When Linda gave birth to a Down syndrome baby, she was certain life as they knew it was over, but instead, their son Christopher became a catalyst that catapulted Linda onto even bigger stages. Behind the glitz and glamour of the Strip, she produced charity events and concerts for a cherished disability organization, learning the job of fundraiser among millionaires, mobsters, and city movers-and-shakers. She became one of the nation’s most successful fundraisers, raising over half a billion dollars for disability causes, but her most cherished role was as a mother, seeing Chris exceed all expectations and become a force that changed not just her life, but their entire world.
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About the Author
Linda Smith is an author, speaker, and non-profit consultant. She is recognized as a fundraising icon within the Las Vegas community and across the globe. After 38 years of leading one of the largest and well-known non-profit organizations, she launched a consulting business in 2016 as a way to connect donors with deserving charities, while providing visionary ideas and various fundraising approaches for non-profits. Inspired by her eldest son, she was led to establish The Christopher Smith Foundation in her son's name, and author her first book. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada.
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THE GOOD NEWS IS ... HE WON'T LIVE LONG
An all-enveloping sadness permeated the room.
May 15, 1970. That was the day the earth shifted — the day an ambulance with flashing lights and sirens, raced along the tarmac at Toronto's Pearson airport to greet an inbound emergency flight from Las Vegas with a pregnant woman on board who was in labor. That was the day my six-pound son, my thief of dreams, arrived two weeks early, gasping for breath.
The decision for me to fly home to Canada so close to my due date made perfect sense at the time. My entertainer husband, Glenn, was finishing an engagement at the Flamingo Hotel with Wayne Newton in Las Vegas, were we now lived, and he was scheduled to perform in Toronto in two weeks.
Going ahead of him would give me the opportunity to line up a delivery doctor, make arrangements with the hospital, and prepare for the birth. My mother and sister had a home in Toronto.
On the ride to the hospital, I silently prayed. Please God, let everything be okay.
An hour later, my baby boy entered the world. Considering the riotous events of the past eight hours, the room was eerily quiet. The lights were dim, but I could see the doctor's face as he pursed his lips and frowned, then raised his brow and nodded wordless instructions to the nurse to take the baby.
I felt the blood drain from my face, and I began to shiver uncontrollably, afraid of the words that might tumble from my cold lips. Is he stillborn? Is everything okay? and then I heard it — a weak cry emanating from my naked baby as the nurse glanced my way with an equally weak smile. Before she whisked the tiny bundle away, I noted with relief the correct number of arms, legs, fingers, and toes.
It remained quiet in the room as the medical team went about their business. It had been an eventful labor and delivery, and I felt myself on the verge of tears.
C'mon Linda, you made it; the worst is over.
I could see the eyes of the emergency room doctor through my splayed legs. He did not look at me as he calmly went about his business. I tried to make eye contact, but he was not interested. With determined preoccupation, he finished tying up the loose ends of an emergency delivery. "Do you have family nearby?" he asked softly.
I shook my head no as I shivered uncontrollably, I had endured several hours of excruciating labor and off-the-charts contractions midair at 35,000 feet with no idea when it might end, only to end up in a strange hospital, alone and screaming for help in the labor room, where all I received was a frown from the doctor and the nurse.
I was pale and in shock when the doctor quietly and matter-of-factly stated that I had just had a baby boy.
The entire birth experience had been brutal, something I never wanted to do it again. I expected smiles and good wishes, but there were none, not from the doctor or any of the nurses in the delivery room.
For some reason an all-enveloping sadness permeated the air.
After giving birth I called Glenn in Las Vegas, and even though I was exhausted from the ordeal, I reveled in telling him what happened on the flight, the long, hard labor, and the birth of our beautiful, perfect little boy whom I had yet to officially meet because the hospital staff was running some routine tests.
Then Glenn passed the phone to Wayne Newton, Fats Domino, the band members, a few cocktail waitresses, a couple of bartender pals, and finally my hooker friend. Everyone was excited and loved hearing the details of the in-flight labor. Soon a big bouquet of flowers arrived, and I smiled as I drifted off to sleep.
