King’s love for family
Horace King takes his place at the head of the dining table, joining his daughter Linda for their evening meal together. The light exchange between the two brightens the room.
It is a routine continued by this father and daughter, carrying on a family tradition of making dinner time another bonding occasion, a period when the Kings – Horace, his late wife Emcee and their children – would talk about the goings-on around the dinner table. The family has since lost the matriarch, but the patriarch keeps that flame alive with the only child still living at home. The other children are grown and live on their own.
Linda, the second of three children, was born with Down’s syndrome. Since her mother’s passing, dad has stepped into those shoes, extending the supportive role he has always played from the time Linda, now age 44, was born.
Horace is 85, and speaks with joy about the task of assisting his late wife of 46 years with raising their daughter. He said when Linda was born “I was a little disappointed when we realised that she was challenged . . . . I said, ‘What can we do?’ I was being hopeful that you could find some cure or something to put her back to almost normal but I realised after a few months that there was nothing you could do but live with it.”
He casts a glance across at Linda, clearly enjoying her dinner, and with a smile, reminisces about his wife’s commitment to training and teaching her, ensuring from the outset that she would be able to cope on her own, the way that she does so well today as an adult.
Still looking at Linda he said, “When she was born, Emcee promptly decided to give up nursing, retired from the hospital and spent nine years preparing her for life, until she figured she was able to manage on her own.”
The Kings had three children – first-born Donna, second Linda and then Steven. Horace said, “We gave all of them duties. Donna had duties, Steven had duties and Linda’s chore was to clear the breakfast table, wash up the wares, mop the kitchen and then have her bath and get ready for school . . . and she learned to do whatever Donna and Steven were doing.”
Emcee taught Linda how to help in the house, and she has not forgotten those lessons, often pitching in to assist their devoted helper in the kitchen. She is forbidden to light the stove, though she competently operates kitchen gadgets. From early she was taught how to set the table for meals, and only needed to be told how many places settings should be prepared.
“Every morning as soon as she wakes she makes her bed, something she was doing from age six,” her father said.
Listening to Horace speaking about his daughter’s ability to take care of herself, one detects a sense of gratification at what both parents have been able to achieve in raising her, even when he acknowledges they both had to make “slight adjustments” to their lives.
“But I think it was a blessing in disguise” he said.
Horace became a Rotarian in 1963, and one year later was assigned the service club’s responsibility to what was then called the Challenor School for the Mentally Retarded. That responsibility later extended to other organisations for the disabled and the elderly and Horace threw himself into the role, and took his entire family along.
Linda was born five years after he got involved with the Challenor School, by which time the exposure and learning experiences had prepared him to cope with his own situation. He was therefore not floored by his personal challenge.
Rather, he explained, “The funny thing about those operations is that they tend to grow on you and they become a part of your life . . . . It made me more attached to the other children because the problem also was that in those days when she was born, a lot of people used to hide kids who were disabled.”
Not so with the Kings’ child. Linda went wherever her parents went – shopping, cultural events, social gatherings, you name it – and they were oblivious of the stares or the negative attitudes to people with disabilities.
“We started taking her around with us. The public started seeing her on the road and it is amazing how people used to stare at her.
“I remember one afternoon, she was about seven and we took her to town and we were walking up Swan Street and two women coming towards us started staring and Linda quietly looked at them, turned to them and said, ‘Good afternoon’. They did not know what to say or do. They were so shocked that she could address them.
Good socialisation of their “special” daughter was paramount for these parents. When Horace discovered Linda liked music, he bought her a turntable and a host of records of children’s music and other performances and would watch quietly as she spent hours selecting the music, even though her reading skills at that time were limited, and loading it on the turntable.
He joked, “I bought her everything I could find. She played the Sound Of Music so many times, I think she may have killed it.”
Horace dedicated over 40 years of his life to Rotary and to the disabled to the extent he said “it becomes part of your life”.
And though he is still involved with the Rotary, he now takes a back seat. He derives great pride from seeing daughter Donna, who had been around him with his Rotary work since age seven, taking charge of that section of Rotary seven years ago. She is also chairperson of Special Olympics Committee.
And with quiet pride he talked about seeing her being made a Paule Harris Fellow, Rotary’s highest honour, after she had been serving for just seven years, an honour which he had been awarded after 21 years of service.
The octogenarian is grateful for the continuous support from the large King family and especially from his other two children, since the passing of his wife. He draws strength and encouragement from the love, and interest of fellow members of St Stephen’s Church, where he and his family have always worshipped.
“We got very involved in church from the beginning. We had a lot of support from the church people and we still get support from church up to now.”
That they always did things together as family has proven to be an anchor in the close relationship which Horace and his children continue to enjoy.
“We had some great times” he said.
Of one thing he is sure, “When I am gone, I know Linda will be well taken care of.”