DALE AND ROBIN
From the book "Our Life Story" (1994)
When we learned I was pregnant, Roy wanted a boy for Dusty and I wanted a girl. But neither of us was fussy. We were thrilled to be having a baby of either sex—just so long as he or she was healthy.
The second month of my pregnancy I came down with German measles. It was not a bad case; I wasn't too sick, and as far as anyone then knew, it had no implications for the baby. Twice after that, though, doctors ordered me to bed to prevent a miscarriage. Once, I developed laryngitis so severe that I sounded like Louis Armstrong. When I was seven months pregnant, my doctor did a blood count and told me I was close to anemic. Worse than that, he also informed me that I had Rh-negative blood; Roy was Rh-positive. Our blood types could mean some difficulty for the baby, he said, but in all likelihood any problem could be taken care of.
Shortly after midnight on August 26, 1950, Robin Elizabeth Rogers was born—seven and a half pounds and pretty as an angel. "She's beautiful," Roy declared. He kissed me and said, "Honey, she has little ears like yours!" I looked at Robin and saw almond-shaped eyes, just like her daddy's. Later that same day Roy rode as grand marshal of the Sheriff's Rodeo, during which he boasted to an audience of ninety thousand people in the grandstands that he was the father of a baby girl. In the hospital, I rested in a roomful of flowers. We were ecstatic.
(The date for Robin's birth is very interesting to me - it was my father's birthday, and the day my mother died; so some connection with me and my parents - interesting - Keith Hunt)
The next day I began to think that the nurses weren't bringing me my baby nearly as often as they brought other babies to their mothers. When they did bring her, she was sleeping so soundly I couldn't wake her up. The doctors assured me that all was well; they said only that little Robin needed her rest. Whenever I boasted to one of them about how pretty I thought she was or what a fine, healthy child she seemed to be, they changed the subject. On the third day, when I was scheduled to go home, a nurse slipped and said, "Are they going to let you take her home with you?"
"Of course I will take her home with me," I said. I was confused. "Is there any reason why I shouldn't?"
Realizing she had spilled the beans, the nurse turned to leave the room. But she stopped at the door, spun around, and walked back to face me. She lowered her voice and, woman-to-woman, said, "Tell your doctor to tell you the truth." Then she was gone.
My heart began to pound. In desperation I rang for help— nurses, doctors, someone, anyone! I picked up the phone and called Roy at home.
"I've just found out myself," Roy said in a melancholy voice. "I'll be right there, Maw." Art Rush had come to the house to break the news to him: For three days specialists had conducted tests on Robin Elizabeth Rogers. They determined she was suffering from what was then known as Mongolism—Down syndrome. Her muscle tone was poor, she had problems swallowing, she would be mentally retarded, and her heart was defective. For the first few days, they gave her oxygen to keep her going. She had responded poorly to all their tests. The prognosis was grave.
At the hospital the pediatrician explained the physical characteristics of Mongolism: square little hands full of creases, tiny ears, an undeveloped nose bridge, slanting eyes.
Once, the first day, I had held Robin up to the light and thought she looked faintly Oriental. But when they told me of her condition, I indignantly told the doctor that her daddy had slanted eyes, too; so did his daddy; they were part Choctaw Indian, and so was Robin: she had Rogers eyes, that was all! I told them what a sleepy baby I had been, and I had turned out all right, hadn't I? It felt as though the doctors were indicting my child, so I fought them every step of the way, trying to rationalize their diagnosis.
"Institutionalize her," they advised. "Put her away before you become too attached to her." They said that if we took her home our life would soon revolve around her—to the exclusion of everything else, even of our other children. They explained that there weren't many institutions that accepted Down syndrome children, and that the few state homes and hospitals that were equipped for them were so overcrowded they wouldn't even consider a child until it was four years old. But because we were Roy Rogers and Dale Evans they might be able to pull some strings and find a place to put her away.
