A long time ago their lived a little girl. She had long thick strawberry blonde curls that fell to the bottom of her pinafore and big sparkly blue eyes that made everyone smile when she looked at them. Her mother was a nurse and the little girl was her only child. Because the mother did not want to leave her child alone, the mother would take the little girl to work with her. The little girl loved this very much.
The mother worked at a special place. It was called “THE VALLEY OF THE SUNSHINE SCHOOL”. Inside the school there were three large rooms. One room was for learning, the other for eating and the last for sleeping. The sleeping room had many iron beds that looked like baby cribs so the kids would not wander or fall out in the night. The children had no ages and smiled at the little girl all of the time. Some big kids wore diapers and some little kids looked very old. They gave her many hugs everyday and laughed at her jokes. Elliot hugged her the most often. Sometimes he hugged her so tight that the old little kids had to loosen his embrace. He was stronger than he knew. She knew he didn’t mean to squeeze her to death. Her Mom told her so. She said he was just loving her to pieces. This made her giggle. The little girl loved them all very much.
One day the little girl saw a Father drop his child off. Mothers and fathers were hardly ever seen at the school. He said crying to the little girl’s mother, “Her name is Phyllis. She is four years old. Please be kind to her. I will miss her always.” Phyllis was wearing a diaper and a pink cotton t-shirt that said “Make me Smile”. She was very pretty and her head was extra large with little hair for making ponytails. As the father walked out the door she cried for him, “Daddy come back. I’m scared!” The little girl, feeling Phyllis’s fear ran up to her and said. “It’s okay, I will play with you. It will make the sadness go away. We will make paper dolls and dance until the sunshine sets.” Phyllis shared a faint smile and confidently replied, “I’m just visiting.” The little girl’s mother took them both to a safe corner where they could create, pretend and move about freely.
Phyllis was very smart. The little girl, being just six at the time, decided that Phyllis had a big head because she was smarter than most four year olds and her brains were just growing faster than her body. Every day they would read, write, play and dance. Then one day the little girl had to go to school. This meant leaving Phyllis alone a lot of the time.
Public School was nothing like The Sunshine School. The kids at the new school did not hug the little girl or laugh at her jokes. In fact, they were never glad to see her like her other friends at the Sunshine School. She already knew how to read and write and do arithmetic. She had known how to do this since she was three, so school was very boring and she lived under her desk and would sneak out on the playground or hide in the bathroom whenever she could. Sometimes her mother would come and get her and scold her. She would say things like, “you are going to get me fired if I have to keep leaving work in the middle of the day to come and get you.” The little girl would cry for a minute and then she’d realize that she would get to return to the Sunshine School with her mother...where Phyllis was “just visiting”.
Eventually, first grade became so boring that the school moved the little girl into a special class with other kids that had a hard time listening to old news. They made her read all of the time to other adults that would ask her big questions. They would bring in heavy big people books and grownup magazines and ask her to read to them. They would look surprised. She thought it sad that a little kid could read and they still couldn’t. She did not like it at all. Finally she refused to read for anyone anymore, except Phyllis.
Summer break finally came around and the little girl had not seen Phyllis for weeks. She couldn’t wait to see her. Carrying a bag of her favorite toys into the learning room, she noticed there was no Phyllis. Dropping the toys she ran into the eating room. No Phyllis. Could it be that her visit was over? Had her Daddy come back? Then as she peeked into the sleeping room she saw Phyllis sitting upright in her crib. Phyllis was all alone in the sunlit room. The little girl asked, “Were you sleeping?” Phyllis replied, “Oh No. I just can’t stand up anymore. My head makes me fall over.” The little girl crawled up and over into her crib only to find that Phyllis’s head had grown to twice its size since her last visit. The little girl was convinced that Phyllis was probably a genius by now given the size of her brain and her head’s obvious enormity. “It’s okay”, said the little girl. “I will play with you here until your body catches up with your head. It won’t be long. Probably by the end of summer you will match.” Phyllis believed her and they played with paper dolls until the sun began to set in the sleeping room.
The mother picked up the sleepy little girl from Phyllis’s crib and kissing Phyllis on her giant forehead unclasped the girl’s fingers from one another’s grip. Both mother and daughter were tired and returned home. That same night after a bubble bath, the little girl crawled in bed with her mother and began to ask questions, “Mommy where did my friend Elliot the hugger go?” The mother answered “To the colony”. The little girl asked, “What is the colony?” Her mother replied, “ It is where the children go when their bodies are too tired to continue.”
The little girl thinking that Elliot was reviving himself at a Disneyland place asked, “When will he be back.” The mother looked gently into her eyes and said, “God gives them wings at the colony… so they need not ever come back.” The little girl thought this was very cool and wanted to know when she could get wings. The mother told her “when your job is done”. “But I don’t have a job’, she replied. The mother continued, “Your job is to love everyone just like you love Phyllis.” With a shocked and disappointed look she exclaimed, “I will never get my wings then because EVERYONE is a big number!”
The next day the mother went to work while the little girl’s father took her to the dentist. Afterwards he dropped her off at The Sunshine School. The little girl excited to be there, ran into the sleeping room preparing to jump up and over and into Phyllis’s crib, only to find her missing again. She merrily scouted the eating room, then the learning room and when she could not find her, she ran looking for her mother. Running back into the sleeping room just in case she had missed Phyllis in her search, she saw her Mother standing by Phyllis’s bed with eyes fixed upon where she last played. The little girl asked, “Where is Phyllis?” The mother replied, “She has gone to the colony.” The little girl cried and cried. The mother comforted her saying that she will have big big wings that can carry the weight of her genius and she will never fall over again. The little girl replied, “What was her job?” The mother replied she was “Just Visiting” long enough to love you.
“In Memory of Elizabeth Isabelle Reel” RN for The Valley of the Sun School aka “Angels Unawares”
The story took place from 1959-1961. The school was a refuge for mentally retarded children (dwarfs, mongoloids, developmentally disabled, down syndrome and hydrocephalic victims). Located in Phoenix Arizona, where the temperature exceeded 120 degrees often in the summer, there was no air conditioning to sooth or television to entertain. Friendship came in fanning one another, playing paper dolls and dancing till the sunshine set.