I had gotten Polio in the mid-1950's at the tail-end of the epidemic. Living in North Central Wisconsin, we were some of the last ones to get the vaccine. When I began the process of getting my first power chair, I had told the Physical Therapist that I had been able to walk until I managed to climb into the hay loft of our family farm.
I was going to throw down straw for my dad but the chute was in the middle of the loft over the alley-way between the calf pens. I don't know how I managed to get up there since the farm ladders were incorporated into the doors, which would hang down and give farmers access to the hay loft.
I seem to remember a tall step ladder which I may have used to get in the loft but once up there and being as little as I was, I could not reach the switch to turn the mow lights on. I did not see the hole, where I was going to throw the straw through, so before I could throw down any straw, I fell about 7-9 feet to a bare concrete floor!
I was unconscious for a while but do not know how long and when I awoke I could not walk. I had gone to several different doctors and ended up in University Children's Hospital in Madison WI. I was diagnosed with Polio at that time because of the prevalence of Polio.
The therapist thought it was more likely I had a spinal injury since my legs are more normal, at least to me, than are many other Polio survivors who have thin legs which are like skin over bone. I walked with braces and crutches all my life and was doing quite well and was able to do a lot of different things others never thought I could do.
I was thrilled as a teenager when my older brother told us about a new motorcycle that Honda had just come out with which was an All Terrain Cycle and could go just about anywhere. I was enamored with my sibling's love of motorcycles and was happy to be able to go many more places than I had been able to go before, except it was for off road use only but I would ride on some of the county roads in the area to get to different places I wanted to ride.
Since I did not have many friends, I spent a lot of my time riding the 3-wheeler all over. My mother would chastise me for going all over without anyone knowing where I was going but I had no close friends so my entire life, was pretty much by myself. When I rode the 3-wheeler I would leave my crutches at home and even though I had my braces, I would still end up crawling somewhere if the bike quit on me. Even when I shut it off to rest, it was easy to start and I was never stranded with it.
When I first went to elementary school I had quite a few friends and other able-bodied kids seemed to include me in their games but when I reached puberty and entered high school I was more alone. One of the things which had always bothered me about my braces was the fact I had to wear these special brown shoes, which came up over my ankle, had a round toe and laced all the way up from the toe.
The problem was the shoes had to be riveted to a special metal piece at the bottom of my braces and could not be removed. I had to wear the same shoes all the time for good and for every day. I despised them but was able to at least use black shoe polish to make them a different color.
A guy worked at the motorcycle shop, where my brother worked and had found out about the 3-wheeler, also walked with braces but his problem was more of Cerebral Palsy, although they had hired him for the parts department and he also greeted people coming into the store.
He had the same problem with the ugly shoes but would buy another pair of shoes to wear over the ugly shoes which looked dumb but it made him feel better about it, so I tried that for a while even though it was pretty dumb.
I was trying to fit in more and hated not being able to wear regular tennis shoes like all the other guys seemed to be wearing. At first, I had to go to Madison to the brace shop and get new braces every year, to account for my growth.
After I got out of high school, I found out they could have riveted a thin piece of plastic to form around my foot and I could now wear any shoe I wanted! Nice time to find out about this, after I graduated high school.
One of the high points of my early life was getting my driver's license which now made it much easier to go different places and since I had the braces and crutches it was working out great. The problem was, I graduated in 1972 and things were not all that great as far as disabled people getting jobs.
Many places were not set up for disabled employees and really did not go out of their way to help the disabled become employees of their businesses. Back then, also, the Government was not too involved in helping the disabled.
I was approached, when I was a Senior in high school beginning my 2nd semester by a gentleman from the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation as to what I was going to do when I got out of high school. I told him, "It seems to me you would have been better off to approach me when I was just coming into high school, not when I was ready to graduate!" "Now it's too late for me to take the necessary courses which would make it easier for me to go to college."
I did not take the necessary courses, especially all the Math courses, which would make it easier for College." Not being able to find a part time job, I had my own small handicraft business, which was important to me, but when the counselor asked me what I was going to do, I did not think of that.
