The Village Idiots

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In days long past, people knew by the time a child was around five or six, whether or not the kid had all its marbles.

Imagine, continuing the marble thread, the normal one’s brain looked like a neatly set up game of Chinese checkers. Each marble precisely placed in its appointed spot, and the child did what she was told. Remember that old game, Mouse Trap? The one that looked like a Rube Goldberg contraption? (If you haven’t heard of him, Google him. So much fun.) Levers, flippers, scoops, and raceways had marbles flying everywhere. The child whose brain did that didn’t fit in very well. They disobeyed and explored forbidden places and thoughts. Was the child a genius or an idiot?

Depending on the village culture, the kid with the flying marbles didn’t fit in. If the child was simple-minded, but could be relied upon to complete easy tasks, then he was trained to do so. If the kid was a danger to others, too much of a burden, or just scared the townspeople, they disappeared.

You heard me. Oh, no one spoke about it. There are veiled references to such things in historical records, but stories survived about disabled or deformed newborns being left out in the woods for the wolves. Babies with problems were bad omens. Whacky behavior was a sign of stupidity. A story from an arcane entry in a church record tells of a child who couldn’t speak, made it to the age of six, but constantly pointed at the sky and screamed. Along came a period of non-stop rain that killed all the crops, and subsequently, most of the animals. Poor kid got blamed as being an evil spirit who brought the disaster. Yeah, he didn’t survive.

Seems barbaric, doesn’t it? Ah, but it turns out, during most of human history, we’ve rejected anyone who was differently abled. More modern times brought ways of locking away the disabled-from-birth kids, but they were still out of sight. Unless, of course, you were rich or powerful. It’s the same old story. People haven’t changed. If you were a member of what my one son calls the lucky sperm club, your chances of survival were way better.

Okay, okay. I get it. So far, this is not funny. See, I’m here to make sure you realize how good you’ve got it. It all makes me happy that my siblings and I were born in the 20th century.

I hate to think of how those middle ages villagers would have treated my siblings and me. We exhibited some pretty dopey behavior, and we weren’t rich.

We had a neighbor, who, I’m quite sure, wanted all six of us taken away somewhere. Had she been the head of an ancient village, my siblings and I would’ve disappeared, for sure. Her children behaved with decorum. They didn’t roll in the mud. They didn’t race bicycles downhill with no hands. They never fell out of trees. We were loud and boisterous. We made messy mud and leaf sandwiches in our pretend deli on the side porch and tried to sell them. Once, after witnessing my brother chasing my screaming sister around the yard — he was attempting to hit a bee, that had apparently decided it loved her, by whipping a rope at her as they ran — our neighbor ranted at my mother but good about her disgraceful progeny.

That brother is now a Ph.D. So, I wonder how many children, how many incredibly smart people, were discarded on the cutting-room floor of human history? I have to believe those villagers of old would’ve definitely left us in the woods. In days long past, people knew by the time a child was around five or six, whether or not the kid had all its marbles.


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