"No," Roy said. "We are going home." And that was that. When we got her home, I called the other children into the living room. They were fascinated by their new sister; Dusty said he thought she looked like a Kewpie doll with pixie ears. He asked to hold her. Although he had begged for a brother, I could see him melt with delight as he held this little shining star in his arms. We put her in her rattan bassinet and I sat on the sofa, patting the cushions for the little ones to come sit by me. I told them, "Robin is a very special baby. She's not very strong and she's going to be slower than other babies are." I told them she might never do the things they could do."We have to take care of her just as though she were a delicate little flower," I said. "Your daddy and I need you to help us protect her. Will you do that? Do you understand?" Perhaps they didn't precisely understand Robin's medical condition, but those children knew, as all children know, how to be kind to a little being that needs loving care. Robin was fascinated by music, so Cheryl used to hold her up to the piano and let her pound away at the keys. Dusty, who so craved a brother for rough-and-tumble boys' games, was as gentle as a lamb. He spent hours hiding under Robin's bed, playing peek-a-boo and making her laugh.
We were perpetually on the alert for signs from Robin, some indication that she really wasn't as bad off as they said. When she seemed to wiggle with glee, we lit up. When she smiled, we jumped for joy, for the doctors had told us that the severest Down syndrome children never smile. At night, when she sang herself to sleep, as normal babies sometimes do, I thought, How could anything be wrong?
We consulted the head pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic in the hope that he would have a cure. It was he who helped us get over seeing Robin as a problem to be solved and realize she was a child to be treasured. "There is nothing I can do," he said about her physical condition. "There is no help." But I will always remember his advice: "Love her. Love will help her more than all the hospitals and medical science in the world." Then I remembered that years ago,, in Kentucky, I had promised God that if he would save my son Tom from polio, I would put my life in his hands. Now, He had sent us Robin.
Why did this happen to us? That question haunted me. I thought Robin's affliction might be punishment for my sins— for my pride, my ambition, my failures as a mother. Then I thought it might be God's way of speaking to Roy, Roy who always cared so deeply about children. Harley Wright Smith, pastor of St. Nicolas Episcopal Church in Encino, told me that he believed Robin came to us with a purpose. "You will learn wonderful lessons from her," he said. "God will guide you." He was right. That little baby gave us a perspective we might never have found without her. We needed her, more than we ever knew when she was with us. She brought a wonderful peace to our lives. How well I remember the times Roy and I came home after a long, hard day and went straight in to see her. We played with her. She smiled. Our troubles fell away. She taught us patience and humility; and in the end, she showed us how to be of use to God. The Lord has many ways of refining people; usually His crucible is fashioned from whatever we hold most dear. In this case, it was our child. Roy, who was once so plagued by the sight of handicapped children in the hospitals he visited that he had questioned God's plan, learned to overcome his skepticism. I learned more than ever to trust His will: what other choice did I have?
Robin had a terrible time eating. Her tongue was thick and she could not hold food in her mouth. She was too weak to grip a milk bottle, so we sterilized a perfume bottle and filled it with milk, topped with a tiny nipple. She drained it dry. It was hard for her to hold her head up or focus her eyes and attention; so often she had a distracted look, like she was seeing things faraway. At her first Christmas, we had a small party for her. She was all dressed up, with a bow in her fine, blond hair, and she seemed to want to reach out from her little crib. I bent down and took each of her tiny hands in mine and tried to help her raise herself up. She tried, oh, she struggled to come toward me. But she couldn't make it. Her face turned blue from the effort; she gasped for breath and began to perspire. Roy and I stood over our child with tears in our eyes. It was a sad Christmas.
The Hollywood Hills where we lived were damp and smoggy. Robin needed clean air, so we moved to the San Fernando Valley, to a lovely, rambling Spanish ranch in En-cino. Roy named it the Double R Bar. There Roy's father and uncle built a separate little bungalow for Robin and a nurse. She needed privacy; she was so fragile that the commotion of a household agitated her nerves. And the doctors were worried that with her constitution any childhood illnesses that Cheryl, Linda, or Dusty might contract could prove deadly.
