Random Thoughts

An adventure at Belle Air Marsh

... a look at things from many perspectives.

by Ed Boyd


                          
I had made a date to meet Frank at his house not knowing really what to expect. Mary was going to drive the special handicapped van, loading Frank in his wheelchair. I got there at the appointed hour and Frank was all set, stirred up at the prospects of visiting the Marsh. I didn’t realize how important this was, but I would soon find out.

Mary lowered the door so Frank could be easily rolled in. I followed Mary in my car, as it was only a few miles before we were to get to the Marsh. As I drove along following Mary, my mind wondered back to how I met Frank.

I was at the Judge Baker Guidance Center, then, working with emotionally disturbed children, boys, ten to fourteen. I was in charge of the school when I was told that Professor Frank Garfunkle was here and wanted to talk with me. I was surprised by Professor Garfunkle, a short, surly character who wanted to place some of his graduate students to train to teach emotionally disturbed children. He was so unappealing, I wasn’t sure if I wanted his students. When he told me that my teachers would get a course at BU for free, I said I would ask the teachers. The teachers were delighted at having more help and a free course too.

My career took a turn and I became the Director of the Dearborn School, run by Lesley College, in 1965. Frank followed me there and said he wanted me to take a few of his graduate students. Frank said he liked the experience the students had with me at the Judge Baker. Although he was no less surly, Frank liked me for some reason. It was not long before he invited me to take a doctorate with him at Boston University. This was to begin the most positive professional and personal relationship ever. Frank taught me how to think. I was a straight-line thinker before and Frank opened me up to look at things from many perspectives. I’m ever in his debt. I kept contact while I was at Boston University and after that for many years.

I came out of my reverie as we had arrived at Belle Air Marsh. Mary helped Frank get his wheelchair out of the van and he said, “I won’t need the van. I’ll get myself back home in my wheelchair.”

About five years or so ago, Frank was playing squash, tripped over someone and smashed his head into a wall. He became semi-quadriplegic and suffered immensely for several years. Any number of treatments and medicines were tried to no avail. Then, at that moment, I don’t remember who, thought that Elavil, an antidepressant should be tried. In sufficient doses, this turned out to be a miracle drug. For the first time in several years, Frank was free of pain.

Also, a couple of years after his accident, he was able to get a Labrador dog especially trained to assist the handicapped. The dog was called “Truman”. All these special dogs had president’s names. On this Marsh visit I’m speaking of, Truman was aboard the van and leaped out in anticipation of a treat.

Frank could operate his wheelchair by using the toggle near his right hand, that had some use. Unfortunately, Frank was left-handed so using his right hand was a challenge. But Frank loved challenge. The Marsh is filled with tall grass, at least six feet tall, taller than I am. Before I knew it, Frank went charging down narrow paths that wound their way through the Marsh. He was literally throwing himself down these paths and caused me great concern. I became frightened as he rolled along and me chasing after him that I would not be able to pick him up should he have a fall. I finally said just that, “Frank, if you fall, I don’t think I will be able to pick you up.”

Out of my concern, he did slow down. He said, “Watch this!” “Truman, swim!” Somehow, Truman knew exactly where the water was probably because he had done that before. Splash went Truman and surfaced shortly near Frank, shaking the water off his coat all over us. We had a great laugh, Frank and me, at getting drenched. Frank said, “Truman, swim!” and off went Truman in exhilaration. As I watched, it occurred to me that Truman’s swim was a vicarious thrill for Frank and maybe for me.

We were there for about an hour when Frank said it was time for him to head home. I attached Truman’s leash to Frank’s wheelchair and off they went. As I stood and watched Frank wheel his chair along, sort of slumped over, with Truman following, I had the uneasy feeling that I might not see him again.

Frank died not too many days after our visit to the Belle Air Marsh. With the bright sun streaming over us, it was hard not to think that this was Frank’s last grasp of life.


November 2, 2007  


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