The article was originally published Nov. 19, 2009, in the Salem Times-Register, and also in the Cave Spring Connection Nov. 20, 2009
By Meg Hibber
Louise Wade and her husband Jack didn’t know much about cerebral palsy and mental retardation before their daughter, Melody, was born with both conditions in April 1962.
Neither did doctors.
So Wade taught herself, and those around her.
In her 70s, she’s still teaching.
Her lessons are in “Melody’s Gifts,” her self-published book written with Sheila D. Nelson that is subtitled “An Inspirational Story of A Family’s Determination that Neither Cerebral Palsy nor Mental Retardation would Silence Melody’s Song.”
On Monday, Nov. 23, Wade, who now lives in Dublin, will be sharing her family’s story at the Association for Retarded Citizens meeting at Christ Lutheran Church at 7 p.m. The church is diagonally across from Patrick Henry High School in Roanoke.
Wade said she will have with her longtime Salem resident Lois Taliaferro, now 93, who was Wade’s aide at Pinkard Court. Taliaferro was the mother of Salem’s late mayor, Jim Taliaferro.
“Lois was a ‘mama hen’ who never got tired of counting noses and buttoning coats,” Wade remembered. “She rode the bus with the children, and her days lasted from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. On those long bus rides to the other side of Roanoke, the two talked about ways to work with each of their special needs children.
Pinkard Court was a little five-room school, formerly for black children, that Roanoke County designated for special education classes by the time Melody went to school there in 1969.
That same year Wade started teaching young people from 10 to 21 who had been classified as trainable mentally retarded. Later she taught full time at Hardy Road in Vinton. The family lived in the Oak Grove area from 1966-76.
The book has other ties to Salem. Several of Salem resident Robbie Wheeler’s favorite prayers from his little book, “Robbie’s Reach Out,” are reprinted by permission in Melody’s Gifts. Wheeler’s mother, Nancy, inspired and encouraged Wade in those early years of figuring out how to improve Melody’s life.
“Robbie is much higher functioning than Melody,” Wade said. “He is intellectually challenged and spiritually gifted. He was always telling me he wanted to be a minister.”
Wade and her husband had no idea anything would be wrong with their second baby before that night Melody was born at a Greensboro, N.C., hospital where the anxious mother whose water had been broken in the afternoon had waited hours for the doctor to arrive.
“My baby never cried and couldn’t suck,” she said. When her parents took her home, the baby still couldn’t nurse so her mother figured out a way to get her daughter to take food.
“I stuck my finger in the honey jar, and woke up her mouth,” Wade said. “I set the clock every three hours so she could nurse.”
That was the initial time Wade figured out a way to overcome a challenge for her child.
There have been hundreds and hundreds more. “The Lord has blessed me with the ability to come up with different ways to help children regardless of the extent of their disability.”
When the family lived in Pennsylvania, at the Institutes of Human Potential the Wades learned the Doman-Delacato “patterning” program. Every day they patterned Melody, moving her arms and legs to teach them to respond even though their daughter’s brain couldn’t tell her limbs to move.
“They told us if we did everything they told us to do, she’d be normal. We didn’t even have Christmas stockings before we patterned Melody,” her mother remembered. “I was so excited because she was making progress. Her hands were in a fist. Her legs and feet didn’t grow, so I used salt glow therapy. I applied salt paste every morning and scrubbed her legs and feet until they were scarlet, and rinsed with temperature-extreme water. I did her hands, as well.”
Today at age 47, Melody walks, talks, dances and “can click her fingers,” her proud mother says.
Melody splits her time living with her parents at home and 25 miles away in Pembroke with host home provider Jennifer Lester, whom her mother calls, “Our guardian angel and an answer to our prayers.”
Melody knows about her mother’s book and has been a part of the years of writing, when Wade wrote yellow notepad after notepad in longhand.
She signs her name in the books “hand over hand,” something her mother taught her to do. And people who purchase Melody’s Gifts right now get one of the handmade bead “book bracelets” Melody and her mother create.
Melody strings the colorful plastic beads on white pipe cleaners, which her mother twists into a circle. “In her first six hours of work, we made 30 bracelets, and I could feel her productive, positive attitude,” Wade said. “So far, she’s made 100 bracelets.” Wade said if she can find some maroon and orange beads and they aren’t baking “book bracelets,” they may try to make Hokie-colored bracelets to sell to raise money for Camp Virginia Jaycee.
Wade is a former camp director there. Their son, Mike, was a camp counselor. Youngest daughter Wendy loved visiting there, too, when Melody was a camper. Jack Wade, a retired Boy Scout executive who moved his family all over the country with his job, designed the camp logo. It’s a hand over a hand.
Wade has plans and hopes for her 236-page book. “When people finish reading Melody’s Gifts, they’ll never take anything for granted again. That’s how this book is going to impact so many lives.”