The Double R Bar was a home with plenty of room for the children. There were fields where cattle grazed and horses basked in the sun. We had orange, plum, and apricot trees; I put up my first jams and jellies that summer. There was a swimming pool, too, and we soon discovered that Robin ) loved to splash and kick in the water when Roy or I held her ; there. "She looks like an angel and swims like a frog!" Roy used to say. I think now that she loved the water so much because she felt nearly weightless in it; she had some strength; she could make her arms and legs do what she wanted them to do.
Robin seemed to thrive at the ranch. She discovered our Weimeraner dog, Lana; and at the same time Lana discovered !her; from that point on, the two were nearly inseparable. Lana tagged along whenever we wheeled Robin anywhere. I There were times when Robin was so fretful and nervous that any human company upset her; then Lana would nuzzle close, pressing her cold nose into the baby's face. Robin stroked the dog's sleek, dove-gray fur and ran her delicate hands along Lana's floppy ears, and as Lana settled in to nap by her side, the baby breathed easy once again.
There was an immense, ivy-covered oak tree that grew right up through the middle of the patio of our home—-so old that the Encino Chamber of Commerce declared it a monument. Town fathers worried that the ivy would damage the venerable tree and asked us to remove the vines. When Roy and the kids took the ivy down they discovered a nest of baby squirrels. Evidently we had frightened the mother away. Linda Lou, who was eight at the time, worried terribly about them. "What will happen to the babies without their mother?" she demanded to know. Roy fixed a spot in a little cupboard where the children could watch over the babies. He showed them how to give the orphans milk with an eyedropper. How they cared for those little animals! When two died, Linda lined a shoe box with soft cloth and buried them in the backyard with a bouquet of geraniums atop their grave. The children were so distraught at the loss: they couldn't understand why the little creatures had to die, or why their mother hadn't taken care of them.
Two of those squirrels grew strong and healthy; soon they were so plump and sassy that they were biting holes in the nipples of milk bottles that the children brought them. Dusty used to take them over to Robin, who would reach out and pet them. When she felt the softness of the little animals' fur, she giggled with delight.
The older children knew Roy and I were troubled by all of Robin's frailties and handicaps, so they did what they could to make us feel better. Whatever resentments they felt toward me for marrying their dad fell away as they joined in concern for their baby sister. I hardly realized it at the time, but Robin's presence was helping us grow close as a family. Dusty colored a picture of Pal, the palomino horse I rode in parades and rodeos, and left it on my dressing table inscribed, "To my mother." Linda outlined her hand on a piece of cardboard and sprayed it silver as a gift to me. For Mother's Day, Cheryl—our oldest—wrote a card that said,
. . . You came to live with us at rather a bad time, with Daddy so sad, and two little girls who were naughty, and a little boy who needed a mother's love that he had never known, and that the youngest of those girls had had for only three years. The older girl, when she was smaller, always kept her sorrows and problems in her, and even when you had problems of your own you were always there by our sides and you helped make our Daddy a Christian. I can't find anything fancy to say, but thanks from all of us and we really, really love you.
Robin came to us at a tumultuous time in our career. Before I discovered I was pregnant, I had gone back to work. I managed to buy my contract back from Danny Winkler, which meant Art Rush could be agent for both Roy and me once again. Republic determined that a married couple would not necessarily be box-office poison, so we resumed making Westerns together. We began a weekly "Roy Rogers Radio Show" for the Mutual network; we recorded songs for RCA, including some of my own compositions like "Hazy Mountain" and "Aha, San Antone." It was a tremendously productive period for us—exhausting, but exhilarating. Roy , was the number-one Western box-office draw and had been ? ever since Life magazine surveyed children to find out which man they most wanted to be like. The result had been a three-way tie between Franklin D. Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and Roy Rogers. We were on the road almost constantly, doing our show at rodeos and in city and small-town theaters and riding in parades.