When I awoke a short time later, I heard babies crying, people celebrating, and footsteps coming and going outside my room. I had just asked a young candy striper to find a nurse who could tell me when I would see my baby when a contingent of white-clad medical staff arrived and stood in stony silence at the foot of the bed as far from me as decorum would permit. I noticed how stiff and uncomfortable the delivery doctor and the others looked and I thought that was strange on such a happy occasion.
"Do you understand the meaning of chromosome abnormalities?" he began.
HUH? I stared at him blankly.
"I am sorry to tell you this, but your baby was born severely disabled. We knew right away that he has multiple problems based on certain obvious characteristics, but we had to run tests to confirm our suspicions."
The doctor paused as I stared at him not comprehending what he was saying.
"Unfortunately, he is the first baby born with a disability in our newly-renovated delivery room. We have all been involved in the protocols for such births, which is why we did not tell you right away ... that and the fact that your husband or other family members were not here to assist with the bad news."
"We checked your chromosomes, and there is nothing wrong with you. These things just happen; it's a fluke, a freak of nature."
Freak? Oh God, please stop them from uttering these words. Make them go away.
"The good news is ... he won't live long." This was stated in a more upbeat tone.
I closed my eyes and waited.
Surely this is a dream? My son is not going to die. I saw him; he is perfect. Did they swap my beautiful baby with another one?
"Your son has a heart defect and respiratory problems, typical for children with his condition. He has Down syndrome, more commonly referred to as Mongolism and mental retardation. He is very ill and not expected to survive. This is a blessing. You should forget about him and concentrate on having another baby."
"Is there anyone we can call?"
I did not utter a word. I was the dark cloud in their day, and they fled the room after relieving themselves of the wretched news.
My son was one day old, and already he had been rejected. I didn't know it then, but he would face a lifetime of rejections. And I would spend my life fighting for him, seeking a place in the world where he would be welcome. To do so, I would have to draw on the lessons I learned during my own painful, and often terrifying childhood.CHAPTER 2
THE HOUSE BLEW UP
We kids were nonexistent to them, born into dysfunction and left to fend for ourselves.
I was only six years old when it happened, but I remember the day my father blew up our house. It was a cold and drizzly British Saturday morning. Boom, boom, boom! I heard and felt the explosion as the blue and orange fire shot across the kitchen from the fireplace and knocked me to the floor. My ears rang as I lay on my back, eyes wide, taking in the purple, red, and yellow colors. Boom, boom, boom again. I was a silent witness, fascinated by the awesomeness of the explosions and the shudder and shriek of the house as it wobbled on its foundation. I smelled the gasoline, the fire, and my singed hair. In the distance, I heard a door slam, and I saw my father, a blur through the smoke, run out the back.
Hey ... I'm here.
Dazed, I tried to get up. The screeching, unintelligible sounds in the small confines of the room were deafening.
A large hand reached out and dragged me, dazed and disoriented, toward the front door, then out onto the porch.
Next I heard loud noises; angry, aggressive voices; feet running; screams of terror; and filthy words. The smell and taste of smoke and gasoline seared my throat.
The home next door to ours was attached at the kitchen, and it was from this place that my rescuer, the neighbor, yelled obscenities as my father fled our smoke-filled home. My father's hands and face were blackened from the soot.
"Who knew that would happen? I was soaking my pants in petrol, and they must have ignited with the fireplace. Lil's not going to like cleaning up this mess," my father said, his words fading as he walked down the block to the bar.
I was left with the neighbor, who patted my hair saying it would grow back. This was just another white-hot, dangerous mess of a day with my father.
* * *
I was the middle child; a mouse with freckled skin, mousy hair, mousy personality, and mousy clothes - a cipher in a frightening world. My mother was beautiful, a knockout they say. A British-trained, gold medal ballroom dancer, she often performed at the Blackpool Tower. Not only talented, but creative, she designed costumes for her dance partners and friends.
