way we use our hands and arms.
Aggie Binkowski left Dixon for a downstate nursing home, where she became an artist, holding brushes in her mouth. Her paintings were primitive, but appealing, and she sold many of them.
The last I heard of Frankie Urbani he was teaching pottery classes in DeKalb. He was skilled at shaping clay with his feet.
Mary Ujka wasn't able to do any of these physical things, so she wrote a book. That is, she dictated a book to caregivers who could understand her labored words.
It is a small paperback titled "The Cross Gives Me Courage."
She describes a highlight of their lives, a picnic at nearby White Pines State Park. For many it was the first time in their lives they had been outside the grounds at Dixon.
"Cathy Longa enjoyed it tremendously," Mary writes. "She could not be put into a wheelchair and rarely got out. Father Burke got a truck to take her and others like her to the picnic."
Mary autographed her book for me. It is a short, jagged line. I value it as much as the signatures in Studs Terkel's and Paul Simon's books, if they'll forgive me.
Mary's book is tragic and inspiring. Mary was at Dixon for 28 years before moving to a Hickory Hills sanctuary. We exchange Christmas cards every year.
The indomitable spirits of Edna May, Aggie, Mary and Frankie, and the love and patience of the many who helped them, have helped me sort out the real values in life.
Knowing them and their peers is one of the rewards of my vocation. For this I give thanks on the day of Thanksgiving.