Strenuous as our schedule was, Roy never lost his passion for needy children. I remember one night in the midst of a long and tiring tour we returned to the hotel and fell into bed, looking forward to sleeping late the next morning. When I woke up, though, Roy was gone. The day wore on, and I began to worry. That afternoon, before our first performance, he returned. I wanted to be angry with him ... until he explained where he had been. There was a five-year-old girl out in the countryside who had been in an explosion and lost all her limbs. Her fondest wish was to see one of our shows. That morning Roy had driven two hundred miles to her house to issue a personal invitation and let her parents know that they had three reserved seats for the evening performance. Both parents sat beaming in the front row, their daughter in the chair between them. They had brought the little girl in a wicker laundry basket, and her smiles that night filled up the auditorium.
When I became pregnant, I had to quit touring and making pictures—in those days, pregnancy was something to be hidden from the public.
But Robin's birth did not mean the end of my career. In some ways, she was an inspiration. Just days after we brought her home from the hospital, I got to thinking about the music on the "Roy Rogers Show" on the radio. Roy had a cute theme song at the time called "Smiles Are Made Out of the Sunshine." It was popular, but I felt it wasn't Western enough, and it didn't say enough about what it means to be a cowboy—especially when the trails you ride aren't always sunny ones. A cowboy has to ride no matter what the weather. For years, Roy had signed autographs with "Many Happy Trails" or "Trails of Happiness/' and I thought, that's what he needs—a trail song. I was sitting at home with Robin and I started to remember way back to a trip my mother had taken down into the Grand Canyon, a trail ride. I had always loved 'The Grand Canyon Suite," which has a trombone slide in it that made me think of someone saying "Happy trails" in a deep canyon, with a kind of echo effect: "Happy trails to yooo . . ." Once I thought of that, I wrote the song in three hours. At the time, I never suspected it would become our theme song; nor did I realize just how much the words would mirror our lives:
Some trails are happy ones, others are blue. It's the way you ride the trail that counts; Here's a happy one for you. Happy trails to you until we meet again. Happy trails to you, keep smilin' until then. Who cares about the clouds when we're together? Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather. Happy trails to you until we meet again.
We took the song to the Mutual network, taught it to the group singers, and closed our show with it, as a duet. When it became a hit, nobody was more surprised than I.
By her first birthday, Robin could nearly stand up when she was held in someone's lap. I often held her like that, listening to religious programs on the radio, believing that somehow she would understand. Roy sat her up in the middle of a big play table, where she learned to throw bright balls—"like a big-league pitcher," he used to boast. She could turn over in her bed, get on her hands and knees, and chew "cack-cack," which is what she called crackers. The clean air and good life in the San Fernando Valley had done wonders for her. One thing she used to love to do from the time she was six months old was to lift her legs straight up over her head and throw them sideways. "Look, Maw, she's doing the splits!" Roy said with glee.
I read in a medical magazine about a doctor in San Francisco who was helping children with Down syndrome, so I took Robin on the train north. (After her birth, I had been afraid to fly. If a plane I was on crashed, she would be motherless. The thought haunted me from the time we knew she was special: What if I die first?) The doctor made no promises, but he suggested we try powdered extract from the pituitary gland of a young calf to improve Robin's muscle tone. When we returned two months later, the doctor noted that her arms and legs had indeed improved. That was fine, but then he spoke about her heart. It was enlarged and worsening, and he expected that within half a year it would be critical. The end was near.
When we started the trip back to Los Angeles, I was lost in a dark cloud of despair. Robin had been overstimulated by the sights and sounds of the city. She began to cry frantically and developed a case of violent diarrhea. In desperation, I lay down beside her in the train's sleeping compartment and began to pray. I focused on an overhead light and noticed, to my sudden amazement, that there was a blue haze around it. The haze spread fast and filled the whole room, enveloping me on the floor. I threw open the door to see if something was leaking in from the aisle, but the aisle was clear. Then I knew what the blue haze was. The Holy Spirit had boarded the train to comfort me. I was lifted up and strengthened by His warmth.
