I led a very untraditional lifestyle when I was growing up.  My father, whom I later realized was schizophrenic, had the wanderlust to travel, which our family did for about 6 months of the year. He would remove me out of school and we would take off for various areas of the country, living in our Volkswagen van. ( Although I am sure that today’s public education system would not allow it, somehow I think my father would have taken me out anyway.)

It was quite an adventure for a child like me.  I have a vivid memory of cracking eggs in a big, black, iron frying pan over a campfire in the Badlands in South Dakota.  The rocks the pan was on were not sturdy, and the pan fell sideways with the eggs slowly leaking out onto the pine needles on the ground.  (Clumsy then…still clumsy.) I remember traveling in southern Georgia, driving for miles watching red clay cover everything…the houses, the cars, and even the clothes hanging on the lines.  It was at the beginning of the civil rights movement, and I was uneducated in this area, (probably because I didn’t go to school!) The whole concept of a bathroom for “whites only” was a shock to me.  Did that mean that only people wearing white clothes could use it?  (I’m picturing nurses, dentists, pharmacists…)  I couldn’t use it because I had on my only pair of pants, jeans, and a multi-colored t-shirt. But I had to go to the bathroom baaaaad, where would I go?  Behind the bushes? How degrading!  My misunderstanding of this concept is now a slight reminder of what it felt like be African American in the 60’s. I also have the memory of  a bear at Yellowstone Park coming onto our campsite to eat our dinner as we all huddled in the car. My brother, Curtis, was upset because he had left a package of Cracker Jacks on the picnic table.  We had to restrain him from leaping out of the car to get it.  Afterwards, I was not so keen to sit by the campfire…

But most of all, I remember my constant companion; Curtis.  He was four years younger than I was, and he had been born with Rubella Syndrome; developmentally delayed, cleft palate, legally blind, and severely hearing impaired.  He was my buddy.  Because my dad was extremely frugal, (ie obsessive compulsive disorder frugal,) I did not have many toys to play with.  So, in addition to reading a lot, I played in our surroundings with my brother.  I have a memory of  sitting by a stream, sun shining down on the water through the leaves on the trees. Curtis was happily splashing about in the shallow water.  I was looking for rocks that somewhat resembled people.  (They were no Barbie dolls, but some kind of looked like Alfred Hitchcock and Potato Head.) All of a sudden I heard a whoooooosh!  Curtis had ventured too far into the water and the current started to carry him downstream!  Fortunately, I had long, slim legs (in those days,) and with a few strides, I picked him up by the back of his pants. He was laughing heartily.  To him it was a real adventure.  Like the poor person’s substitute for a ride at Disneyland!

We actually had a lovely childhood together. I had to carry him everywhere because he could not walk sturdily.  Carrying him was just a natural way of life for me.  I don’t know why, but I never thought to be embarrassed by him, (although his screeching and attempt at speech WAS pretty scary).  I never ever thought of him as a burden.  He was just my buddy, Curtis.


My parents rarely took pictures.  (The money thing again…) But I do remember ONE picture.  It was a picture of me and Curtis, standing in front of Mount Rushmore.  I was characteristically giving him a piggy back ride.  The photo shows Curtis, looking over my shoulder, eyes squinted shut by the glare of the sun.  I was wearing a stupid, treasured, red velvet derby hat, (you know, like jockeys wear.) As the dead presidents loomed behind us, I gave my characteristically stupid, toothy grin, (like all children do when their parents ask them to smile.) And on that day, I first heard the song from Neil Diamond which fit my sentiments exactly: “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”.  It was a powerful moment to think that someone had put into words what my life was like.

I was so very lucky to have been raised the way I was because it formed my personality, my temperament, and my compassion for others. I personally cannot take credit for the way I live now, fostering and adopting children. I am not selfless, nor amazing, nor wonderful, nor any of the other adjectives readers have used to describe me. I am simply living my life the way I was raised and it is a wonderful life!