My father was a normal functioning man when he went off to war. But after serving overseas for four years, he returned home a hollowed out, bitter, frustrated man, whose anger was always simmering just below the surface.
He had left his beautiful wife at home while he assisted in the war effort, and he was convinced that with the hundreds of thousands of American and Canadian GIs stationed in the UK, she had been unfaithful.
My father was bigger than life. A handsomely rakish man, he openly attracted the advances of the neighborhood wives and enjoyed the fist fights that followed.
My parents were combustible, like fire and petrol. Why they stayed together is a mystery. We kids were nonexistent to them, born into dysfunction and left to fend for ourselves. We looked out for each other. There was Jean, the brave boss of the trio; Terry, the innocent tagalong; and me, an invisible nobody, who silently watched the calamities unfold.
We lived in fear; fear of the rage, the volatile language, the physical altercations, and being embarrassed. Neighbors whispered when we passed by, protecting their children from the loathsome trio down the street.
When I was eight years old, I experienced my first love interest. Danny was the prettiest boy I ever met with lovely blond hair and the bluest of eyes. I lived across the street from him, and during my unhappy childhood years, he was the one person who was kind to me. We were inseparable. Our favorite pastime was stealing candy from the local store, running as fast as we could to avoid capture, and then delighting in the rare treat.
We would walk miles in every direction, jumping over hedges, scattering chickens, stealing an egg or a stalk of rhubarb, then sprinting away, overjoyed with our newly acquired treasure. Sharing a soda was something very special.
We had names for each other. I was "Miss Olive" and he was "Oh, Danny Boy." I didn't think it was unusual that Danny's vocabulary was limited, or that he would run to greet me with arms flapping wildly, calling out "piggy, piggy, piggy," a term of endearment that caused the neighborhood children to run in the opposite direction. There was strength in numbers, and we stuck up for each other.
It wasn't until much later that I realized Danny had an intellectual disability. But he loved me without reservation, and I loved him. Danny was my first contact with the kind of unconditional love disabled people give — a kind of love I would find myself encircled in as an adult. The world we made together was kinder and gentler than any other I knew, a respite from the violence that tore my family to pieces.CHAPTER 3
I was ashamed of our family.
The word on the street was to stay away from our family. My father was known to raise his fists at the slightest provocation. If an unfortunate fella snuck a peek at his wife, it was reason for a knock-down, drag-out brawl.
Although it would be some time before we found out, my father used Jean as his personal battering ram, more so when she began to attract the attention of boys. He considered her his personal property. He was abusive to me, too, but that came later.
My father was musically talented and the life of the party when in the company of others. He could play instruments, sing, and make people laugh. But over the years our family lost many friendships due to his hair-trigger temper that made people uncomfortable to be around him.
I was ashamed of our family.
Stanley Park, which was only steps from our house, was where I escaped each day, where I felt at home. I would run to the park and spend hundreds of hours in this beautiful place, lying on the grassy hill away from curious eyes, imagining myself a princess in my own private garden.
There was a time when a little girl from our neighborhood went missing. A large search party was organized in a futile attempt to find her. I knew the park inside and out, and I remember thinking I would find her lost and asleep in one of my secret places. I would be the one to bring her home, and I would be a hero. But no matter how hard I searched, she remained lost for several months, until one day her little body was found in the woodlands. She had been molested and killed, and I secretly wondered if my father had done this terrible thing.
That was a heavy weight on my young shoulders until the perpetrator was finally found. It turned out he was a neighbor who had children of his own, and like my own father seemed friendly and outgoing. That discovery shocked the entire town, but I wasn't shocked. As my father's child, I already knew about deception.
When I was nine years old, my father gambled away our Stanley Park home in just a few hours. Disheartened and humiliated, we gathered our belongings and left what little security we had, while he took his usual seat at the corner pub, regaling the disinterested barkeeper of his near wins. Needless to say, the neighbors were glad to see us go.
