The Swenson Story

by Ludell Swenson

My Work as a Journalist/Activist/Advocate

Some of the stories I have broadcast on the evening news at WORT-FM in Madison. Unfortunately, the links to the audio files are down.

From WORT-FM's "In Our Backyard": 1/20/2000.

Madison's Metro Plus bus service is supposed to make transportation easier for the city's disabled people. But as a growing chorus of angry bus riders will attest, there's plenty of room for improvement.

I continue to advocate for all who need help to lead a meaningful life.

The Ludell Swenson Story
by Ludell Swenson

Chapter One

My name is Ludell Swenson. My given name at birth was Lydell but later I changed it. I was born in Madison, Wisconsin on March 19, 1959 at Madison General Hospital. The doctors and my parents knew something was wrong when my body jumped and jerked uncontrollably. After spending six weeks in the hospital going through extensive tests, the doctors diagnosed me mentally disabled and told my family to put me in the Central Wisconsin Center for the Mentally Disabled. My family refused and took me home to Brodhead, Wisconsin. Little did they know my disability was Cerebral Palsy and entirely physical. After I got home from the hospital I was having trouble breathing properly. My Dad took me to his chiropractor, Doctor Gonstead. Mom and Dad took me to see him twice a week. He saved my life.

Just outside Brodhead, my family rented a big dairy farm with 150 cattle. My Dad milked the cows and planted corn and my Mom was a stay-at-home Mom. I have two sisters, Luann and Sandra. When I was born, Luann was nine years old and Sandy was 17. I was Luannís little doll. She primarily took take care of me. When I was four Sandra dressed my two-year-old niece Kelli like Pebbles Flintstone. She was a doll. Sandy, on the other hand, was old enough to date and spent all of her time with her boyfriend Ronny. When Sandy was 18, she married Ronny. They lived on the farm in the tenant house so that Ron could help Dad with the chores. Ronny had a boxer named Toby. Toby was a farm dog. Ronny decided he didn't like milking so he and Sandra moved into Brodhead when I was six. Ron used to drive out from Brodhead and had a friend named Jerry. Well, one night Jerry had a bad car wreck. He was thrown from the vehicle. Everybody thought that he wouldn't live, but I had a feeling he would and sure enough he did.

Sandra and Ron got to know an orphan boy named Brad and were thinking of adopting him, but didn't. They later had their own kids, two girls. On Saturday nights Mom and Dad relaxed by going out polka dancing with another couple, Harold and Jean, and left me home with Luann to watch TV. TV was better back then. Dairyland Jubilee followed Lawrence Welk on Saturday nights. There was also a variety show called Hollywood Palace. They put me in a swing that was set up between the kitchen and the den which was a big all-purpose room, big enough for dancing.

When I was four or five, Mom would take me to my chiropractor appointments in Mount Horeb. The chiropractor had a really big office and a motel for patients who came from out of town. People would fly in from out of state to see him. After my appointments Mom would take me with her to meet Harold on side roads. She left me in the back seat while she and Harold made out in the front seat. At the time she thought I was retarded and wouldnít understand what was happening. I understood very well.

Luann would take me out on her dates to drive-in movies in Monroe. She met Phil from Brodhead. A nice guy but quiet. Mom hated that because she was a talker and hated people who were quiet, but she thought he was good for Luann anyway. Phil was in the Air Force, in California. He asked Luann to marry him and of course she said yes, so Mom and I took her to Rockford, Illinois to catch a train to California. I felt sad to see her go. I was stiff and nervous and I cried because I didn't want her to go. Mom tried to comfort me but I didn't want Mom. I wanted my sister who for the past six years raised me while Mom was chasing Harold around. In fact, I barely knew Mom and now she was taking care of me. I felt scared and alone. Luann was mad at Mom because she was cheating on Dad. Later, Luann and her new daughter Kari flew home from California. Dad, Mom and me went to Chicago to pick them up. I was happy to see my sister and my new niece. It was a beautiful week, like old times, and a sad day when Luann left. Mom was a wreck and so was Dad.

