Nina G interviewed her parents, Kathy and Jerry G on September 11, 2014, at StoryCorps San Francisco for the Disability Visibility Project.
This is the second of two blog posts about their conversation. Below are approximate excerpts from their recording.
Kathy’s disability experience and family
Nina: Mom, can you tell us a little bit about your disability experience?
Kathy: My disability experience would start with and this is a story I heard ‘cuz I didn’t know her, was my great-grandmother…she had a hearing loss and they always said she got the hearing loss when she had one of her children, [that] she lost her hearing during labor. My mother had polio…I’m not sure about the age but I suspect somewhere maybe eight to ten, in that range. There was a polio epidemic. There was other people in her age group that had various disabilities because of having polio as well. Jerry had an Aunt that actually had polio at the same time.
Nina: Lottie did?
Kathy: No it was by marriage.
Nina: Oh, ok.
Kathy: …my mother developed scoliosis of the spine, due to the polio. We always lived with the fact that she had this polio and you know how she had to live with it and her experiences growing up and when she was in high school and she did have to wear a cast when she was in high school to keep her spine straight. Some of her stories were…she would drop a book or her pencils and she couldn’t stoop over to pick them up so she would kick them against the wall and somebody that she knew would come by and she would ask them if they would pick them up for her.
So I think some of her experiences with the polio was probably caused her some aggravation throughout her life which she experienced and how it affected her in certain ways. She also had a brother who has asthma. They were two years apart, my mother being two years older. So my grandmother had to, deal with my uncle, who had the asthma…Maybe her brother being so sick when she was young took some of the attention away from her and as an adult, she used some of those things to get an, to get attention as an adult.
Nina: To get attention and also prescription drugs.
Kathy: And she was on prescription drugs. [LAUGH]. Shortly after Tony Ann, that’s the youngest, their youngest daughter, my sister [was born]…at that point in time she’d pretty much went to bed and was on a lot of medication and that just got worse. The older my mother got, the more medication she took. And this was also in this 70s, and the 80s at least when I was around, when they were prescribing. Those kinds of prescription drugs like Valium, and Percodan, and stuff like that, to women.
Nina: Vicodin did you say?
Kathy: Yeah, Vicodin too, yeah…I think Ma already had a proclivity to get attention. Like… she would wear medical devices almost like for fun….I kind of think she may have had a medical fetish, for those people who understand that because she loved wearing neck braces.
I mean there was a point in time when she decided she needed a cane and this was in her older years…Well one day someone rang the doorbell. She she had her cane there, but apparently she wanted to go put her lipstick on ‘cuz she was pretty vain. [She] gets up runs into the bedroom without the cane to put on her lipstick.
Nina: Well, and I think I saw her once run to get the cane.
Kathy: She had a lot of medical devices. This one thing was a this big circle that she hung on and twirled it around and you know, she hung on it and then you went in circles. That’s why I say it’s very much like S and M stuff. [LAUGH]…It was like a dungeon in her house… She would try this and she would try that and then just try something else. And you know, we didn’t take it real serious, I guess, because it was so much of it all the time.
Well and I think me, you, and my brother Tony too, we can sniff out when someone is using their disability… to get the ‘Poor Me’ thing.
Kathy: Yeah, because of momma.
Nina: I can see that.
Kathy: She felt it so much.
On discovering Nina’s learning disabilities
Nina: Now when I was diagnosed with learning disabilities, can you say a little bit about what led up to that and then what happened afterwards?
Kathy: When you [were] in kindergarten you we’re ok, you know, you, course that’s so, that was so social in those days. It wasn’t like, like now where you had to learn the ABCs, et cetera, but in first grade you couldn’t write a sentence. You had a hearing discrimination problem as well, at least that showed up in your testing and spelling has always been hard for you. And I used to tell you, don’t worry, if you can’t spell, don’t worry about it. Get a dictionary, you know… that’s not a problem, so don’t let it be. But I remember I would do most of your homework at night for you cuz you’d be up till 10 o’clock at night trying to do it, I would just sit there and do it for her.
Nina: Was I getting any kind of, accommodations? Because I remember three hours of homework the first day of…third grade and it just seems that would have been a really great accommodation to do every other one [exercise, question].
Kathy: When you were tested at Raskob that was one of the things that they suggested. Every other math problem. Maybe every other spelling word. I mean they, we worked it out…They told us what to tell the teacher and they would put it in writing, we would give it to the teachers. Teachers didn’t like to listen to us especially in those days. Nobody you know they, they don’t want to put any extra time in any child…
Nina: …I remember my very fist accommodation was on a geography exam and it was a map of the state of California and we had to indicate different parts. And the teacher, Mrs. Doman, and we can say her name here and make sure that the U.S. Government documents [know] how much of a bitch she was. [LAUGH]. And, [LAUGH] what she did was she invited me to her desk and she said, “Ok, where’s this? Where’s this? Where’s this?” And I named it boom, boom, boom. I was the first one done out of the class. I didn’t have to spell anything I didn’t have to spell ‘Sacramento’ and ‘Los Angeles.’ Still can’t spell and I was the first one done, I got a perfect A. She hung it up on the board and that was the last time I remember getting and accommodation, so it was very bittersweet to know that I could do the work, but that I couldn’t do the work.
Kathy and Jerry G live in Pleasanton with their Yorki Connie (named after Connie Corleone in the Godfather). Kathy and Jerry met while attending Oakland City College in the 60s and have been married for nearly 50 years. They have two adult children and one grandchild. Jerry and Kathy spend most of their time organizing their storage unit contemplating what they should throw away or sell (but never do). They gave birth and raised Nina G who is a comedian in the San Francisco Bay Area and who wrote this bio.