Off the Wall, July 28

Recently, I took to doing some yard work. Before I got down to manning the rake, shovel and broom, I decided to walk down to Shop n’ Save here in Latrobe, and get my wife some items she needed.

While there, I ran into a friend of mine who has the same infirmity as I do, epilepsy. As we began talking, she told me of an episode she had lately that caused her quite a memory lapse. We talked shortly, and then she had to get back to work and I had to shop and return home to tree trim, woodwork and clean up.

I never thought much about it until I began to work. Then it hit big time. Praise God for such wonderful employers of that food chain, particularly the manager of that store. He hired someone who was physically challenged.

Maybe by this time more companies or storeowners are doing so, but it wasn’t always that way.

As I pushed that broom down Pee Vee Alley, cleaning up the droppings from my chestnut tree, was I reminded of two things that really bother me – people’s attitudes, and the fact that I couldn’t serve in the armed forces to defend the freedoms we all must value.

First of all, I realize that not everyone will warm up to persons who have disorders, particularly if they don’t know what to do if we get a seizures. Rather than informing themselves of how to handle situations in case someone has these, it’s just better people space himself or herself from anyone who has some kind of malady that may pose a problem in their lives.

I may not have thought about this whole incident had I not run into her that one Saturday morning. But, isn’t that how God works? He sets up certain situations so that we can come to learn from them something that we can apply to our future.

Think about this. I would have never written this column had I not run into my friend at the local food store standing next to the counter packing various items in white plastic bags.

And I’ll tell you why.

My parents had just moved to Laughlintown from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, where my dad had his own business. He always wanted to retire to the Laurel Highlands, and so they both settled in Laughlintown.

One week later, I had moved in with them after losing my job in Ohio due to circumstances beyond my control. Both Mom and Dad thought it be best for me to try to find a job in the area so I could make the transition from Ohio to Pennsylvania smoothly. I was game. After all, I loved to work. Why not keep plugging away, right?

I walked into a rather large, well-known chain store in downtown Ligonier and asked if they were hiring. I was given an application. After filling in all the asked for information on all the lines, I handed the clipboard back to the ‘gentleman’ and sat and waited to see if I had a promising future. He took one look at one particular item and stated, “You have epilepsy? If that’s so, we don’t want your kind around here!”

I never applied for anywhere else. I felt as though I was ‘branded’, and probably others just may say the same thing, so I never ever bothered.

When the idea surfaced of me starting up my own store in Latrobe, I had to prove to myself that at that time ‘my kind’ could handle providing a service and I was out to prove this guy wrong. The rest is history.

When I applied for my selective service card, I was ‘branded’ ‘1-Y’ and couldn’t serve in the armed services has somewhat saddened me. My real belief is that even though I have epilepsy, I could have done something somewhere to serve my country.

An idea surfaced. Why not ‘brand’ me with the letters, ‘1-Y-HS, which could have stood for physically challenged, but can do some ‘home service’ work, like stuffing envelopes, piecing literature together or even something more complicated, such as learning a trade at my house.

Maybe others don’t feel the same way I do, particularly those whom are healthy and will do anything to get out of the service. I wanted to do something, but couldn’t.

To the employers who have hired the physically challenged, thanks for giving our men and women a chance. That’s all they ever wanted.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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