Chapter Two

My mom and dad didnít want to see me in a wheelchair and so they carried me everywhere. This was hard on them as well as me. They were hoping I would snap out of my C.P. and be a 'normal' son. My dad was hoping I would take over the farm. I was hoping it too.

When I was seven I started day care center in Monroe. My teacher Grace was like a grandma to me. My first day was scary because I hadn't been away from Mom before. I had physical therapy at Monroe Hospital two days a week along with day care. The physical therapist tried to get me to walk by walking around the room with me. They decided that I would be better off having physical therapy at Stoughton. My new therapist was a beautiful Phillipino woman who helped me by stretching my arms and legs. This didn't help me to walk, but it did help me feel better. We did this for two years. My Dad made a special tricycle for me and painted it. He built shoes on it that my feet fit into. We would take the trike to day care. Grace would tie my hands on the handle bars and away I went. Day care center wasn't for me because it was for the mentally retarded and I'm not retarded, thank goodness.

Grace knew a retired school teacher named Mable Hamelton who lived in New Glarus. Mabel was a good teacher; she taught me to read and spell using magnetic letters. She put them on the refrigerator. Mabel's kitchen was a one-room classroom two days a week. I felt at home when I was with Mable. Mable's home was like a cozy, warm Swiss cottage. Monroe Hospital didn't have the facilities I needed so my Mom had to lift me into the car to take me to therapy in Stoughton, and then back to Mabel's for schooling. Mom was either shopping or seeing Harold in New Glarus State Park, and then she would come get me and take me home.

Chapter Three

In the spring of 1969, Dad had to have a sale; it was a really big one. A local farmer, Elmer Brown talked the landlady into selling the farm to him. When he dies they'll have to screw him into the ground, he's so crooked. It was a sad day around the farm. I didn't see Dad and I was scared that someone would find him in the barn hanging from the roof dead. Boy was I happy to see Dad after the sale! Mom and Dad built a house in Monroe and so we had to stay with Sandra and Ronny for a while until our house got done. I was scared of my new surroundings. Dad was then working as a garbage man for the city of Monroe. At least he came home with some good stuff. I wanted to go back home to the farm, but I couldn't because it was sold. When I was seven Dad bought me a black and white Boston Terrier bulldog we named Nonose. Nonose helped me adjust to the new surroundings. Sometimes I felt better with a dog than with my Mom and Dad.

We moved to Monroe in the Summer of 1969. For two weeks that Summer I went to Camp Wawbeek near the Wisconsin Dells. I cried for seven days because I hadn't ever been away from home. My counselor Steve comforted me, and I was able to enjoy the rest of my time there. We went swimming and camping. That summer I came to Madison for testing for Lapham school which I started in the Fall. In those days there was nowhere else for disabled people to go for school. Now it is law that schools in small towns have to have the facilities for disabled people. That August I and Mom and a school worker named Judy Clacey went to meet Sue and Al, who I would be staying with. Sue was from Cross Plains, Wisconsin. Al was pure German from the word go.

He was fun, had a good sense of humor, and liked to talk. He was a carpenter and a good one. And they were strong Catholics which was all right with me. My roommate Steve was a Catholic too. Steve had C.P. and border line M.R. He was from Juda, Wisconsin. He was OK.

I was scared about going to a strange place and staying with strangers. Mom carried me in to meet them. I stayed with Sue and Al from Monday to Friday; Mom came and got me on Friday. I was happy to go home on Friday to see my dog Nonose and my Dad. Every Saturday Mom got a crazy woman named Rose from the nursing home to stay with me along with Grandma Gen, while Mom went out with Harold. Sometimes my niece Kelli would come and stay with us. I wanted to say, "Go to Hell, you old people!" and run away, but I was stuck with them. Dad was seeing May Troy, a woman he met dancing. A nice woman; she was more understanding than my own Mom. At least they didn't leave me home with old people, not like Harold and Mom. Dad and May took me to dances.