My mother's mother owned a boarding home and reluctantly took us in. Losing our home was traumatic, but it wasn't the last time we would find ourselves without a roof over our heads. I was too young to fully understand how unstable our family was, and how tragic it was for my mother.
My father was an inveterate gambler, always on the losing end. He was a cheater, a womanizer, a thief, and a child abuser. Fortunately we would soon escape from him on a ship to North America, or so we thought.CHAPTER 4
ESCAPE TO CANADA
Perhaps she knew a thief when she saw one.
I was besotted with our ship, aptly named the Empress of Britain. I was ten years old and dazzled by the luxurious chandeliers, plush carpeting, a movie theater, and other fabulous décor.
The Empress of Britain left Liverpool in early July on a five-day journey to Montreal. The massive ship had accommodations for 160 first-class passengers, but our family of four was amongst the many tourist-class travelers.
That first night, we went for dinner as the ship slowly made its way into open seas. The dining room was beautifully outfitted, and I was over the moon to learn I could order whatever I wanted. Pretty boys in wait-staff garb would politely call me "Miss" and serve me with a smile.
Prior to leaving, this beautiful beast of a ship had shifted gently in its berth alongside the docks, and I was distressed to find my equilibrium shifting too. That first visit to the dining room would be my last expedition out of our cabin as the minute the ship left the dock, I became violently ill with motion sickness that lasted throughout the entire voyage.
The constant chug, chug, creaks and groans of the ship echoed my despair as I lay on the bunk bed, exhausted from the constant retching. My only companion was a solitary fly, who I had much in common with. We were both insignificant, ugly and repulsive. To make things worse, I was the child of a bad man — and I had a terrible secret.
I recalled wanting to confide my father's abuse to a teacher who happened to look at me one day with what I thought was an inquiring kindness. Perhaps she recognized a vulnerable, wounded child in need.
Instead, she asked me what I had in my pocket and if I had taken a roll of candy off her desk. I had not. I did steal candy from the Woolworth counter on occasion with Danny, and I had eyed her candy with an unnatural longing. Perhaps she knew a thief when she saw one.
After five long days and nights, we entered the Saint Lawrence Seaway. With the ship drawing ever closer to the end of the journey and our new country, I regained my equilibrium and rejoined the other passengers. I slipped through the happy throngs to the rail and took in the most amazing sights. I was looking forward to our new life with optimism and resolve. We were home.CHAPTER 5
ON THE RUN
I was mortified that we had come to Canada to end up in a predicament like this.
Once we cleared immigration and customs, we gathered our meager belongings and boarded a train that took us to Toronto. We were in Canada now, thousands of miles from our past.
In the row across from us was a family with a young man who behaved in a peculiar way. He flapped his hands erratically in a circular motion; his unseeing eyes sparkled as he rocked back and forth to an inner rhythm; and his intermittent squeals of delight were interspersed with the clank and chug of the train, as his parents nervously looked on.
I stared in wonder. I had never witnessed such odd behavior. There was something in his countenance that was familiar ... Was it his angelic face? Then I had a pang of recognition — Danny. Oh Danny boy, I see you ... I miss you.
Arriving in Toronto, we settled into a routine, learned the ways of our new country, and tried to fit in. I could not believe the luxuries. There was instant heat in our apartment, which was so different from our home in England.
Although I was optimistic about our new life, I quickly came to dislike school, where our strange accents and British mannerisms made us the target of cruel jokes.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Unwanted"
Copyright © 2019 Linda Smith.