Link to my book  The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane


He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother Lyrics

The road is long

With many a winding turn

That leads us to who knows where

Who knows where

But I’m strong

Strong enough to carry him

He ain’t heavy,he’s my brother

So on we go

His welfare is of my concern

No burden is he to bear

We’ll get there

For I know

He would not encumber me

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

If I’m laden at all

I’m laden with sadness

That everyone’s heart

Isn’t filled with the gladness

Of love for one another

It’s a long, long road

From which there is no return

While we’re on the way to there

Why not share

And the load

Doesn’t weigh me down at all

He ain’t heavy he’s my brother

He’s my brother

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell

performed by Neil Diamond in 1970



Link to the Readers Digest review of my book:  http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/


Comments on: "He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother" (145)

  1. carrying a burden , yet not feeling it because love is in heart and kindness filled in mind.

  2. Although your dad was frugal, he gave you a wealth of experiences. When I read your book I wondered if he may have been on the spectrum, but your suggestion also makes sense. Lovely post and a great song.

  3. We took separate paths but I am pleased that we share the same road. I hope you don’t mind that I re-posted it as a link from my blog. Love this!

  4. This gives me hope for the children I work with who have chaotic lifestyles and whose parents suffer from a variety of mental illnesses or addictions. I’m often amazed at the resilience in human nature. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Reminds me of “The Glass Castle,” by Jeanette Walls. This brings back memories of my own unusual childhood. I enjoyed reading, enjoyed remembering, and LOVE this blog.

  6. It’s so lovely to read your story, so beautiful. I have worked for 10 years now as a disability support worker in various roles. Throughout this time I’ve met clients who have siblings that ended up resentful of the perceived burden that having someone with extra needs in their family brings. It can be quite sad.
    On the other hand, my heart smiles when I think of the families that I have met who love their family member unconditionally.
    Thanks for giving me another heart smile 🙂

  7. Thank you for sharing. Inspirational post. I first heared the Hollys sing “He ain’t heavy,” and was strenghtened by the words “and on we go…” – John

  8. Really nice thoughts! 🙂

  9. This is beautiful… I loved your post today. Granny Gee/Gloria :))) He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother… wow… I got what you wrote!

  10. Enjoyed hearing the beginnings of your life journey. Your upbringing certainly prepared you for what you do today. Your heart of love and compassion shines. 😀

  11. patsheveland said:

    I have to politely disagree with you…you are selfless, amazing and wonderful. Thank you for sharing your stories.

  12. Such a Beautiful post! Thanks! 🙂

  13. Beautiful!

  14. I love your posts, I am a new subscriber, something about them is so uplifting. By the way, I have OCD, mood problems, anxiety, and I believe I am on the autistic spectrum somewhere.

  15. oh wow! What an amazing story! It touched me because there are so many things I do for my family that I just do – it’s not preplanned – it’s just habit, my way of life. And my friends frequently question it and while I know their questions are coming from a place of love, it’s not always easy for them to understand that it’s just my way of life. I’m so glad you shared this!

  16. Beautiful post. It really is amazing how our childhoods shape who we are and how we live our lives.

    • Yes, I was so lucky to have my life when I was a kid.

      Unfortunately, children can be raised the opposite way, (such as my kiddos who were abused.) They have their problems for their entire life, it’s not easy to change. It really makes me question free will and choice…

  17. I really enjoyed your blog today. I am also a HUGE fan of this song done by the Hollies and Neil Diamond. Both versions are amazing and heartfelt.

    I understand your thoughts in your comments about questioning free will and choice, it seems today’s abilities to do so are just not the same anymore. Its like our generation is beyond a lifetime ago and it makes me sad how kids today don’t realize how such value can be learned if they really opened up their eyes and outside of their electronics.

  18. What a rich childhood you had. Thanks for sharing a beautiful story.

  19. I loved reading this.I read your book and it brings a smile to my lips remembering parts of it when I read this blog.Blessings.