One night when I came home from school, I met a girl named Julie who was staying with Sue for a few days. Julie was a pretty girl with long brown hair. At first I was shy, but after a while I tried to talk to her. I didn't have a board to communicate with her and I felt really angry to be left out of the conversation. One day when I came home from school Julie had gone home. I felt sad, sad that I couldn't talk to her and sad that I was too young to have sex with her. Well, one night I had two erotic dreams. Those dreams kept me going when I was in school and on weekends when I was with the old folks!

Chapter Four

I didn't adjust to well in school; I was home-sick. I cried a lot my first year. My teacher, Mrs. Nomma Betcher, was good. My physical therapist was Gene and he was good too; and then there was Miss Ema Zitsar the Sargent of the P.T. unit. I was scared of her. Her bark was worse then her bite though; she tried to get me to talk, but no luck. One day Mrs. Spreag's student teacher put some letters on a felt board and gave me a mouth stick to point with. They discovered that the first thing I pointed out was 'SHIT'. One day Mrs. Spreag discovered that I could point using my left hand. Boy what a change; Gene made me a wooden communication board so I could do my school work and talk to my friends and Mom and Dad. Except for me going all summer. Sometimes I think we never did a thing. All she wait to go back to school the Petersen and Dan Heys and Frank were in trouble with someone. Jim and I would sit in my wheelchair. Kathy had brittle bones and was in a wheelchair. She called me "Swenson" to be mean and then everyone started calling me "Swenson"; it stuck like glue. I just laughed. Kathy Scram was Jim's girl friend. She looked about two years old sitting in her wheelchair.

Summer came and I had to go stay with my Mom. I wanted to go to camp Wawbeek, which I enjoyed, but Mom kept me in all Summer. Sometimes it seemed that she was ashamed of me because all she wanted me to do was watch T.V. I couldn't wait to get back to school that Fall and see some friends like Jim Peterson and Dan and Frank who were always in trouble; Pete used to beat Frank and Dan up daily and laugh.

Chapter Five

Then I met Mark Damon. He also had C.P. He thought he was a smart ass. Like one day a teacher's aid was feeding me and Christa and Mark. Mark said that he wanted milk right now. He said, 'cool it' feeding me. The aid got mad at him and felt like slapping him. There was a boy named Gary. Gary had C.P. too. He was really friendly, even too friendly for me. But we became friends anyway. and Pete Kelsher. Jim had C.P. but not as bad as me. There were three girls named Linda and Beverly and Christa. Christa had hairy legs which I like. Men don't shave their legs and why should women? Christa, who I also had a crush on, had C.P. I liked C.P. women better then "normal" bodied girls. Christa had a back operation. She was in a body cast for a year. I dreamed about having sex with her in the private bathroom they had at Lapham school... with her body cast on. Pete and Jim were always pulling pranks on the teachers or having wheelchair races in the hall.

It was now 1970 and that year I was in Miss Jenny's class. She taught 8th through 12th grade at Lapham, and was a good teacher. She looked like a guy and I think shaved. I think her and Gene had a thing going. One day Gene was giving me hell for not using my wheelchair when I was with my mom. I told him to kiss my ass. He slapped me across the face! I felt really bad; and kind of happy because that was first time I told somebody off and it felt good. The whole school heard about it and I didn't care. My school days were hard because I didn't have a catheter on to pee into. The teachers thought that I didn't need one. Boy were they wrong. I used to hold my bladder from 7 O'clock in the morning to about four in the afternoon. On Fridays it was five because I went home to be with Mom.

Chapter Six

I was now in my teens and starting to look at disabled women. One day I told Mrs. Spreag that I needed to talk to a man about sex. She about had a heart attack! She found somebody I talked to but he couldn't answer my questions. After our talk, he told Mrs. Sprag that I needed much more help with my sexuality then he thought. He called Larry Zuber. Mr. Zuber seemed to understand me better then my family.

I was 14 years old and I was entering Gompers Middle school. It was on the North end of Madison. Miss Jeany and a few friends went and checked it out. I had Miss Mary Polanchi who taught fifth grade. That year was easy. It was more like one-on-one. I missed my friends that year, though, and a few had died and then Dad left Mom.

That year the engineers made me a smaller electric board that sat on my chair. It opened up a whole new door for me. I could now talk to friends without being hooked up to the tv.

