In memory of the life, love and wit of Carol Versandi
My Mother, My Hero - by Chris Versandi
March 21, 2014
With the exception of a few close friends, not many people know that while growing up, I was labeled as "Learning Disabled".
Admittedly I struggled in school and was eventually placed in Special Education classes. And while this might not seem like such a big deal now, back then, kids in Special Ed were viewed as either "slow" or "mentally retarded".
Being in these classes and/or being branded "learning disabled" carried a certain amount of social stigma. "Do you all have to wear hockey helmets on the short bus home?" was not an uncommon question.
Of course I was not at all happy when I was first told that I was going to be placed in these "special" classes. Even my mom was hesitant, but deep down she knew it was for the best. And it was through her constant reassurance and unyielding patience, that helped me realize that I was not going to be defined or even confined by what my school considered a handicap.
And God help anyone that said differently.
Mrs. Phillips learned this the hard way.
Mrs. Phillips was one of my elementary school teachers.
She was an older woman. Somewhere in the neighborhood
of 300 to 350 years old – best guess.
The type of woman that was born old.
Like Bea Arthur.
Only less lady-like.
She was the type of person that used fear and intimidation and slapping - lots of slapping as a teaching tool. The kind of person that wouldn't last 10 minutes in today's overly-sensitive school system.
Her way of "helping" me was by constantly reassuring me that I would never amount to anything more then a dish washer. That I wasn't smart enough to be someone's servant.
I remember after a typically nasty storm of insults I was told my mom would be called in for a parent/teacher conference to discuss my future and serious lack of options.
I don't know what Mrs. Philips expected, but it certainly wasn't what happened.
So after school, my mother was brought into Mrs. Philips classroom.
I sat at a desk with my head down, feeling ashamed. Not saying a word.
Mrs. Phillips began to tell my mother that basically, she shouldn't expect anything spectacular from me. That I would never learn how to read and write. That I would never fit in socially. That I would be lucky if I could hold down any job.
That basically chimps had higher brain function then I did.
Ahhhhhh….big, big, big mistake.
My mother stood up, her face bright red and unloaded, both barrels on Mrs. Phillips. It was brutal. Some of the highlights included such memorable nuggets as: - "Who the fuck do you think you are?"
- "How dare you, you tactless bitch!"
And my personal favorite,
- "If I see you outside, Im going to run you over with my car!"
She concluded by grabbing me, pointing her finger directly in Phillip's wrinkled plastic sack of a face and saying "You will NEVER see my son again!" And with that, we marched out of her classroom and into the principal's office.
Before the principal even knew what was going on, my mom unleashed a barrage of obscenities ( my mom was amazingly clever when it came to cursing ) on him. Yelling. Screaming. Cursing. Lewd hand gestures. I think somebody threw a shoe.
It was awesome.
On the way home, my mother calmly explained to me that Mrs. Phillips was wrong. That the only person that was ever going to stop me from doing what I wanted was me. She made it clear that there was nothing wrong with me. And that no matter what I did for a living, it wouldn't change who I was.
It's my actions that define me.
Not my lot in life.
My mother wasn't rich.
She didn't have a great career.
But her actions defined her.
They made her who she was.
It's one of the reasons my brother started this blog.
So that people could see the great woman she truly was.
I will never ever forget how my mom made me feel that day.
How confident and self assured. How I gave up thinking I was worthless and started believing that I had as much to offer as anyone. And that nobody could tell me otherwise. And it's a lesson I never forgot.
As of today, I've got over 18 years in the Navy.
I've traveled to every continent.
I've been to over 100 different countries.
When I was 15, I traveled to Ireland for the first time, all by myself.
No tour. No tour guides. Just me and a backpack.
And last year I studied yoga in India.
Because I wanted to.
Because I could.
Because my mom said I could.
Because I believed her.
Because she believed in me.
My only hope is that I can be half the parent to my daughter Victoria, that my mother was to me.
I miss you mom.
I will never be able to thank you enough for everything you've ever done for me.