  20. Love this. Have decided to follow you.

  21. Reblogged this on myplace2spu and commented:
    I am so glad there are people out there who feel this way.
    Thank you for sharing, very inspirational.

  22. Very inspiring and I’m looking forward to following your blog! I’m happy that you enjoyed my poetry on my blog “Because of Christ Inspirational Poetry”. God bless you, and I look forward to your next post : )

  23. Very nice account!
    That part of the trip thru Georgia and the bathrooms for whites conjured up something I read in 11-22-63 by Steven King…a plank out over a stream…you sure didn’t have it easy…

  24. strawberryquicksand said:

    Yep, the way we were raised has a lot to do with how we act when we are grown-ups. My parents always taught me to use manners, to be kind to people, to be generous and caring, and to be good to animals. Your childhood sounds like it was a wonderful one. I think that you can learn a lot more from the school of life than you can in a regular school anyday, but a rudimentary education never goes astray either! 🙂 Is Curtis still around?

  25. Lovely story. Thank you for sharing!

  26. I have shared your post on my twitter account @FizaPathan linking to your blog. Your posts are always inspiring.

  27. Reading your posts humbles me and makes me appreciate my life on a totally different level. Thank you.xo

  28. A beautiful article by a beautiful human being.

  29. Very touching post!

  30. Reblogged this on Game On Everyone and commented:
    This is a lovely story of how childhood can shape a personality, this lady is quite wonderful and – as she says – lucky to have had the opportunity to develop as she has done.

  31. Thank you for sharing your story of your childhood. I was raised to be a caregiver from a very young age. Not in a traditional sense of caring for younger siblings as I was the youngest, but more in the sense of taking care of my parents…from calling to ask Dad to come home after he had been gone for two weeks (he left us)…to taking care of things as Mom was drinking. I’ve come to terms with what happened back then, realizing that it brought me to a place now where I enjoy taking care of others as they go through hard times. God gives us many gifts, it’s how we appreciate and use them that matters. You are a beautiful example of using His gifts with love and purpose.

  32. Thanks for a sensitive and touching post! “He Ain’t Heavy…” is one of my favorite pop songs of all time…very true and also very touching.

  33. You have such a sweet spirit. My 17-year old is struggling with emotional and psychological issues; he is hospitalized (and has been using it as a crutch to get away from home and the idea of responsibility, but that’s a whole other story). Today, I just couldn’t even look at him, my heart is so broken. I long for an ounce of the strength you hold!

    • I don’t hold a lot of strength, I just push aside and ignore the weakness. There are times when my children were hospitalized that I felt the same way you do.

      • Then I surely need to come get counseling from you–I feel like my back has found that last straw 🙂

      • All you can do is tell yourself that you are human and you have done the best and only type of parenting you could do. As much as it hurts to see a child in such a situation, it is not your fault as a parent. I know it is very tough…

      • That is very true about not doing the self-blame thing, but it is tough sometimes. My bigger issue is trying to find the help this child needs and getting him connected to it…he turns 18 next month and I know we can’t keep this cycle going…none of us want that…

  34. You taught compassion. Thank you!

  35. Very moving post, and I must imagine you had a very rich childhood indeed from all you saw and learned.

  36. Here in India we see all kinds of human challenges! But, in general, despite this, the Indian people seem to be much more content and accepting of their situation (poverty, horrendous deformities, mental challenges) than many people living in the west with every material comfort. Your story is just another reminder how living life from the heart is its own beauty! Thanks! in peace…..

    • I am familiar with several situations in India and I am sooooooo fortunate that our family lives in the United States. I don’t usually get angry, but to see the disparity of money would send me over the edge!