Chapter Seven

My mom and dad got divorced over her boyfriend Harold. Unfortunetly Mom got me. I wanted badly to say to Mom, "Thank you for what you've done for me but what you did to Dad wasn't very smart. Well then, go to hell woman and take your shit-covered boy friend with you! I'm leaving; good bye for ever!" I wanted to move into a nursing home in Madison and finish schooling from there. But Mom said no. She should have let me because she just pushed me off on Sandra every weekend. It was that time Harold decided to gave my best friend Nonose away. Boy; I wished I had a damn gun. I would have killed him and Mom too. I was so hurt and angry at them; I hated to see her Friday nights after school. Harold talked her into selling our house in Monroe and so she did. I thought, "Dumb-ass, He doesn't want you."

I didn't want to go on without the farm. One Friday night Ron called and told my mom to keep me with her; that he was God damn sick of her droping me off on them! Mom was mad and so was Harold and me. I would have given everything to go to a nursing home until I was 18 years old. Mom got grandma Gen to stay with me. I was mad at Mom and Harold for treating me so mean. Mom would put me to bed at 7 O'clock before they went out. I wanted to go with them but no, they wouldn't take me. I kept thinking, "What has gotten into you? Son of a bitch; why don't you put me in a nursing home and be done with me?" But no go. On Mondays I was always a good two hours late for school and Miss Jenny wasn't to happy with me and Mom and I wasn't too happy with Mom. I was in jail on the weekends. For the first six months I lived at Harold and Mom's I had to sleep on the couch in the living room. Harold's son, Rod and his really cute girlfriend Judy would sometimes stay with us in the bedroom right upstairs from mine. I could hear them having sex at night. Mom and Harold's bedroom was right next to mine and I could hear them at it at night, too. I was 17 and one day Mom walked in on me when I was masturbating. She screamed and slapped me.

Chapter Eight

Pat Smith was the teacher's aid. Mrs. Smith was heavy set. She fed me at lunch. I used to kid with her and she could give it right back too. She thought that I could eat cookies without milk on them. I couldn't, but that is what Gene said and he was wrong as usual. I don't know where he got his O.T. degree. I could have done better then him. Well, part of the problem was my doctor. He said that I didn't need a Catheter and everybody believed the doctor. But I knew that I needed one because I was wet most of the time. Sixth grade was fun, though. Mrs. Smith and I went to Chicago to the Science and Industry Museum. I had to get up at 4 AM to catch a bus at 7AM. I couldn't go to the bathroom that morning. I wished I had a catheter that day. I had to hold my bladder four 25 hours. I knew that I should of had a catheter when I was in school; but no. Somtimes think I was more smarter then the teachers were. One Spring day our class went camping. Near Bever Dam. It was some Girl Scout camp. It was not an accessable building, it only had steps. There weren't ramps like these days. No A.D.A. Law for disabled people like now.

The eighth grader got to bring a friend on the camping trip because they were graduating from Gompers Middle School. At first I didn't want to go because I was scared of wetting all over; I didn't, thank God. We went fishing and Gregg Paskey caught a fish but we had to throw him back. Jim and those guys played ball inside the cabin while I stayed outside. It was a damp day when we left.

Chapter Nine

It was a warm day in April and I had Swimming class with Mr. Plaligreeno. He was the gym teacher and swimming class instructor. Mr.Pelgreeno felt swimming is good for C.P. people. It was fun swimminq with him. He knew about disabled people. There was a cute girl unlike Jeany named Denise. Denise had CP. She looked good in her swimming suit. One day after we got done swimming we got on the bus to go back to school and denice was sitting across from me and all of a sudden she spread her legs. I could see her black pubic hair coming out of her underwear. I wanted to touch it but I couldn't. Well, I had a dream about Denice, and I dreamt we were in class together and she came up to me and put my hand in her pants. Just then Miss Jenny walks in and yells: "Denise and Ludell!" I woke happy and wet. Miss Jenny and Gene, who were in it for the money, didn't care how we felt at all. Like Ted had Spinnal Biffa which is when the spine is open; exposed. They can't control their bladders and bowels. One day Ted was sitting in class and all of a sudden he got up from his seat to go to the bathroom. Miss Jenny said "Sit down! This is my time to teach!" But he was out the door! Pete got up and said to her; "I'm going with Ted! Out of my way before I knock you out! And don't call Mrs. Smith or I will knock her out too!" Well he went to talk to Ted; "Don't worry about Miss Jenny, she doesn't understand." Which was true. Back then disabled people didn't have rights; like they do now. We were told what to do.