I ended up letting them talk me into going to College since "that was the only way I would make it on my own." I went 1 semester to College and despite the campus being fairly small, I was able to walk to the different classes.
In high school, I had no one to counsel me on what to plan for or what I should do, when I entered high school. I was pretty much a loner and neither one of my parents had gone to college. I had 2 older brothers but neither one of them helped me make any decisions.
My parents were both needed on the farm to help their respective families survive so my dad only went to 9th grade and had to quit while my mother went to 8th grade but had to quit because she was needed on the farm to help run it and make money for the entire family.
She had her own delivery route delivering fresh milk and eggs to the near by village, so could not be in the kitchen learning to cook from her mother. When they got married, my dad taught her the basics of cooking.
The DVR paid for the 1st semester of college, in the fall of 1972, but even though the college would have let me come back, the DVR felt my GPA of 1.75 was not sufficient enough for them to pay. I had not really wanted to go to college and especially being away from home all week. There was no way my parents could pay since my dad was disabled and my mother was busy trying to keep the farm running.
I did not know I could go to the Technical School starting the 2nd semester so did not start until the fall of 1973, which I should have gone to, in the first place. Now I took a 1-year course in Account Clerk and graduated in June 1974 and found a job right away.
The 1st job lasted 9-months but then was laid-off and a year later the company went bankrupt. The 2nd job I got when my mother found out a local Farm Implement Dealer had just fired their bookkeeper who they caught embezzling.
It lasted about 6 months but the owner's wife who was training me did not like the way I was doing things, after having just been trained how to do them the correct way. We clashed on little things and she did not have much, if any empathy, for me and was always hassling me.
I was parking in back and climbing about 20 metal stairs to my job. She did not want me taking up a parking place of a customer and wanted me to park about a block away and walk to work. This is Wisconsin in February when it is still snowing and we are still dealing with ice plus I was walking with braces and crutches.
I am sure many know the problems you deal with when trying to walk with braces & crutches in the winter time and trying not to fall. I had finally gotten information about getting a special license plate for my car which would allow me to park anywhere in town which had 1/2 hour of parking or more.
I got the special plates and would now park in front of their store on Main Street just to tick her off. I had just gotten out of Technical School where I learned how to do bookkeeping but in their case, everything was pretty much done by hand.
They had a cash register which I had to check out every morning to make sure the parts man was being honest and she would watch over me like a hawk if I transposed a number or if the total did not check out right away.
I never planned on taking any money from them and it was always my own figures where I inverted a number or something, but it created a lot of stress with her watching over me all the time. They recorded their Accounts Receivable on a peg board even though I had been trained on an accounting machine which was much better and would add up the columns itself as you went.
The use of computers had not come into being yet, especially for small businesses. She expected too much out of me and since another guy who had been working for them during the summer was graduating, she let me go in June 1976 when this guy was graduating.
He used them for another summer job, then left to go to graduate school so they ended up hiring 2 bookkeepers one could not do everything they wanted me to do. My mother told me to have her sign a letter, so I could get on Social Security, saying I was unable to perform the job. The monthly benefit was not very good, but at least I had health insurance.
I found another job with another business which dealt with farmers but the working conditions were not very good and I quit. I had looked for different jobs but part of my problem was in my early 20's I was rebellious so had shoulder length hair and a full beard but then there was no one to teach me how to look for another job.
It was the 1970's and finding work was not easy, especially if you were disabled since busnesses were not all that enthused about hiring the disabled yet. A neighbor had told me if I would cut my hair short and get rid of the beard I would have a better chance at finding a job since many businesses look for clean cut people to work for them, but then they never bothered to ask me if I would be willing to do that.
By that time I had given up and I suppose it was one excuse they could use for not wanting to hire me. I also did not have the funds to buy and keep a nice wardrobe for working in an office. I had taken a night course in upholstery so I decided to create my own job.