  37. Wendy Packard said:

    You have no idea how much I needed this today. Im handicapped and today is a day I feel like a total inconvenience and burden. REALLY helped me. Thank you

  38. Wonderful! You are a very special person…

  39. You are a beautiful person…

  40. If taking kids out of school, travelling around for 6 months of the year and with no toys creates people like you then I am all for that way of life. How wonderful and idyllic your childhood sounds, although I am sure there were moments that were less than perfect. 🙂 It still sounds like it has guided you and molded you and shaped you wonderfully.

  41. It’s funny how we either adopt our parents way of doing things or purposely revise everything about our upbringing. It feels natural for you to do thing ps the way you do because your readers are provably correct in their assessment. You must be even a little amazing. (lol)Thanks for sharing this story. It made me smile.

  42. Shared this on Facebook with others I believe will love it.

  43. That was an amazing story.. I think, if I can learn to be half as open and gracious as you, I should make a very happy person indeed.

  44. feelingjoy said:

    Your stories teach people, thank you for sharing them. We are all teachers and students to one another. I also agree…your story reminded me of the memoir by Jeannette Walls, “The Glass Castle”. Wonderful book!

  45. Gorgeous post as usual, I look forward to the next one x

  46. Awesome, awesome, awesome post! Loved every word and sentiment.

  47. I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t know the Neil Diamond version, in spite of always liking him – now found it on YouTube and struck by how beautiful he was then and how sincerely he sings this. I only knew the Hollies’ version (a hit in the UK) and have always loved this song. In a strange way, you had a privileged childhood – and you are giving your kids a privileged upbringing, too. I wish you God’s special strength, wisdom and joy. You are a blessing.

    • I also knew of the Hollies version as I had heard it earlier. (I didn’t want to date myself tooooooo much.) But nothing can beat the soulful way Neil Diamond sings it. It still brings tears to my eyes…

  48. What a wonderful and hopeful post you have a lot of your shoulders and still have faith 🙂

  49. hadassah34 said:

    It is interesting to think of the link between the blind and deaf brother and schizophrenic father you had as a child and how they influenced you to care for others.

  50. hadassah34 said:

    Having written what I did I want to share one of my favorite poems–you may know it already,

    No man is an island,
    Entire of itself.
    Each is a piece of the continent,
    A part of the main.
    If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less.
    As well as if a promontory were.
    As well as if a manor of thine own
    Or of thine friend’s were.
    Each man’s death diminishes me,
    For I am involved in mankind.
    Therefore, send not to know
    For whom the bell tolls,
    It tolls for thee.

    Doing a good deed is–to use a cliche–like throwing a pebble into an ocean. You never know what the ripple may be.

    • Interesting to see this written in this form. John Donne WAS a poet, but he wrote this as a meditation. Thank you, hadassah, for breaking it up in this way.

      • hadassah34 said:

        I’m sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. Yes, I was aware it was a meditation first. But John Donn was also considered a classic poet for his work.

  51. This is such a lovely post and a wonderful story about you and Curtis. Sometimes living in an unconventional way is the way to really live. Thanks for sharing! Cheers, Steph

  52. That is just… beautiful.

  53. mischievouseyez said:

    Hey, I nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Check it out here – http://mischievouseyez.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/guess-whose-nominated-for-an-award/ .

  54. Thanks for reading.

  55. This is really beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  56. I absolutely loved this post! We all have the choice to look at our lives and carry that perception around with weights or change that perception to allow it to provide us with wings! You are most definately a flyer and I fully embrace your awesomeness!

  57. I love this essay. The world on the road is really special – self-contained, self-directed, free – let’s people be who they really are. You really capture that. Plus growing up in an unorthodox way has got to be a big asset doing what you’re doing now. Great story.

  58. Thank you for sharing your story .. Inspirational

  59. I love this story. My son has cerebral palsy and I took care of him at night until he was 10 years old. We treat him like he is normal and GOD has truely blessed him to response normal in his own way. God Bless you for taking on a GOD given task of taking care of special needs children. You will be richly blessed. #beblessed

  60. A lovely story and wonderful style of telling it.

  61. Whoa….. completely inarticulate with my first comment. What i meant to say was that you have a wonderful way of telling your story which is engaging, and pulls the reader in.

