His face lit up with an innocent joy as he placed the Webkinz Fox
and Bakugan cards on the counter. He meticulously counted out his quarters and nickels with a silly grin on his face. His ancient Pokemon shirt was threadbare and his jeans were torn from tumbles taken on his bicycle. He wore a sticker that read, 'Hello, my name is Joe.'
As the machine beeped, reading the barcode on the fox, his grin widened and he reached for the stuffed animal. "I'll take that now, please." Tucking the creature into his armpit, he continued to count out his quarters. The machine beeped again, adding the cards to his purchase. His math was impeccable. Before the computer even gave him the total, he knew what it was - tax and all.
"Have a nice day, Joe." His face, dirty from a long day of work at some minimum wage job seemed to split with the effort of smiling even wider than he already was smiling. He left, clutching the Webkinz in a suffocating embrace.
The image of Joe stayed with me all day. He was 45, maybe 50 years old, around my uncle's age, I imagined. His contagious, easy smile and happy innocence reminded me of my uncle in ways that I didn't know existed. My uncle, the man who was put in a home when he was far too young for disabilities that were not debilitating. Joe was a functioning part of society. The name tag and the money told me that he was able to hold down a job. He seemed so happy
. Don't get me wrong, my uncle's in a wonderful place, a farm in matter of fact, and he does a lot of the jobs around the farm and he loves it there
. But, he was sent away when he was very young. He was never given a chance to be a part of the "regular" society. I can't help but wonder how he would have been different had he been allowed to grow into the modern world like Joe has.
There is something in both mens' stories - my uncle's and Joe's - that makes me profoundly sad; and there's something in both mens' stories that makes me smile. While Joe did seem to be a part of the modern world, I'm not sure if he had family taking care of him and from the state of his dress and his dirt crusted self, I would warrant he didn't. My uncle was never given the chance to be a part of the "real" world, but he lives with a beautiful family of Amish who treat him and their other charges as their own.