One day I came home from work and found doctors at the house. Robin had suffered a series of convulsions, weakening her tremendously. Her legs could not support her any longer. She would never again stand in my lap, and she was too weak now to sit in her stroller and watch the other children play. It became more difficult to wake her up from afternoon naps, and her weight evened out at seventeen pounds—never more than that. The doctors warned us that in her newly impaired condition, she might dislocate her hips when she swung her legs up. That would be extremely painful. So they gave us a brace to keep locked between her feet, holding her legs safely down. She cried when we put it on her. That Christmas, her second, we gave her a bright red toy piano. It was Dusty's suggestion; he thought she would like playing with it in her crib. Cheryl asked to write Robin's letter to Santa.
Before we left for the Houston rodeo in the early spring, Robin was christened, wearing a white organdy dress with a pink sash and a blue ribbon in her light blond hair. At the rodeo, Roy rode out on Trigger, alone in the darkened auditorium, illuminated by spotlights that formed a huge cross, and sang "Peace in the Valley."
Late in August, Robin came down with the mumps. The mumps became encephalitis and the doctors said that if she survived she would no doubt be afflicted by severe brain damage. On Saturday, her temperature rose to 108. She cried constantly from the pain in her head. We dipped her in ice water to cool her down and gave her coffee enemas for inner stimulation.
I managed to fall asleep Saturday evening, but was awakened at midnight by a blood-curdling cry somewhere just outside the house. I threw on a robe and rushed into the darkness. The cry continued—a long, deep, primeval moan. It was our dog Lana, scratching at the door of Robin's room. Lana wailed and howled and paced through the night as Robin weakened and slipped into unconsciousness.
Many months before, an elaborate press party for us had been scheduled at the Brown Derby Sunday afternoon. Originally, it had been set for August 26, but because that was Robin's birthday, we moved it to the twenty-fourth. Now it was too late to call it off. Neither Roy nor I wanted to leave Robin, but I finally persuaded him to put in an appearance. I will never forget how he looked on the way to the luncheon, outfitted in his white hat, embroidered shirt, silver-trimmed gunbelt, and spread-eagle boots—the King of the Cowboys!— standing over our little girl with tears in his eyes.
Sunday evening, Robin's heart gave out. Her room was filled with gifts and new toys waiting to be played with. But there would be no party on August 26. Robin's second birthday would be the day we put her in the ground.
When the nurse came out of Robin's door to whisper, "She's gone," Roy and I stood in the carport, not knowing where to go or what to do. We held onto each other and cried for what seemed like an eternity. The birds had stopped singing in the trees; Lana yelped mournfully outside Robin's door.
I could not bear to look at her in death. With our friend Reverend Leonard Eiters, Roy went into her room and stood by her side until they came to take her body away. Later he and Art Rush made arrangements for her funeral at Forest Lawn. Roy took her christening dress and a blue ribbon for her hair and selected a child's blue casket. Monday, the day before the funeral, he asked me to come look at her in the funeral home. I could not. I was afraid I would fall apart, or try to pick her up and carry her away with me. Again alone, Roy went to see her in her coffin. "That's the hardest thing I ever did, but I'm glad I did it," he told me. "She looks like a small-size sleeping angel." Even at the funeral, I could not look at her. Roy made sure the casket was closed during the service and opened for the congregation only after I was out of the room. What a coward I was! How often I have regretted not looking at her one last time.
Just hours after Robin's funeral we rehearsed songs with the Sons of the Pioneers for the rodeo at Madison Square Garden. The rehearsal had been scheduled months before, and they were leaving for New York the next day, so it had to be done. I was racked by the worst pain I have ever known and felt on the ragged edge of a nervous breakdown. But that night I realized something: life must go on, however deep the sorrow. We do what we must do. The Roy Rogers Show had been booked into Madison Square Garden for a year, and there were too many people counting on us to let our sorrow get in the way. On the way to the train for New York, we drove past Forest Lawn. There was an illuminated cross on top of the mausoleum where Robin had been laid to rest. I thought of her little body in there and a great sense of guilt welled up in me: I had let her down by refusing to look at her before the funeral.
When we boarded the train, I wept for an hour. "Maybe we'd better adopt another baby right now," Roy suggested.