  62. lovely story about your childhood, God bless you and your gold heart 🙂

  63. So much learning done by simply living. Great post, Ryan.

  64. Your attitude about your life-calling is an inspiration in itself. You don’t consider yourself a martyr. Instead, you see your background as preparation for what God has called you to do, and you take pleasure in the fulfillment it provides. No accolades necessary. My takeaway: Each of us has been formed and prepared by God for a unique purpose. We can each embrace our own. Thank you for your inspiration!

    • THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! You have great insight into the way I feel. I really love raising my kiddos, and I think I am pretty good at it. However, I am no more remarkable at it than the friendly waitress who served us, carrying that huge tray of food without spilling a drop, pre-eminently bringing us extra napkins and salad dressing on the side, pleasantly refilling my glass of Diet Coke ten times, understanding that our son, Steven, needed to hide under the table (as children who are autistic often need to do when the stimulation gets to be too much,) and splitting our dessert on two different plates each filled with its own whipped cream. No more remarkable than the teachers who teach my children with great compassion and understanding, imparting educational wisdom on them even though I can’t get them to make their beds. No more remarkable than the truck driver who hauls the oranges up here from Florida, going for days without seeing his family, stopping to take cat naps at the rest stops; I would have gone bonkers with loneliness after the first half hour, not to mention fall asleep at the wheel. No more remarkable than the individual with a developmental disability who works as a bagger at the grocery store, who carefully puts the heavy items on the bottom of the bag where I would have thrown the cans of tomatoes right on top of the bread. No more remarkable than the dental hygienist who cleans my teeth while I whine like a baby, offering calming words and a smile I can see by the crinkling of her eyes, (because her mouth is covered in a mask.) No more remarkable than the computer designer who works magic in the computer world, enabling me to play games, use e-mail, research projects, make the print larger, (for my older eyes which refuse to accept glasses,) and BLOG! No more remarkable than the pastor who preaches, imparting words of wisdom and hope to his congregation, of which I am a humble part.
      Yes, the waitress, the teacher, the truck driver, the grocery bagger, the dental hygienist, the computer designer, the pastor and any other profession where you know someone loves their job, we all have one thing in common; we are good at our chosen jobs. No accolades necessary, success if the feeling of a job well done. This is the life we choose to lead, all on equal grounds.

  65. Thank you for sharing this.

  66. You are a very good writer! you’re imagery makes small things look beautiful and vivid like the eggs, stones that look like Hitchock etc
    And of course I love the story you’ve written too……it’s absolutely beautiful and really endears you as a person.
    Keep writing!

  67. I have been around one disability or another my entire life, the last was the 7 years of my husband’s brain cancer and a schizophrenic sister. I always feel odd when people try to feel sorry for me and they look at me odd when I try to explain that it was all fun, or the biggest chunk. It took me a while to realize the bad memories were tiny sharp slivers in time -for the most part it was laugh until your sides hurt.

    I loved your post, it is wonderful and I think healing and educational. So many people are removed from anything like this and have carefully constructed lives with boundaries and restrictions. Whereas, for others of us -trying to do this would be like eating a ‘wish sandwich’ -wish I had one. LOL

    Have a few belly laughs today! They are the sober woman’s mimosa!

    • You are so right! I once read that a majority of people who go into the social work and rehabilitation fields are people who have had direct experience in these areas. It is “comfortable”.
      Love your mimosas!

  68. I loved reading every word.

  69. This was a really beautiful, touching post. And that is one of my favorite songs as well. Thank you!

  70. Anna Scott Graham said:

    What a beautiful, beautiful post. All we are comes from the layers of each day atop another. Oh my goodness I really like this post!