Chapter Ten

I always like gettinq out and camping and Wawbeek used to be that place. I have been going there since I was nine years old and I used to love it. It used to be full of people. In fact there was a waiting list for many years but not any more. Because disable people have rights now and a lot of my friends don't go because they have jobs now. There was a cute woman named Kathy Ripp there. She was from Janesville Wisc. She had Spinea Biffa. I had a crush on her for the longest time and I would see her again. I dreamed about having a nude wedding with her. But it would'nt work out between us and I was too shy to ask Mom to take me to see her. I knew what Mom would say. She would have told me "You can't have sex with her let alone qet her P.G." I didn't talk to anybody in my family about Kathy so I just stuffed my sexuality. I liked Kathy Stone too. She had C.P. and was cute too. To this day I want feel Kathy's warm body agaist mine. I wished I could go in the girl's dorm and see her nude. But I didn't. I was only about 15 years old when I met her and I liked her the first time I met her. I haven't seen her for over ten years and I wish she would come back to Wawbeek.

Chapter Eleven

When I was 18 years old I got my own apartment in Madison with an attendant named John. Before we could move into it, he had to train at Dad and Mays' for a few weeks. Then we found out John was a really good con man. He said his money was in Chicago and got May to loan him 250 bucks to buy a car and he would pay her back. My family was stupid as usual. Turned out he was wanted in many states and my family had him training when the call came from the social workers. They said that he was no qood and to get rid of him, fast! Dad and May couldn't sleep while he was living there. It was a mess; Dad got rid of him by putting him on a bus to I don't know where, and I'm thankful no one was killed.

Then there was Brad and Stephey. They were OK. I moved in with them on May fifth of '78. They liked to party so I thought this is cool. Up til now I never partyed before. My first weekend in Madison was fun. We went to the park where I drank my first beer. At first I didn't like it, but after a few I started to. That Summer was fun. We had our friends over and we had a lot; I mean alot! of parties.

I was drunk most of Summer. Fall came and I had to cool my drinking. I had to finish school and then Brad and Stephey quit. I cried when they left. There was a cute girl that lived next door named Linda. Linda had M.S. I wanted to have sex with her, but I didn't. She was later raped by a man. I felt so sad for her.

Chapter Twelve

In the Fall of '78 Dale Lee moved in with me.

He was too quite for me. He was into church and I'm not. I kept partying and drinking a lot. He told Mom that I was drinking and she gave me heck. I really didn't care. I thought to myself; it is my turn to party; just leave me alone.

On Februay 7th of 1979 I met Kathy Lyons on the bus going to the Johnny Cash concert. She looked like Kathy Ripp from Janesville. With hairy legs and all. I was in love. Kathy Lyons had C.P. Well, we dated for all of the Summer. On July l4th of 1979 I invited her for supper. After supper; she asked me if I wanted to feel her. Of course I did. We went to bed together. It was a beautiful evening. She had to go home that night. I was cryng when she left because I wanted more of her loving. She had to have an opperation on her back and I thought she would meet someone else and get P.G. I was right; she did meet someone else. But when Kathy was having her back operation, I met Ginny Ennis. Ginny was in a car accident. She looked like Linda who had M.S. and moved out from Karabis apartments. We went camping and shared the same tent. We never touched each other but it was hard not to. I kept thinking to myself, "She is just a friend; keep your hands to yourself, Swenson!"

