Produced my first photo column here at Naples Daily. The idea is that the photographer writes a short story that expands on a photograph of their choosing. It's a chance to share whatever the photographer wants. There's a lot of freedom and creativity in space given to a photographer on a rotating basis.
With the delicate press of her fingertips, Pat Hughes rests her body against the pool table. Encouraging her grandson, Brian Francis, to pick the next ball and aim, she touches her heart, signing the word "please." The room fills with the cracking sound of one ball hitting another.
Pat keeps close, circling around the table with Brian as he sinks all but two balls. The prize for this game: a kiss for grandma.
"I'm very protective," Pat said.
Brian was born mute, with Down syndrome and with clear vision in only his right eye.
"The doctor said that I might as well put him in an institution because he won't live past 3. Now, he's 43."
When Brian was 4, Pat, who had already been caring for Brian, gained parental custody of her grandson. Although Brian's mother is present in his life, Pat is the main caregiver.
"He needs me, and I need him," Pat said.
In the early stages of development, Brian was lucky to have a special education program that catered to his needs. When instructors started teaching him sign language, Pat applied for a grant to create a similar course in the evenings for adults. The grant covered everything from the teachers to baby-sitters for children of the attendees.
Pat has been teaching Brian independence. So on a recent Wednesday, when Brian plucked a bright yellow Batman shirt from the dirty laundry hamper, Pat allowed him to wear the already stained garment, even if she wasn't happy with his choice.
Over the years, Pat also has taught Brian how to help. When she prepares lunch, Brian pulls plates from an overhead cupboard.
Brian has also learned to swim, and has been swimming with the Special Olympics for 35 years. At other times of the year, Brian also participates in Special Olympics boccie ball, bowling, golf and paddleboarding. With exception of 24 days when Pat was recovering from a surgery, she has been present at every practice.
After swim practice, Pat and Brian climb back into their Chrysler minivan and make their way home. On Sunday, they will return for Brian's second swim practice of the week. He plans to swim for many more.