"I just want Robin!" I cried. The pain was a great boulder crushing my heart.
The train took us to Dallas, where I visited my father, who was recovering from a stroke.
While in Dallas, Roy insisted we go to Hope Cottage, where he and Arlene had found Cheryl. "Seeing babies might help both of us," he said. There was a little girl there named Mary Doe, whom I had met two months earlier when I had come to town. She was of Choctaw Indian descent and her appearance was the opposite of Robin's: she had enormous deep brown eyes, long black hair, and olive skin; and she was as vigorous as a jumping bean. She had reminded me of a happy little fawn. I asked if Mary Doe was still there.
"Yes, she is," said Mrs. Carson, the matron of Hope Cottage. "She has finished her medical tests and she is ready for adoption."
When I saw Mary I swept her into my arms and hugged her fiercely. Her arms locked around my neck like she never wanted to let go.
"This is our child," I blurted out to Roy. "I want her!"
"Are you sure?" he asked.
I was never so sure of anything in my life: wildly, happily, brokenheartedly sure.
"It's all right with me," he said with a grin.
Mrs. Carson promised to let us know about little Mary Doe as soon as possible. That wasn't nearly soon enough to suit me. After walking out of Hope Cottage without her, I kept feeling we had left something terribly important behind.
We boarded a plane for New York. When we got there I had to let Roy do most of the talking at our press conferences. I wasn't making much sense when I spoke; and when people spoke to me, it was hard to understand their words. I was so busy asking God to give me strength that I hardly knew where I was. In the hotel at night, I awoke in a cold sweat. I saw Robin in my dreams. I saw her lying in her casket, dead. She rose up and looked at me. Her eyes were open and full of questions. I tried to pray for answers, but my nerves were shattered.
Roy and I always ended our Madison Square Garden performance with a sidepass all the way around the arena—we walked our horses sideways so we could lean forward and shake hands with all the children reaching out or being held on the shoulders of their mommies and daddies. That year, as we circled around each performance, I saw a thousand two-year-olds reaching toward me. So many little ones, their strong, able hands grabbing mine, their smiles gleaming in the lights of the arena: they were so alive, so alive and healthy and happy, with wonderful futures ahead of them. We rode among them and the air boomed with deafening cheers, laughter, and applause; we reached out and they shouted with glee; again I thought of a small blue casket with a child in it and the deathly hush of a mausoleum.
A short while after Robin died we were shooting a scene on location. I was supposed to take off my cowboy hat. After the first rehearsal, the cameraman took me aside and said, ''Dale, I have a problem with the lights. I can't light your hair anymore." I hadn't noticed—at this point I wasn't noticing anything; I was just trying to get through the day as best I could—but in the time since the funeral the crown of my hair had turned white. "You've got a halo," the cameraman said. "You look like the Pope."
In my unending grief over Robin, something Roy had said kept running through my mind: "She looks like a small-size sleeping angel." I recalled a verse from the thirteenth chapter of Hebrews: "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Like sunlight breaking through clouds after a storm of darkness, it all became clear to me. I knew what Robin's life meant and I saw what I had to do. She had come to us from God—an angel— with all her handicaps and frailties to make us aware that His strength is found in weakness. In the two years she had been among us we had grown close as a family and we had learned how deeply we needed to depend on God. My job was to help deliver that message that had been given us by an angel.
I grabbed a pen and began to write. I wrote until my hand cramped and could write no more. I looked at the pile of paper on my desk. It was my handwriting, but somehow the words didn't feel like mine. I picked up the pen again and tried to write more, but nothing happened. After that initial burst of inspiration, a curtain seemed to fall across my mind and, try as I might, I could not force myself to conjure up the words.
