Polly (Last Name Withheld)

Walk into the DAP (Developmental Activities Program) building on a given day and chances are you will be greeted by Polly, who will take your coat and bag, place them where she thinks they will be handy to you and basically just get you “organized.” At first, you might be taken aback, the forcefulness of the effort overshadowing the graciousness of the gesture. But Polly’s intentions are good and stem from the fact that she is such a social being.

Once she is sure that you are comfortable, Polly resumes her day at the program, a busy one according to Terry Dion, staff member at DAP. Polly is not one to sit and relax. She is constantly on the go and trying to arrange her next outing, even if she has just returned from community work, a shopping trip or coffee with friends. Polly’s interactions in the community are very interesting because so many people know her. Staff at DAP say that sometimes it is difficult to deal with her constant need to go out.

Polly was born in 1963, the youngest of four children and the first girl in the family. Her mother, Stella, didn’t notice anything different about Polly until she was about six months old. She was extremely quiet and not yet able to sit. Polly was eighteen months when her disability was diagnosed. Stella was advised that she would “just have to raise this child.” She was told to treat Polly like a baby.

Stella says community reaction was not an issue she dealt with because she did not go out with Polly. They stayed home almost all the time. She says that she is sure there were even some neighbours who did not know that one of her children was disabled. The older Polly got, the more demanding she became. By the time Polly was two years old, she was happy only when Stella was in the same room with her. With three older children to care for as well, Stella was starting to feel the strain.

As a parent, Stella says it was very difficult to deal with a handicapped child. She did not have a lot of options available in her community when Polly was young. “It was not easy. You just do what you have to do. I’m not sorry that I had Polly, I’m just sorry that she has a handicap.” Stella’s advice to young parents is to “look for support and help, whatever you can find.”

When she was old enough, Polly attended the Peace School of Hope and lived at the Barrydale Dorm until it closed in the 1980s. Polly then moved to the 109th Ave residence and met Robyn Bowness, who was a practicum student at there at the time. Robyn’s relationship with Polly was based on fun and many good laughs. They shared a game in which Robyn would sing B-I-N-G-O, substituting the letters in Polly’s name. When it came time to sing the chorus, Polly would always clap along as her name was spelled out.

Polly’s sense of humour can often get her into trouble. She is fascinated by hats and if someone is wearing one she likes, she finds it very funny to take it from them. One time she walked straight up to a man wearing a turban and took it right off his head, unaware of the significance of her actions and the impact it had upon him.

Polly loves to socialize. She also takes advantage of every opportunity to ride a snowmobile or motorcycle and while she’s at it, she loves to “dress the part.” At Spilchen Country, an outdoor country music festival held in Grande Prairie every summer, Polly joins the crowd in her concert t-shirt, dark sunglasses and colourful bandana.

During a visit with Polly one day at the group home, she jumped up from the table and returned moments later with a hat. She placed it on my head, and stepped back to survey the result. The hat belonged to one of her roommates and was a poor fit, not the least bit flattering. Polly was delighted and we all shared in her laughter.

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