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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Tales from the old-timer

Thinking the Unthinkable

Social workers and mental health care workers who deal with abuse referrals must have the capacity to sometimes suspend disbelief and to “think the unthinkable.” They must be able to believe that a dignified, sanctimonious Minister of the Gospel is capable of sexually abusing his two teenage daughters. Such a case happened in Marinette County many years ago.

The widow Daumen* was poor all her life. Outwardly that life was a tale of selfless devotion to the care of her daughter Mabel* a severely retarded woman of about 40 when I first had contact with them back in 1957.

Mabel spent her days rocking her body back and forth in a straight chair, squawking from time to time, her attention fixed on a button on a string that she swung back and forth in front of her eyes. The button on a string was her whole world. She never looked up or never seemed to be aware of my presence when I entered the room.

My job was to visit every 10 months or so and review eligibility and need for Mrs. Daumen’s monthly Old Age Assistance check and Mabel’s grant of Aid to the Disabled.

We sat at the kitchen table, Mrs. Daumen and I, while I reviewed her bills and asked a few questions, and also Mabel’s grant of Aid to the Disabled, for which Mrs. Daumen was the protective payee. She was always an unsmiling, guarding person. In Social Work jargon, she “didn’t relate.”

In the next room, Mabel rocked back and forth, swinging her button on a string, and squawking occasionally. Mrs. Daumen tried to maintain a fiction that Mabel was quite normal and spoke of the two of them visiting and playing cards with friends. I estimated Mabel’s mental age as under 9 months, a very young child level.

People would comment from time to time that Mabel was Mrs. Daumen’s whole life and how devoted Mrs. Daumen was to Mabel’s care, forsaking all else and having no social life at all.

Came the day Mrs. Daumen fell ill and was hospitalized. Emergency plans were worked out for Mabel to be placed in a care facility for the time being.

The staff there noticed right away that Mabel had many bruises on her back and upper arms, some older than others, and they wondered how the poor creature had hurt herself.

When the time came for Mrs. Daumen to leave the hospital, her physician advised that she not go back to her apartment, but should enter the same facility where Mabel was getting excellent care.

“Can they be together?” everyone asked. “What a pity if they couldn’t be together! Imagine! She has cared for that girl for all of Mabel’s life!”

“Of course! No problem” the owner of the facility assured everyone. Mrs. Daumen and Mabel can share a room.”

In a day or two, staff members noticed fresh bruises and noted sounds of commotion coming from the room. Time to think the unthinkable! Mrs. Daumen said Mabel “had fallen again,” and that was the reason for the bruises.

When they caught her actually beating the girl, with both fists, then ancient secret was out. Mabel was immediately moved to a different nursing home. I wrote to Mrs. Daumen’s physician, as my suspicions were aroused. Mabel had none of the stigmata associated with classic congenial mental retardation conditions such as Down’s Syndrome. Her facial structure was appropriate to her age, and I asked him if Mabel’s condition might have been caused by brain damage in infancy. He never answered my letter. Maybe he also didn’t want to think the unthinkable.

*Both names are fictitious.


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