About one week after I started kindergarten, I quickly realized I was not like all the other children in the class. All of these children used their right hands to color; they could climb a rope in gym class and cut their own meat at lunch. On the playground children would tease me, calling out things like, “Look, she has a hook for an arm,” and, “Here comes the tree branch girl.” At first I didn’t understand why they were taunting me in such a cruel way. I remember feeling intimated by them. I would go into the girls’ restroom and cry. One day, while I was in the middle of a crying spell, I caught my reflection in the full-length mirror wearing a short-sleeve shirt; my right arm was deformed and four inches shorter than my left. Being born with a birth injury in the sixties meant there was nothing they could do to fix it. Don’t get me wrong—I knew my arm was deformed with very limited use, but I really did not consider myself physically challenged. At home I was just one of the kids, the baby of ten children. No one ever made a big deal about my arm. I just used other parts of my body to complete any task I attempted. Apparently it was a big deal to the rest of society.
The school district tried to send me to a school for mental retardation. My father abruptly put a halt to that. He said my arm was crippled, not my mind. I soon learned it was survival of the fittest, and I was determined to become the fittest. As young as five years old, I became a fighter, survivalist, inventor, problem solver, and a realist. Whatever was ask of me, I tried harder than anyone else to accomplish, and I succeeded. As the years passed, I became just one of the normal kids. People did not seem to pay much mind to my arm. I think it bothered me more than any of my friends. I guess I was about ten years old when I first decided cooking was my passion. I would make peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, cut the crusts off, and roll them to resemble a pinwheel. I never missed a day in the kitchen with my mother. She was one of the most wonderful cooks whom I had the privilege to enjoy the fruits of her labor. She was a Southern-born-and-raised girl that married my Northern father and set up housekeeping in the North. She was a woman who cooked Yankee cooking with lots of Southern charm; henceforth, my first cookbook, “Yankee Cooking with Southern Charm.”
I continued along the culinary path: attending college, working in restaurants and many other phases of food service. I was catering parties every weekend—some extravagant and others less extravagant. I was having the time of my life, married, and with three beautiful children. On top of the world, so I thought. There was a particular night that was like any other until two thirty a.m. I was awoken by a pain that was simply unbearable. As I rolled over in bed, or at least I thought I was rolling over, I soon realized I was not moving, just screaming out loud in horrendous pain. My legs would not move. They felt paralyzed; the pain was so bad, I could not stand to be touched. I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance only to find out they were also baffled. The hospital referred me to a rheumatologist, which later diagnosed me with rheumatoid arthritis. Looking back, I now understand that I had this disease for many years and did not know it. It took about six years to get to the point where a major flare-up occurred. I always thought of myself as a survivor, and my initial thought was, No big deal, I got this beat. I was so very wrong. Now twenty-three years later, I have a total of five forms of arthritis and a birth injury, rheumatoid being the worst. For those of you who do not know what RA is, it is an autoimmune system disease that destroys the joints and affects every major organ in the body. RA leads to deformity and disability.
I currently have active RA, osteoarthritis, RSDA, fibro and degenerative disk disease. I do have a lot on my plate. There is one thing for sure—I do not let it stop me or slow me down even a little. I strive even harder to accomplish my goals. Cooking is and always has been my passion. I cannot and will not let this illness or birth injury control my life. I will control my illness. My goal by writing this cookbook is not to help just one but the millions of arthritis suffers and physically challenged alike. Please use my courage to find yours, regain your independence, and take back your life. The techniques in this book have been a way of life for me for the past forty-seven years. I can only hope that the words that you have read will inspire you enough to fight the battle of your life to regain your independence.