It was something I could do but I needed a little bit of help to do it. With my upholstery business, I did not need to worry as much except when going to a customer's house. I worked with the upholstery from 1977 until my mother died, then moved to Green Bay in 1980.
The upholstery business was working out for me, in Green Bay, but was never enough for me to live on even with the extra money I got from Social Security. I had found an elderly friend to help me and it was because of him that I found my first location which was a store and living quarters, the rent was $325 a month with free heat. It had steam pipes which went through the store to the apartments upstairs.
My friend and I split the rent and the electric was separate plus we shared the one bathroom which had a walk-in shower. I set up a folding chair with plastic seat & back and metal legs plus had a hand-held shower. I would crawl from my bedroom to the bathroom, to take a shower.
My friend Armend had helped me find a perfect location where I could have my upholstery shop and live in back, plus the building was big enough to share with a friend of mine, who had his own business selling Niagara Therapy Equipment. It worked out great for us as his house was on the next street over behind our building.
Armend helped build a living room for me in the back of my section of the building. He had found a green shag rug on the curb, to use for my living room, which he lay down, then built the walls around the edges of the rug and another friend had patched the walls in my side of the store and repainted it a light yellow which made it very pleasant.
The ceilings were about 11' high but Armend made the walls 8' high so he did not have to go all the way to the ceiling. He figured it out so he only had to do a minimum of cutting with the 8' tall paneling, when he put the paneling around the inside of my living room.
Since there was no window in the living room, I had a small 4' table with a flourescent light which I mounted above it which was on all the time and had my house plants under it. With the that and a couple table lamps, it was a very cozy living room.
Armend had noticed there was a display window which had been covered up facing Ashland Avenue, in Green Bay. He proceeded to cut the wood sheeting in front to expose the window and then built a platform inside and set it up like a display window.
He had found some candy-stripe carpet on the curb for the floor of the display window and painted the walls light yellow also. It was my favorite spot for my store and apartment, but it was up for sale so I signed a 1-year lease to make sure I had it for at least a year.
Of course, as luck would have it, the store and property were sold before the year was up and I had to move. I moved several times, while in Green Bay, and had another place which I had hoped I would be able to buy, which was a little house on Shawano Avenue and used to be an Ice Cream Parlor.
The wife had passed away and the husband was in the nursing home and things went good for a few years until the husband passed away and I had to move again. The son, could have bought out his 2 sisters, but they would not sell out to him figuring he was going to make more money then they would so it ended up moving again.
My friend Armend had helped me with my upholstery business from 1980 until I finally decided to give up on the upholstery and go to a rehab center to learn how to operate a computer. Up until 1989, I had not touched a computer so it was a self-learning class where I worked at my own pace until I felt I was ready to approach a Temp Agency.
I worked for about 8 weeks then went to an agency to take their typing test but was so nervous I screwed up but she was very nice to me and told me to keep practicing and try again. A couple weeks later, now that I knew what to expect, I went to another agency, passed and they actually hired me to work for a company who needed night temps to enter medical bills into the computer because they could not hire them during the day since it slowed the system down tremendously.
They were in the process of migrating to a larger and better computer system so I ended up getting a job there in December 1989 just before Christmas! It sure made a great Christmas gift! I began a full-time job on January 2, 1990 working 40 hours a week with medical and dental coverage.
In the meantime, I ended up moving in with my friend, Armend, and still did some upholstery in the garage next to our mobile home. I was still doing booth seats for Big Boys Restaurants so would do them on the side. I lived with him and his granddaughter until the fall of 1991.
I ended up moving up north because I wanted to get more on my own and depend on myself, so found a small piece of land and bought it on land-contract. I found a used mobile home, which Armend, helped me buy so moved north of Green Bay.
I was still working at the insurance company but it was not easy living in the country and having to deal with buying Propane, for heat. I was able to get a close friend to build a 2 1/2 car garage and build a breeze-way to attach it to the mobile home. Armend decided to move up north by me and lived with me until he passed away in June 1993.
It was then when I was truly on my own because I could no longer depend on him to help me when I needed financial assistance.