I'm happy that I didn't touch her at the same time I was seeing Yvonne. Yvonne had alburn hair. She had C.P. and we wanted to marry, but she had to move here. And our love was real; in love with each other. Our last date was something; we went to the Beach Boys show. We didn't know what was going on. We were in our own world, hugging and kissing. Too bad we didn't have electric wheelchairs, we would of checked into a motel. But no such luck. Kathy did come back to me in the Fall of '81. We slept together all Fall but after Christmas Dale told that stupid Ron that he was putting me in bed with Kathy. That stupid Ron said "Stop it! They have to be married first!" When Dale got home he told me what that dummy had said. Dale said he agreed with Ron. I was really mad at Dale for telling me my business. I should have kicked Dale out that night because all of my life people told me what to do and I was hoping I would be the boss for once when I moved into my own apparment. I was wrong to be living with Dale. I thought; "What A bible-thumper Dale is". I finally had Dale call Walter, a family friend who was a Pastor in Lodi. I knew him a long time and trusted his opinion. He told Dale that pre-marital sex was really a grey area in the Bible and that he was happy for me. Dale did put us to bed one more time. Then Kathy dropped me after the New Year. I was hurt and still am. If it wasn't for those damn meddlers telling us we should get married; if it wasn't for them we would still be together. I hate hypocritical Christian people. Some are so stupid that they should be locked up for good. Some are worse then M.R. people and I think a lot of people who believe in that shit are worse off the M.R. people.

Dale's friend Ron stayed with us and he had a girl friend over every night. They would make love on my couch. Well; I stopped that in a hurry. Kathy and I thought; "You son of a bitch; it is OK for you to sleep with your girl friend on my couch but when we want to sleep together you read the fucking bible to us. So screw you man."

Chapter 13

After Kathy dropped me in January of '82, Dale and both Rons were jumping up and down with joy. I wished I had a gun. I would have gone to Country Life restaurant and shot up the place. Ron C. owned Country Life and I don't know how it kept going as long as it did. I could have done a heck of a lot better then what he was doing. In fact a blind and deaf person could do a lot better then Ron did.

That summer I went to camp Wawbeek and met Julia Kwallek. Juila had C.P. and borderline M.R. She was from Milwakee, Wis. I was blind in love. Well after camp she came and stayed with me. I should have cut it off after camp. But we wanted to be together. Our relationship went like wild fire. We wanted to get married on January first of '83. She moved in in October. Mean while Dale and those two Rons were telling me how to live. I should have told them where to go. Hell! I and Juila had a nice wedding on January first, 1983. Everything was OK until after Niagra Falls; that trip was bad. We went to Niagra Falls on our honeymoon about six months after we got married. Some honeymoon. We stayed with Ron. Well one night he kicked us out of his appartment in New York. Dale drove us right back to Madison. Then later Juila and I went to camp. I couldn't talk to my friends without her watching me. Yvonne was there and I wanted to hug her and tell her I wish it was her I would have married. Everthing went down hill then. Julia was abusing me, like she would beat me with a belt. One night we were in bed and she said she would like to cut my penis off. That was it! I and Dale got her a bus back to her moms' on December third of '83. She moved on the 27th. Even so, I cried when she moved out. It was a bad New Years, and after that I had to go to the lawyer and file for a divorce. That year I started drinking again, ...bad. There was a married disabled couple living next door to me named Mike and Sue. Sue looked like Yvonne but I was drinking a case a day because I wanting loving from Sue, Yvonne and Kathy. Sue was a blond. She choked to death on a pizza in 1993.

Chapter 14

I had this weekend worker named Tim. Tim was into the Grateful Dead. One morning he was playing some when he got me up and I said who is this? He said it was the Grateful Dead. I said I thought they were an acid rock band, which I hate, but this sounds good and he said, "Yeah, want go to a show?" My first show was, I got to say wild but very fun.

We camped with bunch of Dead heads. There was a woman who was sunbathing nude. She had beautiful body hair especially on her legs and she had nice hair between her legs. I wanted to get nude too but tim said no. The show was great! We had fun on the weekends when he worked. A lot of Friday nights we went to Milwaukee to see Dead cover bands and sometimes we got a room and stayed over night.

In the Spring of '91, Tim and I and Tim's friend Mike decided to rent a van and go out West. Oh man! We had a lot of fun, just driving and listening to music all night.