Sunday, June 12, 2011
A Love Story: "I once met a girl named Maria"
I met Maria Kimball when she was about three years old.
When I first met my wife Shirley, back in 1972, we both lived in Westborough (also spelled "Westboro"), Massachusetts. Shirl was about to enter her senior year at college, so, at 28, I was "robbing the cradle" a bit in asking her for a date.
Perhaps recognizing that age discrepancy, or perhaps simply because I had somehow offended her when first we met, Shirl's mother "invited me not to visit at the house" for over a year, by which time Shirl and I were engaged to be married. (Thankfully, Barbara Kimball and I have since come to love one another. Barbara is as fine a mother-in-law as I can imagine.) Hence, while I had heard about the battered Puerto Rican infant that Shirl's older sister had brought home as a foster child from Boston City Hospital, where she worked as a nurse, I did not actually meet Maria until the summer of 1973, when she was almost three years old.
At three, Maria still did not talk, and often banged her head on the floor in frustration and anger when she could not make her needs known. Maria was sequentially diagnosed as autistic, as developmentally disabled, as brain-damaged, and as many other things by various specialists. But her adoptive mother, Joan (Kimball) Cichowski, refused to accept that she was never going to develop. Joan, always a professional nurse and always a dogged positivist, soldiered on, working with Maria, with the help of her parents, Basil and Barbara Kimball, of Barbara's mother Flora Landon, and of siblings David and Shirley Kimball. So, once she got to Westboro, Maria was never without caring adults.
Maria gradually learned to walk, to talk, and then to play with toys, to do complex puzzles, and to remember the birthdays and names of every one of her relatives, be they aunts, uncles, cousins, or second-cousins. She would even ask by name about everyone's pets. She learned to ice skate, and to dance. (And, she liked my singing, and would often ask me to sing for her!) In the 1980s, before Joan and Dick Cichowski were married, I once took Maria to a "father-daughter" dance put on by the Westboro Girl Scouts.
Maria became a well-loved special education student in the Westboro Schools, and an active competitor and medalist in the figure skating competitions of the Massachusetts Special Olympics. After graduating from high school, Maria went to work at a Papa Gino's Pizzeria in town, and continued to be active in the regional association for disabled adults. There, in 2009, at about age 40, she met Ian DeCew. Ian is a tall man, a few years older than Maria, who is also disabled, but who has a lovely daughter Callie by a previous marriage. Though partially disabled, Ian is able to work and to drive, and he and Maria began dating in 2009, with the blessings of both their families.
A few years ago, Maria was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. It is a progressive disease that slowly erodes the nervous control of one's muscles by removing the insulation from the nerves, causing the brain's signals to dissipate in the body before reaching their intended muscle cells. It is a cruelly weakening disease, but it is treatable, and Maria has begun treatment. Still, MS has taken away her skating.
Ian has reacted to Maria's condition as a supportive friend and with great love and loyalty. He has won the hearts of our family. He has attended several Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving events in the Kimball-Cichowski home. Ian is an avid reader, and reads to Maria often. Maria's maturation in the two years she has known Ian is amazing to observe. She has blossomed into an active, articulate, and interested young woman.
Yesterday, on the 11th of June, 2011, at the Evangelical Congregational Church of Westborough, Ian and Maria were united in Holy Matrimony. There were dozens of young people on hand, for Dick Cichowski brought three sisters and a brother for Maria when he married into the family, all of whom now have children of their own, and six of Maria's first cousins came to Westboro for the wedding, including our four children, Jamie from Orlando, Florida, Jesse from Hartland, Vermont, Piper from Aspen, Colorado, and Alexander, from Plymouth, New Hampshire, and David Kimball's two, Christopher and Kelly, who both brought their spouses. Add in all of us "older folks," and it became a sizable event, featuring a formal church wedding followed by a lively reception at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Westboro.
My mother-in-law Barbara Kimball, 95, came to the reception with her son David and our son Jamie, who brought her from the local nursing home in her wheelchair. Barbara entered the K. of C. Hall, and received a standing ovation, second only to that given to the bride and groom themselves.
Maria was lovely in her wedding gown. She has never smiled so much, never appeared so happy. Ian and Maria went over to see Joan and Dick Cichowski, and told them "Thank you for the wedding." Then Ian said, "I have never in my life had such a happy day."
It was a blessed atmosphere. All of us felt it: Amazing Grace.