I was obsessed with getting Robin's message onto paper, but didn't know how to do it. One evening during a radio broadcast when I had time away from the microphone, I closed my eyes and sought guidance. In that moment, I knew what the problem was. I was in the way! I was trying so hard to put her message into my words that I was blocking hers. It was so simple! All I had to do was stand aside and let Robin speak for herself. I was not the messenger; I was merely the instrument. From that moment on, the words—her words— flowed onto paper. For weeks, my hand felt guided as her story flew from my pen. I wrote it on the backs of envelopes, script pages, the margins of newspapers, whatever was handy. It turned out to be a short book—sixty-three pages in all—but the message was a simple one that didn't need windy elaboration. The story was Robin's—and God's—not mine, and it was for parents and children who needed to [understand, so I decided to donate all the royalties to the i National Association for Retarded Children. In an introduction to the book that I wrote (in my words), I told readers, ("This is what I, her mother, believe she told our Heavenly (Father shortly after eight p.m. on August 24,1952." Her story began:
Oh, Father, it's good to be home again. I thought sometimes that You had forgotten me, Down There. Two years Up Here doesn't seem like much, but on earth it can be a long, long time—and it was long, and often hard, for all of us. When You lifted me up from the earth, just a few minutes ago, it was Sunday, and my Mommy and Daddy were crying, and everything seemed so dark and sad and confused. And all of a sudden it was bright and clear and happy, and I was in Your arms. Was it the same way for them Down There, Father? You can put me down, now; I'm perfectly all right, now that I'm rid of that lump of hindering clay . . .
Robin's story concluded with these words:
They're a lot stronger, since they got Our message. There's a new glory inside them and on everything all around them, and they've made up their minds to give it to everybody they meet. The sun's a lot brighter in Encino, since we stopped off there for a while. And now, Father, please . . . could I just go out and try my wings?
I called the manuscript Angel Unaware. I soon learned that the publishing business could be as tough as show business. The first publisher who read it said they already had a book about a handicapped child, and didn't want two. Besides, they informed me, the reading public does not want to cry. More rejections followed. My faith began to slip. Why had I been guided to write the book if no one cared to read it?
We were in New York. I went to Central Park and sat alone on a bench trying to figure out what to do. I wanted a sign from God, so I bowed my head to pray. "Please give me a word," I begged Him. "Is it Your will that I seek a publisher for Robin's book?"
I looked up from my prayer and saw a little girl standing in the grass looking at me. She was about six years old. She had slanted eyes, tiny ears, little square hands, and a thick tongue that caused her to drool. She was a Down syndrome child, tethered to a middle-aged woman whose face was furrowed deeply with the scars of mental anguish. There were hundreds of office workers strolling in the park at that moment, but I saw only the mother and child. The little one tried to look at me, tried hard to focus her weak eyes just as Robin had done so many times, then walked on. Oh, thank you, Lord! I thought. That girl in the park was the word I had needed. Now I knew I could persevere until I found a publisher for Robin's book. I had to let other mothers of Down syndrome children know they were not alone. I had to let them know how Robin had blessed our lives.
That afternoon I got a call from Dr. Frank Mead of the Fleming H. Revell Company. He said he wanted to publish Angel Unaware. The book would be released Easter week, 1953. It became a best-seller and has gone through twenty-nine printings altogether, but I never enjoyed its success as ' much as I did that autumn at the rodeo in Madison Square Garden.
When Roy and I rode out into the arena, the stands were filled with children, as they always were for our shows. But this year, after the publication of Angel Unaware, the audience was different. Among the cheering youngsters were hundreds of retarded boys and girls—Down syndrome kids, all kinds of kids with disabilities and handicaps—who had Been brought to the show by their mothers and fathers. We had never seen them before; in those days parents seldom brought children like that out in public; they kept them in back rooms and closets, as though they weren't human beings. But Robin's book helped change that. Mothers and fathers had come to the rodeo because they wanted us to see their children, and they wanted their children to see us. They told the little ones that Roy and I were their friends. As we circled around, parents proudly held their fragile children in the air so they could wave to us and reach out with their little hands when we passed. The children smiled and laughed when we came close in our glittering cowboy clothes on our prancing horses. Down syndrome children all share certain features, so I saw Robin's face shining in every one of them. She filled the arena and her love filled my heart. I was blessed.