They Said It Couldn’t Be Done
previous next

“They Said It Couldn’t Be Done,” Ensign, Jan. 1984, 42

They Said It Couldn’t Be Done

But faith, family, and friends helped us overcome our handicaps.

They said it couldn’t be done. We were old enough to know better. After all, Clyde was forty, and I was twenty-six.

But we were in love, and we didn’t stop to think about such trivial matters as impossibilities. We got married anyway.

Of course, people get married every day. But our friends’ skepticism was founded on a very basic question. Could two polio casualties, with one roller skate, an electric wheelchair, a custom-built house, and a hand-controlled car possibly survive, much less live happily-ever-after?

My story began on a day in August 1951, during one of the big polio epidemics. On that day I stopped breathing on my own and became totally paralyzed with polio from the neck down. I was immediately put into a respirator and spent the next month in an iron lung. Still, we were optimistic.

Expecting the best, I registered for my junior year of high school. High school had been enjoyable, and I looked forward to more good times. But as the days and weeks went by and I didn’t get well, I was filled with fears—of separation from family, of total paralysis, of being left behind as my friends progressed in school. My future seemed one big unknown.

After about six months, when all the other polio victims had left the hospital, I was feeling quite discouraged. Then one day I looked up and saw Elders Harold B. Lee and LeGrand Richards, both Apostles. While attending a conference in my hometown, they had heard about me and had come to give me a blessing. In this blessing they told me that they didn’t know when I would get well, but that if I would keep the Lord’s commandments and do the best I could, I would have peace of mind. This blessing has been fulfilled, and I have had peace of mind when I’ve done my best.

During my months in the hospital, I watched three of my roommates die. Some people there had trouble with their families. But my family and friends gave me tremendous support. In the first month I was there, I got over 500 letters from people in Vernal. The school kids wrote big class letters on lengthy sheets of butcher paper, and these were draped across the hospital room. During this time I got a letter from my dad every day of the week, including Sunday. He never missed a day. My mother stayed with me around the clock. I wonder if anybody ever had a greater outpouring of love than I had during this period.

With such concern from family and friends, I found myself remembering the words of a favorite hymn that counsels “count your blessings.” (Hymns, no. 202.) I realized that of all people I had many blessings to count.

In 1956 we had a meeting at our place in Bountiful, Utah, for some handicapped people. Someone had asked Clyde Braegger of Providence, Utah, if he would drive a car pool down to our place. That meeting started a correspondence that was the best thing that has ever happened to me.

Clyde contracted polio when he was about nine months old. When he started first grade, they pushed him to school in a wicker baby-buggy. The kids who were taking him to school were only seven or eight years old, and they weren’t able to get him up the steps very well. Getting around inside the school was also a problem, so his dad made him a scooter. It was like a round, three-wheel skate board. Clyde would sit on the scooter and push himself around the halls. After a couple of years he graduated to a roller-skate, which he has used until recent years.

After the meeting at our house in Bountiful, Clyde and I started dating once every three months. Clyde never went any place without being carried on the back of his brother Morgan, and I couldn’t go anywhere without my dad, so we four would have these BIG DATES. Clyde tells everyone how I used to hold my dad’s hand while Clyde held Morgan’s hand. We went to the drive-in movie a lot, read books, and found out that life was really no good without each other. We decided to get married.

After a matrimonial send-off that showered us with warmth and love and a confidence that would come in handy in the upcoming hours, months, and years, we settled down to married life. Clyde’s sister-in-law, Lee, had been hired to help me get up and dressed in the mornings, and she, along with his mother, signed on as watchmen of the refrigerator, determined that we should not starve. But within three months, Lee became ill, and we were brought back to the real world of finding more help—quick! Before we could find someone, though, we suddenly realized that we not only were making it on our own, but we weren’t doing too badly. So we decided to “do our own thing” for a while and see what the chances were for survival.

