The Personal Story of a Cripple: A Person with Cerebral Paralysis
This picture is pretty typical of the kids you’d see in Boston’s North End in the 1950’s- a bunch of Italian kids hanging out. We were kids like that and I want to tell you about one of us named Eddie Ferolla- or as I called him ‘Eddie Spaghetti.’ Eddie had another nickname as well, one that only his closest friends got to call him- ‘Eddie the Cripple.’ Eddie had cerebral palsy, he walked with a starboard list, to anyone not familiar with nautical jargon, he leaned to the right when he walked. Italians being what they are, aren’t a politically correct lot… if you have some distinctive physical trait, it likely going to be incorporated into what people call you. For example, if you’re overweight- your name is going to be ‘Fat Tony,’ or if you have one leg, it’s going to be ‘Jimmy One-leg.’ It isn’t meant to be an insult, it’s just the way things are.
What I never understood about political correctness is, if nobody mentioned it do they think the person in question wouldn’t notice? Eddie knew he was a cripple- what’s important is what he did about it. There’s a huge difference between being crippled and being disabled… being crippled is a condition, being disabled is a state of mind. Like I said, Eddie knew he was a cripple, but he never let it hold him back. To be honest he was the worst baseball player I ever saw- but by God he was out there trying every chance he got. He always got picked last, but he got picked. He was our friend and where we went, he went. And God help you if you called him a cripple… he may have been crippled, but he was our cripple and he was our friend.
There’s a big difference between being crippled and being disabled… being crippled is a condition that may or may not impede people from doing certain things. Being disabled is a state of mind- an excuse used by the chronically lazy whose only ambition in life is to leech off the system using whichever excuse that gets the best result. I’ve had doctors trying to get me to go on disability for over 40 years and I’ve told every one of them that as long as I can find something to do, I’ll take care of myself- I learned that from Eddie. Almost every crippled person I’ve met has been self-supporting, taking as little as possible from the system. Conversely, every ‘disabled’ person tries to get as much as they can. I meet people online that are disabled and I think ‘you’re sitting at a keyboard and you can’t find a way to support yourself’? I may not be the world’s best writer, but I try hard and I pay my bills. I don’t take a nickel from the state.
One of the problems with the PC crowd is that they look at everyone as being inferior- especially people that are ‘different’ like Eddie. They mask their disdain behind nice sounding words like ‘tolerance’ and ‘diversity,’ while what they really mean is inferiority. If you tell someone there’s something wrong with them for long enough they begin to believe it themselves… it doesn’t matter if they’re ‘disabled,’ Black, or any of the other things they use to divide people. People need to believe in themselves and if you keep telling them there’s something wrong with them they will never succeed. It’s the people that learn to believe in themselves that become successful. That’s how Eddie was too. As the years went by we all grew up. When the war came and it was time for me to go off to Vietnam, Eddie told me he wished he could go along too- and he meant it. If there was something the services could have found for Eddie to do, he would have enlisted in a heartbeat. When I moved back to Boston from California in late 1967 I found Eddie had gotten a job for the City of Cambridge working on the trash trucks dumping trash cans. Now you may think of that as a menial job, but a city job back there is like hitting the lottery- you’re set for life. They have an easy work day, great benefits including top-notch health insurance. All of Eddie’s meds were taken care of for free as part of the job.
From the time we grew up until the day he died, Eddie never took a nickel he didn’t earn from the state. That’s the difference between being crippled and being ‘disabled.’ One night we were hanging out a Jacks a bar that used to be on Mass Av. in Cambridge. There was a guy that started talking to us about just getting his disability thinking it would impress Eddie. I couldn’t see anything wrong with him so I asked the obvious question: ‘What’s your disability?’ ‘Oh,’ the guy says, ‘I have depression.’ ‘Really,’ Eddie says, ‘I have depression too. I’m depressed that I have to work and pay taxes so that fucking parasites like you can freeload off the system.’ The guy looked surprised, but I think he was even more surprised when Eddie laid him out with one punch. Eddie might have sucked at baseball, but he was one of the toughest kids I ever saw- he could more than hold his own in any fight. That probably doesn’t mean much in a culture dominated by cucks and soyboys, but in the culture we grew up in, if you weren’t tough, you wound up on disability.
To guys like Eddie disability meant that you had given up- ‘admitted you were a loser’ in his words. Eddie never gave up, it just wasn’t in his nature. Eddie was a little guy like me, about 5 ft. 7 in., maybe 130 lbs. One night not long before I left Boston for good, we we’re heading into the Cantab for a few beers when some big guy came stumbling out muttering something about ‘fucking cripple get out of my way.’ Eddie hit him once and put the guy through two sets of glass doors breaking the cigarette machine in the foyer… 10 years of slinging trash pails made Eddie a pretty strong guy. Like they say in the South; ‘it ain’t the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.’ Whether we we’re playing ball or fighting a bunch of kids from Southie on St. Patty’s Day of the Feast of St. Anthony (yearly traditions where kids from the North End and Southie got together to perpetuate decades-long hostilities), Eddie never gave up and always gave as good as he got.
Eddie’s dead now- people with CP don’t generally live very long lives- but he lived life on his own terms. If you mentioned something about him being crippled he would say something like ‘so fucking what?’ (fuck was his favorite word, he tried to use it in every sentence. He said it was ‘universal,’ it was a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, pronoun, ‘whatever you wanted it to be’) But, if you ever told him he was disabled, he probably would have laid you out… that was the ultimate insult. Eddie could never understand people saying ‘I got my disability’ like it was some sort of accomplishment- to Eddie it was an admission of failure. I like to think about Eddie, especially when faced with a daunting task or life’s uncertainties… I hope a little bit of him rubbed off on me. I think it has. I once had a girlfriend say to me: ‘It’s never occurred to you that you’re short has it? Most short guys act like they have a chip on their shoulder, but you act like you’ve never noticed.’ Come to think of it, I’ve never given it any thought. A career in the NBA is probably out of the question, but that never held me back from doing anything else. That’s how Eddie was- he focused in what he could do rather than what he couldn’t.
LIke I said, Eddie’s gone now and I can envision him in Heaven trying to pick a fight with God, or telling Him to ‘go fuck yourself’ over something that doesn’t suit him… that’s just Eddie’s nature, he never backed down from anyone or anything. If he ever ran up on a grizzly bear, my money would be on Eddie- he’d find a way to win. When I was in college I had the honor of coaching in Special Olympics where I met other people like Eddie, people who didn’t give up because they weren’t like other people. They learned to live well in the milieu in which they lived- I admire that. If I had to sum up Eddie’s life, I would say that he was good at being Eddie… and that’s good enough.
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