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The Wheels to Liberty: A Mother’s Story on the Ravages of Polio and Domestic Abuse
By Judith F. Brenner
The Crutch Advantage, June 1954
Ellie, 13, peered down the hall from where she stood in her leg brace by Joe’s chair, which in our small kitchen, could get a view to the front room if you tilted your head. With a bark, Lady my faithful dog followed me to see who rang our doorbell. I opened the door to see a boy, Ellie’s age or maybe Tommy’s? I couldn’t tell. Opening it further, I saw a lady as well. “Hello, can I help you?”
“Mrs. Westchester? Is this the Westchester house?”
“Yes, yes it is.”
“This is my son, Charlie. Do you see him? Do you see his face?” she said, pushing the teenager in front of her. The sun was beginning to set so their faces looked like dark silhouettes to me, with the sun at their backs. I flicked on the porch light to see them better. Looking at the boy, nearly as tall as his mother, I saw he had a bright red cut on his cheek. I didn’t comment, but was guessing Tommy got into a scuffle. “He was hit by your daughter, with her crutch!” Now Joe came forward, and moved me out of his way.
“What’s this? Who are you?” he said.
“Oh, you must be Mr. Westchester. I’m Alice Pichovski, and this is Charlie Pichovski. He goes to school with your daughter, and apparently she is in the habit of striking people with her crutch.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me! So Charlie, you find yourself in a position to be beat up by a girl? And Alice, is it? You are in the habit of coming to people’s front porches to fight your son’s battles after a tiff with a girl? I’m a bit confused,” Joe said, stepping outside, and forcing them both down a step to the sidewalk.
“Well, we wanted you to know about this assault. I plan to report it to the school office, but I wished to tell you first,” Alice said, pushing Charlie forward again. “He wants an apology!” The boy looked up at Joe and then looked away, pulling his mother even further backward.
“Come on, mom, this is stupid. Let’s go. It’s okay, really,” Charlie said, looking down as if to hide his cut face.
“Not sure what to make of this but I think you ought to not ‘baby’ a nearly grown son,” Joe said to Mrs. Pichovski. He turned his back to her, walked back inside the house, and shut the door. We all took a deep breath, amazed at the situation. Then Joe found the cord to the drapes bordering the front window. He pulled them shut and yelled, “Ellie, get in here.” She was watching from the hall. The room went dark except for a crack of sunlight on Ellie’s face when she limped toward the couch. Joe walked over to the front door light switch and shut off the porch light. Before he could say a word, Ellie leaned on the couch and flipped her hair back in a confident manner.
“Dad, that boy was very rude. He came right up to me outside of the school, and grabbed my chest,” Ellie said, crossing her arm across her bust. “I yelled at Charlie to stop, and he did it again, touching my blouse. I was about to slap him but he ducked, so I swung my crutch at him to keep him away.”
“Your crutch is not a weapon. You want to know how it feels to get hit with a crutch?” Joe screamed, grabbing her crutch from under her arm and raising it like a bat. Ellie cowered, hiding her face with her arm.
“No Dad, no!”
Joe threw the crutch forward so it fell to the floor, leaning with its rubber top against the couch. Ellie straightened up, thinking her dad was just trying to scare her. As she looked at me for help, he open hand-slapped Ellie across the face.
“I don’t want people coming to my door complaining! Whatever you have a problem with, you don’t go hitting people with crutches. I won’t be disturbed by this kind of nonsense at my own home. Now go to your room. Don’t even think about going to the Dells! That’s off the table.”
“Oh great Ellie, now you’ve done it!” Tommy said. “Ruined it for the whole family, like we aren’t limited enough by you!”
“Tommy! Stop that tone,” I screamed, picking up the crutch and carrying it to Ellie’s room where she had limped, holding on to the hallway walls. “She can’t help her condition, and she certainly can’t help indecent boy behavior. That’s not her fault!”
“I don’t care. I want to go on a road trip,” Tommy said, following Joe into the kitchen. “Dad, can’t we go, please?”
“I suppose so. I do want to take that car on a road trip. If you want to go Tommy, you need to protect your sister from those weak clowns of school boys. Let this be a warning to you both. But she is grounded. She’s not to come out of her room except for school tomorrow and dinner. Crutches are not to be used as weapons. Carol, have her write an apology to that boy. We don’t need the school office involved. That’s final.”
“Apology? To a boy who grabbed at her? I won’t have that, Joe, and that’s final!” I said, slapping the counter so hard my hand stung.
“So you too? You want to get into this Carol?”
“We are all into this. She can’t defend herself like other girls can, with steady legs and a slap. I agree the crutch is a bit much, but if she can’t defend herself, helpless as she is to run away from an idiot, I think he deserved what he got.”
“If she wants to go on that vacation, I’ll see an apology letter written, and it better be sincere.”
“You slapped our daughter, for defending herself against a pervert. Who really is the coward here?”