In 1993, I was was a social worker at a residential school for intellectually disabled children from tykes to eighteen-year-olds. Curiously enough, my boss, Miss M., was the same women who had hired me for my very first social work job back in 1971. Once again, she had heard I was back in town and hunted me down. And, to boot, I was working with the same social worker with whom I had worked then, Lynda T. May the circle be unbroken.
"Hey, Donna," the aide whispered, "Lynda's trying to get your attention." Sure enough Lynda had poked her head into the conference room during staffing. Her forefinger was beckoning. "I want you to meet someone," she said as I approached, grinning ear to ear. "And see some pictures". And off we went done the hall to her office as I thought, "What the hell".
It was October of 1971 and Mathilde B., a grande dame in the field of social work in Louisiana, was calling. I was in some podunk south Louisiana town selling (or not) photos for Olan Mills. She'd tracked me down through my family. Mathilde had gone to high school with my uncle Lee, my dad's older brother. And she knew my dad, 'cause everyone in Alexandria knew my dad.
"I want you to come in for an interview," she informed me. "As soon as you can." Wow! I thought, a real social work job. "I'll be there tomorrow... what time?" It was Monday evening and I quickly packed up, paid my bill, and headed for home. Abandoning Olan Mills. "POOH on Olan Mills,” I thought.
I got the job and started wading into the morass of what was foster care in Rapides Parish. Lynda T. was more or less my mentor. I knew her hubby from high school and Lynda was experienced as well as fun to be with. They both were and we soon became friends.
One of my first cases to work with Lynda revolved around a nine-month-old baby girl named Shannon. As we drove to pick up Shannon, Lynda told me the story. Shannon had been removed from her mom's care because mom's boyfriend had sexually molested Shannon with a beer bottle. His acts of perversion had torn a hole in Shannon's perineum. The examining physician had stated that Shannon could never have a child and may be damaged mentally also.
Shannon was a very pretty baby with light brown hair and eyes. She was considerably below her ideal weight and had not accomplished the usual milestones. She stared blankly at nothing in particular. She did not respond to stimuli (e.g., my silly faces and noses) and could barely hold up her head. Lynda and I were briefed and told to leave as soon as possible - for safety reasons. The mom's family had been trying to get the baby.
The three of us quickly headed for a foster family in Grant parish. For the same safety reasons, Shannon had to be placed in another parish.
Our journey ended at a big, old, kinda ramshackle home on a few acres of red dirt, indigenous to Grant parish. Three children - a six-year-old boy and two girls, eight, and eleven - several dogs and the mom greeted us in their yard strewn with bikes, trikes, and toys. Mom, a tall, lanky, plain-faced woman, immediately took Shannon as her three kids circled her, ooohing and aaahing.
Mom was already aware of the baby's problems, but her eyes welled with tears as Lynda and I sat with her and briefed her on Shannon's special needs. "No need to worry 'bout this child," she confidently told us as we said our good-byes.
On the trip back to the office, Lynda and I discussed our assessment of the family. "I got an all-over warm feeling," Lynda remarked. "Me, too. Shannon now has three older siblings to watch out for her." We both thought, as we say in the business, it was a good placement. But, only time would tell.
As I followed Lynda down the hall, she refused to tell me what was going on. She just smiled. In her office sat a young woman I thought to be in her early to mid-thirties. She stood up as we entered. She had short brown hair and was tall and lanky. "Donna, do you remember Mary?" Lynda asked. "Now, "said the young lady," that's not fair, Lynda," and laughed.
As we all sat down, Lynda queried, "Donna, do you remember that day we placed that nine-month-old baby girl with the family in Grant parish?" "Of course, I do. Her name was Shannon" I replied.
"Well," Lynda continued, "then you remember that eleven-year-old girl who kept staring at us and asking us questions." I turned to look at Mary... She smiled. "I'm a social worker now in Grant Parish.” she said. "I always remembered that day when ya'll brought us Shannon. I wanted to do what ya'll did." It was then I noticed Mary holding a hand full of photos. "Here, " she said, "I brought some pictures on Shannon and the family."
There in Kodak color was a smiling youngster, in her early twenties, holding what was definitely a newborn. "That's Shannon.", Mary said. "And her baby girl, Tiffany. The doctors were wrong." Mary told more of the story. "Shannon just blossomed. Pretty soon she was doing almost everything a child her age did. Mom and Dad took her to a specialist in Shreveport and he fixed the damage that *^%&$#@ molester had done." She continued. "Gary was her high school sweetheart. And, even though, Mom and Dad encouraged her to wait, they figured it was better that they marry before the pregnancy."
Just then, Miss M, sauntered in, smiling and laughing at all three of us hovered around the photos. "That's my girls!" She pronounced proudly.
Miss M died last year. Lynda and Mary and Shannon are alive and kicking at last check. A Big Ole Thanks to All of Them. And you need never ask me the reason I am a social worker. Sometimes the system does work.
Ah, Miss Althea, have a great day!