Mother love - she shelters children the world has forgotton
By Michael Olesker
The Pittburg Press
March 13, 1982
BALTIMORE - In the beginning. there was Elaine.
The year was 1967. and Elaine was 2 years old and blind when Norma Claypool put her arms around the little girl and adopted her.
Then there was Kenny. He was born eight years ago. mentally retarded. No one wanted him. But Norma Claypool did. She took him
home when Kenny was 7 months old.
Richard was next. He was born terribly damaged: Only one eye, and that eye capable only of light perception; and what the doctors call a
bilateral cleft face - an open furrow extending through his lip to his eye sockets. Richard was l when Miss Claypool embraced him.
Jothi was one of the homeless children of India - no disabilities, but no parents. either - when Norma found her through a Canadian adoption agency two years ago. Jothi's 13 now.
And there is Noel. She is nearly 4. She has been with Norma since mid-summer. She is autistic. She lays in her bed. and she cries. and she
shows almost no signs of wanting to walk or talk.
This is Norma C|aypool‘s family. Norma is 51 and single. She is courageous and big-hearted beyond words. and there is one thing more. She is blind.
"People think I'm either wonderful or crazy." she laughs. "They say, I hope these children are grateful for you.‘ I say I'm grateful for the children."
Born in Pittsburgh the youngest of six children. Miss Claypool was left sightless at 2 by a malignant tumor. known as retinoblastonia.
She had no sight. only visions -- of what she wanted to do with her life.
When she graduated from high school. her family had no money for college. She worked as a stenographer for seven years. saved enough
money for a little schooling.
She went to the University of Pittsburgh. graduated magna cum laude. She did it in 2 1/2 years.
"l had to do it fast." she says simply. "That's all the money I had“
Then she got her masters‘ degree and then her doctorate. She went on to teach college special education courses for lll years.
One former student recalls. "She was an excellent teacher and she expected more than most teachers do. She wouldn't take any excuses.
"And you didn't come to class late and try to sneak in. She could tell who you were just by the sound of your footsteps."
Miss Claypool would rather talk about her children than herself.
"Elaine's a junior at Northern High now." Miss Claypool says. "She‘s had all her education with seeing children. She's a good student, competing with normal kids.
"I don't want her competing with concessions. lf she does. what happens when she goes to work‘? Nobody makes concessions for you
"She's good in foreign languages. She plays the violin and the cornet. Of course. she has to memorize the music.
"Elaine discovered she was blind when she was almost 4. She was sitting on my lap. and we had the TV on. We were listening to it. And
there was a kitten on the show. and my mother said. ‘What a cute little kitten.‘
“And Elaine said. ‘Let me see it.‘ Of course she meant. ‘Let me touch it.‘ But when she touched the TV. there was just glass. And that's when it first hit her."
Kenny was born with Down’s syndrome. At 8 he swims. rides a bike, plays ball with neighborhood kids.
"He's good at kickball. as my windows can attest.“ Miss Claypool says. "And he's learning to read.
When we get on an elevator. he reads the numbers for me. "He's very active. but he has a very bad heart condition. He needs a lot of rest. or he runs a bad fever. But he's a dream child.“
Richard was no one‘s dream. He's undergone four mayor operations on his face. and there are more to come. At 31/2. says Miss Claypool.
"he is so bright he leaves you breathless."
"We were talking about heaven one day. and he said. ‘Momma. one day Jesus will reach down and pick. Kenny up and take him to heaven.
But not me. I‘ll have to be good.‘
"In other words. he was telling me that Kenny's not accountable for what he does. but he ts."
She had a talk with Richard one day about the condition of his face.
"Why did I come with one eye." he asked. "when everybody else came with two?"
"l really don't know." Miss Claypool said.
"What's wrong with my face?" he asked.
"It's crooked." his mother said.
"It‘s higher on one side. It just came that way. honey. but it can be fixed."
"Will it hurt?“
"But I'll have a normal face?"
Late at night now. Norma Claypool sighs. "I don't believe in bending the truth with them. Because nobody else will"
Jothi joined the family when "l wanted Elaine to have a sister near her own age. You know. the agencies consider a single parent second
best. They offer you what they consider - I don't. but they do - second-best kids.
"Jothi‘s a neat kid. very Americanized now. when she first arrived she said. ‘l will eat rice and spinach, or fish or chicken. Nothing else.‘ I said. ‘Honey. you're gonna be hungry a lot. Now she'd like to live on hot dogs and french fries.“
And there is Noel. “l didn't take her on deliberately." Miss Claypool says. "l thought she was gonna be a nice retarded child. I like retarded children. But she's here now. It's like she's mine biologically. What am I gonna do, return her? She's my daughter.
"She came on a lot of phenobarbital. They were afraid of seizures they said. I don't think that's it. I think they just got tired of her shrieking.
"She's absolutely beautiful. just like a little doll. But she loves to scream.
“She‘s a good little screamer. She doesn't walk. She only says a few words. But I'm working with her.
She's stubborn. She's as stubborn as me. But I'm bigger."
How does she do it?
"I like children." she says. “ People say to me. ‘You can't do that. it's too much.‘ But everybody chooses their own lifestyle. I enjoy children and they like me. And. with special needs children. it's nice to have a lot of them. They draw from each other."
None of the children came with any government subsidies. She has supported them completely — until last January -- on her teaching
In January. her voice giving out. she left teaching. and she is now receiving disability payments. and the children get medical assistance.
But no assistance can match what Norma Claypool has given: love for souls the rest of the world seemed to have forgotten.