  71. I think you’re amazing, and wonderful. I wish everyone was just like you. God bless you, God bless Curtis, and all who you love and are touched by your kindness.

  72. Beautiful post! I have a beautiful granddaughter, 2 1/2 years old and severely physically disabled from spina bifida. I am so proud of my youngest son and his wife, the little one’s parents. The road for them is hard, but they carry on with great love for their daughter.

  73. misslottieblogs said:

    ” I am simply living my life the way I was raised”….. I really like that. I can identify in a different way with that comment, but I definitely can identify. I too was adopted. My parents are amazing although they travel a lot.

  74. Love covers everything, doesn’t it. Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your stories with us.

  75. I nominated you for the Beautiful Blogger and Inspiring Awards

  76. True compassion in action. Love it 🙂

  77. Reblogged this on Laughter: Carbonated Grace and commented:
    My number one favorite blog. An awesome post.

  78. I thank God for finding you here. I didn’t regret I join blogging I met you along the way. Your posts are of great infos for me as a mom with somewhat weird kids they are so incontrollable…a friend of mine says my eldest son somewhat has this adhd thing but I don’t really believe in that all I know is that they’re still kids they will grow up and behave well one day..and I love that song it reminds me of my deceased father, he used to listen that song when I was a child aside from The Beatles whom he’s really a big fan of.

  79. I love that it never occurred to you to feel shame or discomfort with regards to Curtis. I realise that you don’t see it as anything particularly special but truly, you are doing remarkable things and handling situations which most people would never cope with.

    • Yet I have situations I can’t cope with the normal people do expertly…like cleaning their house (yucko!) cook (no yucko from me, but from my family) dress elegantly (I wear Dansko shoes…imagine them with a cocktail dress) and keeping my office clean at work (sometimes the piles of paperwork are piled so high they fall over on the floor, intermingling, breeding more paperwork)

  80. suchstrangecandy said:

    Your writing is fabulous, and inspirational. Though I can’t relate to parenting, I can identify with the ‘one day at a time’, living by prayer existence that can come from having loved ones with mental or medical health issues. God bless you and your family. Laura

  81. barefootseasons.wordpress.com said:

  82. I loved this post so much. What amazing experiences you’ve had … leading you to this life filled with compassion. What an inspiration you are. I’m looking forward to reading more. AND, I hope you had a happy Valentine’s day!

  83. NiftyBits Stiles said:

    Hi there, this was a beautiful post and revels the content of your character to the highest degree. The word camping drew me in and I could envision Curtis after his version of Splash Mountain. Smile on big sis, and best wishes to you and yours. ❤

  84. What beautiful memories and chilchoodL

  85. Must say this post is such an inspiration as well as a motivation. Thanks for sharing.

  86. nostalgia received!mission accomplished!

  87. Your blog is so inspiring to me. I deal with bipolar and depression and am trying to bring up two kids, unsure if they have inherited my problems or are going to develop them by being exposed to me. Parenting under these circumstances presents so many unexplainable challenges. I don’t comment much, but I love to read. If you are interested, your stories and perspectives would make a wonderful addition to a mental health project called A Canvas Of the Minds. You can find out more about it at http://acanvasoftheminds.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/blog-for-mental-health-2013/

    • Thank you. I will check it out.
      I have such empathy for you…all I can say is my motto…”Don’t worry because it may never happen, and if it does, you can deal with it then.”

  88. What a lovely story! Sometimes when I am feeling a bit….less than enthusiastic….I come by and read your posts. They always make me smile and promise to see the good in others (and myself).

  89. This is a great post. You sound a neat lady!

  90. Such a lovely post

  91. I love that you said this>>>I was so very lucky to have been raised the way I was because it formed my personality, my temperament, and my compassion for others.

    What a wonderful attitude. I love when someone’s stories make me understand my own.

  92. Thank-you, this post truly touches home for me.

  93. Wonderful lyrics from a poignant song. Thank you

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