This is not to imply that we weren’t making our presence felt. Brothers were recruited to lift me into the car for occasional jaunts; our nephew Steve flexed his teenage muscles and accompanied us nearly everywhere we went for several years. Mother kept an eye on food while I learned to fry chicken. Family hauled off our dirty laundry and brought it back all folded and pressed. Our landlord knocked out the kitchen window and replaced it with a sliding door so I could get in and out of our rented house.

All this time we were building the house of our dreams a few blocks away on Providence’s Main Street. Again, the project became a community affair. Plumbing friends in Bountiful helped us get top grade equipment; another friend in Salt Lake City gave us special prices on fixtures; still others got involved in painting and pounding and finishing. Clyde’s dad did most of the basic structure himself. And on Thanksgiving Day, 1962, the men of the family held a rooftop reunion with hammers and shingles while the women cooked turkey and dressing.

We thought we were emancipated the day we moved into the house that our loved ones had built. We felt even more independent when good friends designed and built a simple lift for getting me into and out of bed. There were, however, ample reminders each day that the doomsayers were right. It couldn’t be done.

“How do you get stuff off the top shelves in your pantry?” someone would wonder. “Funny you should ask,” we would reply. “We were just hoping somebody would come along and reach a bottle of tomato juice.” And someone usually does come—but if we find ourselves in a bind, we have learned that tomato juice isn’t essential to happiness.

Because of a particular tolerance and love on the part of our ecclesiastical leadership, we have nearly always had church jobs—usually in the teaching area, but Clyde has served as elder’s quorum president, high priests secretary, and assistant stake clerk, and I have been a counselor in Relief Society and Mutual and am now in the Spanish name extraction program. We seldom have to ask for help: neighbors just drop by to push wheelchairs through snow or sun; to swaddle us for cold weather trips to church; to shovel driveways on forbidding snowy mornings.

Our “neighborhood ecologist” shows up every morning to comb my hair and make me socially acceptable; friends call and say, “I’m on my way to town. Anything you need?” Children drop by with newly baked cinnamon rolls or cookies. We are always opening the door on bright surprises.

Because of this kind of treatment, we keep forgetting that it couldn’t be done. Clyde even had the audacity to join the Lions Club a few years ago. He roared his way to the job as president and thoroughly enjoyed the association. The guys drag him to summer canyon socials, monthly meetings, and projects without a grump. They even tolerate my backseat driving on ladies’ nights.

Clyde, service manager at a business machine shop, in Logan, Utah, finds his job made easier each day by the other people in the shop, who boost typewriters, run errands, and do all the things he has trouble doing.

When he was asked to run for mayor of Providence five years ago, I knew it couldn’t be done. But he passed the first hurdle by winning the election. And co-workers and tolerant citizens have bailed our boat these years as we tried to hold up our end of the political gameboard. Now in his second term, he is hoping to give to Providence an extension of the good will and cooperation shown to us by her citizens.

My family, upon seeing how we thrived in the Providence atmosphere, has begun a migration to these parts, and my mom and sisters and their families have added another dimension to our lives. Like Clyde’s family, they stop by and handle things that we aren’t handling, then go their way and let us think how smart we are.

We must say that we do some things for ourselves. It has been fun to learn to cook, to clean a corner, to fight a few of our own battles. But in all honesty the skeptics were right: it couldn’t be done. (Not without many people who have put much time and money and love into two people whose contributions cannot have merited that kind of consideration.) The remarkable thing is the sensitivity shown by these people, young and old. Somehow, in the acres of needs that have been met, they have helped us come through with a sense of self-sufficiency, of completeness, of having carried our own weight. That is a gift few people ever know.

Now, after nearly twenty-two years of marriage, we look at the completeness of our lives, and we think of the love we feel for each person who has touched our days, and we say to those who would put aside their impossible dreams, “It can be done!

  • Marie Fuhriman Olsen, mother of eight children, is the Relief Society homemaking counselor in her Providence, Utah, ward.

Photography by Eldon K. Linschoten

A “dear neighbor” daily combs Pat’s hair.

Clyde, business machine service manager, is in his second term as mayor, returning service to the community.