This is one of my favorite pictures of Charley. It's not the prettiest, but it is one that makes his Mama proud.
I posted this story in 2012 and well, I like it, so I'm posting it again. I like it because not only is it a picture of he and his Dad, it captures Charley stepping out of himself and doing something for somebody else. It also connects him to tne Kiwanis Club of Norwood as they ring the bells for the Salvation Army here in Knoxville. You must understand, this Kiwanis Club has all but adopted Charley and he's quite proud of that. Not only have they walked on his behalf in the Buddy Walk for the Down Syndrome Association of East Tennessee, they have also made him an honorary Kiwanian. And a very special honor it is.
So, here is the re-run of ringing the bells in 2012.
I call this one, "Season's Ringings..."
We see them every year, the bell ringers, the freezing few who stand outside the stores, reminding us shoppers that there are those in our communities who need our help.
When Charley was younger he’d try to talk the ringers out of their bells. “I me one,” he’d say, and Brad would give him a dollar to put in the bucket and then we’d be off on our way to celebrate the season.
He’s twenty-two now, and he still wants the bell. Every year he says, “I have it?” as he puts his dollar in the bucket.
So. Brad decided this year would be different. This year, Charley would get the bell. At least for a little while.
“Where goin’ Dad?”
“We’re ringing the bells,” Brad said.
“Because there are people whose needs will go unmet if we don’t. People are hungry, cold, and lonely. Bell ringing provides food and shelter. Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do about the loneliness.”
“Yeah, Charley, there are lots of people who have no one to share their lives and that makes them lonely. We have to reach out to them.”
“Okay, Dad,” Charley said, as he put on his red apron and picked up a bell.
Ring, ring. Ring-a-ding dingy. The two men in my life set out to keep people from being cold and hungry.
Now, if I recall from years past, the ringers stand still, and their arms go up and down, ringing. But at no time do I remember the ringer dancing and singing, but where tradition ends, Charley begins, and new traditions are born.
Dancing, ringing, singing, and informing everyone on their way into the store, “Need money here,” pointing to the bucket, doing the happy dance. That’s the Charleyway.
Into the bucket went a dollar.
“Kanku,” Charley said. “Oh sir, money pwease.” Plunk, another dollar.
One poor woman was heading into the store.
“Hello, Maam, you got money?”
“I’ve already given several times,” she said.
“Again!” he said. “Money fo da po, over here.”
Into her purse went her hand, and yep, out came a dollar.
Shopper after shopper, the teenage girls got a handshake or a hug (no one’s lonely on Charley’s corner). Even the kids gave him money. “Call me,” he’d say as they slapped him a high-five. Unless they didn’t give. Then he’d clear his throat and say, “Uh-hem. S’cuuuuse me, you got money?”
Brad told Charley that soliciting was one thing, hounding was another. “You are NOT to embarrass people into giving,” he said.
“I no bawassacud, Daddy. I winging da bell, dey got dollars.”
“But you’re not supposed to chase people down the sidewalk, Son…and you are NOT to hit them up twice.” The thing is, Charley would collect a dollar on their way into the store, and then talk them out of another on their way out. One man admitted to stopping at the ATM because he didn’t want to come face to face with Charley. Not unless the happy dance followed.
Maybe it’s his Down syndrome innocence that opens the hearts around him. I don’t know. But I do know this; sometimes it takes a special needs person to remind you that if you are going to give, give with your whole body.
If you are going to ring, make sure the bell is heard.
And if you venture out this season, do it with a dollar in your pocket.
You never know where Charley might be
lurking. I mean ringing.
* * *
Sherry McCaulley Palmer is the author of Life With Charley: A Memoir of Down Syndrome Adoption available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.