Excerpted by permission of Linda Smith.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER \ ONE - THE GOOD NEWS IS... HE WON'T LIVE LONG,
CHAPTER \ TWO - THE HOUSE BLEW UP,
CHAPTER \ THREE - FAMILY LIFE,
CHAPTER \ FOUR - ESCAPE TO CANADA,
CHAPTER \ FIVE - ON THE RUN,
CHAPTER \ SIX - FOUND,
CHAPTER \ SEVEN - THE PRECINCT,
CHAPTER \ EIGHT - COURT DAY,
CHAPTER \ NINE - DEPORTATION,
CHAPTER \ TEN - ICE FOLLIES,
CHAPTER \ ELEVEN - THE CELLO,
CHAPTER \ TWELVE - THE SALESLADY, 1960,
CHAPTER \ THIRTEEN - THE SWEATER,
CHAPTER \ FOURTEEN - DANCING GIRL,
CHAPTER \ FIFTEEN - GLENN,
CHAPTER \ SIXTEEN - AND THE BAND STUTTERED ON,
CHAPTER \ SEVENTEEN - LAS VEGAS,
CHAPTER \ EIGHTEEN - THE JUNKET FLIGHT,
CHAPTER \ NINETEEN - MAY 15, 1970,
CHAPTER \ TWENTY - ABNORMALITY,
CHAPTER \ TWENTY-ONE - THE DAY AFTER,
CHAPTER \ TWENTY-TWO - DELIVERING THE NEWS,
CHAPTER \ TWENTY-THREE - THE RETURN TO CANADA,
CHAPTER \ TWENTY-FOUR - HELLO BABY CHRISTOPHER,
CHAPTER \ TWENTY-FIVE - FOREVER MY SON'S CHAMPION,
CHAPTER \ TWENTY-SIX - LET'S RENT A BARN AND PUT ON A PARTY,
CHAPTER \ TWENTY-SEVEN - THE BORDER,
CHAPTER \ TWENTY-EIGHT - UNDESIRABLE,
CHAPTER \ TWENTY-NINE - UNWANTED,
CHAPTER \ THIRTY - THE INDIAN CHIEF ADOPTION,
CHAPTER \ THIRTY-ONE - A HERO COMES ALONG,
CHAPTER \ THIRTY-TWO - LAS VEGAS CALLING,
CHAPTER \ THIRTY-THREE - CHILD PROTECTION ACT,
CHAPTER \ THIRTY-FOUR - THE ALADDIN,
CHAPTER \ THIRTY-FIVE - PEBBLE IN THE LAKE,
CHAPTER \ THIRTY-SIX - CONCERT OF LOVE,
CHAPTER \ THIRTY-SEVEN - FULL-TIME FUNDRAISER,
CHAPTER \ THIRTY-EIGHT - EYES AND EARS BEFORE MOUTH,
CHAPTER \ THIRTY-NINE - PEOPLE,
CHAPTER \ FORTY - SIBLINGS,
CHAPTER \ FORTY-ONE - CHRISTOPHER THE HERO,
CHAPTER \ FORTY-TWO - THE SOCK AND THE THIEF,
CHAPTER \ FORTY-THREE - OVER A BARREL,
CHAPTER \ FORTY-FOUR - TAKING ON THE GOVERNOR,
CHAPTER \ FORTY-FIVE - THE FREEZER INCIDENT,
CHAPTER \ FORTY-SIX - AMNESTY,
CHAPTER \ FORTY-SEVEN - A SNOWSTORM IN WASHINGTON,
CHAPTER \ FORTY-EIGHT - VICTORY AT LAST,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Linda's memoir is an inspiring novel that sheds light on the trials and tribulations she and her family faced after the birth of her son, Christopher. The flashbacks from her childhood to scenes from the "present" shed light on the connection and lessons between her experiences as a child and those she experienced with Christopher. Unwanted is a must read for all!
This is an amazing story of a mother’s journey and how she persevered through obstacles, while advocating for her son with Down syndrome. She courageously faced the difficulties that life presented and came out on the other side as a fundraising icon who has made a profound impact for people with disabilities and their families. It’s an inspiring story showcasing what love, passion and determination can do.
This inspirational story had me flipping the pages, I was unable to put it down!! This memoir is an amazing journey of self-discovery, triumph and love, unforgettable moments and heartfelt courage, mixed with unbelievable true-Vegas stories during the time when the mob still ruled the town. Movie studios should start calling! This would be an amazing film!