Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

 Dec. 29, 2001

In 1957, the kind of social work I did in Minneapolis brought me into nursing homes. Back then, walking through the front door of a nursing home was like a trip to hell. I would be immediately confronted with the sounds of old people shouting "Help! Help!"

Many of the elderly were strapped to their beds. I was assaulted by the stench. Catholics there would ask if it was a sin to want to die.

The sheets were seldom changed. One gentleman who chewed tobacco had a coffee can next to the bed to spit into, and when he missed he stained the sheet with his tobacco. One stain, in the shape of the continent of Africa, was still there two weeks later.

Nobody ever saw a priest. Nobody ever got Holy Communion. The "nursing home" was a chopped-up family residence, and the owner made money by taking over the social security checks of the residents in the days before Medicare, Medicaid, and regulations.

I was in a nursing home just recently. Nobody was tied to a bed. There were plenty of trained, professional staff. I was there when a lady from the Corpus Christi Cathedral came by.

I knelt down while she recited the Lord's Prayer and the Hail Mary in Spanish. I watched as feeble, shaky old hands of an Alzheimer's patient made the Sign of the Cross while the Eucharistic Minister said "En el nombre del Padre y del Hijo y del Espiritu Santo."

She later told me that this was the highlight of her week, this trip to the nursing home, something new and beautiful for God.

In 1958, I was in the teachers lounge of a school in Minneapolis when the fifth grade teacher walked in with a black eye and a bruise under her right cheek. The night before, she told us, her husband had thrown her against the kitchen wall. Then she threw a can of beans at him and called the police.

The police did come, but they brought her husband out to their patrol car, smoked a cigarette with him to calm him down, and drove away. He came back into the house and beat her up some more.

She said she was afraid for her life. There were no women's shelters in those days.

Last month, the police here in Corpus Christi came into my neighborhood and arrested a man for hitting his wife. A female officer drove his wife and children to the women's shelter.

Her husband had his mother pay his bail, but his wife got an instant protective order, so that now he is afraid to come within 100 yards of her. The judge said that if he does, he goes straight to jail with no possibility of bail next time.

The judge had a remarkably soothing effect on the husband's bad temper. It is a female judge, by the way.

Now half of the District Judges here are women - no-nonsense women. And this is in supposedly conservative Texas.

Picture this scene from a day care center in the '60s: A three-year-old at nap time got up to "go potty" after the woman in the rocking chair in the corner of the room told her to "lie still or else." It was nap time.

When she saw the little girl get up, she grabbed her by the wrist, took her out into the hallway and spanked her. When the little girl threw a tantrum the next day because she didn't want to go back, the girl's mother asked her own mother for advice. The child's grandmother said the child was just spoiled and needed a spanking.

Here in Corpus Christi in the year 2001, a child care worker would be fired and charged with child abuse for spanking. Now there is a trained child care worker in the rooms for three-year-olds, and the regulations require one teacher for every eight children.

There are still nap times, but allowances are always made for "potty."

Beginning in the 1980s and into the 1990s, retarded children and physically handicapped children were mainstreamed into our public school classrooms. A few years ago, OSHA made it possible for workers to have portable toilets at work sites.

Beginning in the '70s, more and more emotionally disturbed and handicapped children cared for by single moms received SSI checks and Medicaid. Head Start, as part of the war on poverty, opened up early educational opportunities for scores of children who would have been left behind.

County mental health centers sprang up around the nation as a result of the Kennedy Mental Health Act.

Then, on Aug. 22, 1996, President Clinton signed into law "The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act" (aka Welfare Reform), thereby undoing, with one stroke of the pen, the Social Security Act, the safety net which had been saving America from the demons of greed ever since 1935.

Sadly, most Americans slept through the whole thing.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the story of Dives and Lazarus. Dives wanted Abraham to go wake up his five brothers so they would repent and care for those around them, but Abraham said if they hadn't listened to Moses and the prophets, then the brothers would not be convinced "even if someone rises from the dead."

Someone did come back from the dead. Thank God Abraham was wrong. The disciples did believe in the message of Jesus. His mission still goes on despite all the indifference and greed in our society.

From our pulpits the Word still goes forth: "Woe to you rich . . . "

Welfare "reform" or not, the bottom line is that things have gotten better in our United States since the "good old days" of the 1930s.

Our heritage shows us that we have it in our power to keep working for the betterment of the entire human race in the coming year, the homeless, the poor, and the lonely.

That's a pretty good New Year's resolution, don't you think?

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