The email began: Dear Mr. Repairman,
My name is Rhiannon. I got your name from a lady who attends my church. I have a problem and I need your help. I will start at the beginning. I was born with a form of what people call albinism. Though I don’t have it as bad as some, life has always been a challenge.
The one highlight of my life has been getting dressed up as a pixie to go to the Fete. At first it was a lark. I was 6 or 7 when I appeared at my first fete. Everyone came to see me. They’d put coins in the basket and I’d make a little game of reading their future from their palm or doing a bit of innocent magic, Pixies being playful creatures. I got to be around people and play with other children. Dressed as a pixie no one thought my skin color or hair color (which is a very pale strawberry blonde) was the least bit odd.
As I got older I realized that people believed what I was saying to them about their future. They thought I was telling the truth. As I began to listen to their stories it actually became quite painful to me. I looked forward to the time at the fete less and less, but the money was important to my family and to the farm. I really had no choice but to help.
Mr. Repairman, I’ve just turned 22. I’m a grown woman. The older I get the more the old superstitions come to surround me. They think maybe I am a bad omen; I am afraid now when I go into town that people armed with more than just old superstitions will try to harm me. I’m well known in the county round about the farm, Loved and hated in equal measures. Isn’t it true that people hate what they do not understand? For this and other reasons, I cannot take one more year of giving strangers false hope at the fete simply for a few dollars.
I desperately want to leave here and go to University. I know it will hurt my parents but if I could leave, I could go to school. I could get a proper job to support the farm. Will you help me, please? I enclosed a picture because I think it will help you understand.
My name Cary. I am known to my clients as The Repairman. Once upon a time I was a scientist from a very long line of important scientists. Now retired at age 50, I make a comfortable living from the financial remuneration I receive from various inventions designed to improve the health of people with heart problems.
I am ashamed to say back in the early to late 1800’s my great grandfather took science too far, playing god with people’s lives. He made an enormous amount of money from his work and was lauded for his successes. One thing people did not see were his failures. He bankrupted people with the repeated surgery he did to “repair” defects of the skin and hair. As they were put out on the streets, his coffers filled up.
Our family fortune was built on this legacy of horror until my father, also a surgeon, found out how many lives he ruined. It was a secret no one divulged until my father found old journals. My father changed our last name, then proceeded to create a trust for the families of those harmed by my great grandfather. He and my mother did everything in their power to help to rebuild lives.
When I was told that some of my great grandfather’s ”experiments” ended up making their living from putting their scars on display in carnival sideshows, I was appalled. I made it my mission to make sure that people never felt as though they were “freaks” that had to resort to being exploited to survive. I wanted to give people with physical differences (both seen and unseen) a way out if they wanted to take it. I’ve helped people with all kinds of differences leave a life where they were put on display like zoo animals.
My parents started to create this amazing legacy, a network of people willing to help in emergency situations. I remember that they often put their lives on the line to help people escape those that for all intents and purposes held them captive. People from all walks of life make up our network of safety. They help those whose exploitation has driven them to run from their livelihood and sometimes out of the only home they’d ever known. Some in the network remain with various traveling shows because they enjoy performing. They do so with the understanding that they will bring awareness to what makes them physically different.
Taking the fear and stigma out of seen and unseen disabilities is what Repair Hope is all about.
Hope was my mother’s name. It only seemed fitting to name the organization after her.
I studied Rhiannon’s photograph. It pictured Rhiannon dressed in her sprite/fairy/pixie costume set against the open field of the farm where she lived with her family. In the background were deep green pines and a body of water. Her costume was a seafoam green with a high collar of lace. The wings were made of silver colored wire and sequins. She was small of stature and I suppose that gave her a more youthful appearance.
Rhiannon’s looks were striking to say the least. Her hair pale reddish blonde, eyes bright blue, her skin very light with slight shades of pink makeup. Her very light colored eyelashes and eyebrows added a brightness to her face. Like a young woman in a Hugh Cameron painting. Everything about her looked magical dressed in that costume. I could understand how people thought she was believable. However, the eyes didn’t lie, a mixture of sadness, fear, distress and yet there was determination. The kind of quiet determination I see in many clients who want to make Repair Hope work for them.
The next morning I stepped into my office to make a few calls about Rhiannon and her family. I also called our contact in her country, Gregor. Gregor was a man I had come to know through my parents' work. He had developed gigantism and later acromegaly. Born in Eastern Europe, at a time when not much was known about gigantism, Gregor became a drifter at age 18. He left home to try to find a way to support himself ending up working in circuses and carnivals across Europe. When my parents found him he had given up on the idea that he could be of any use to society. My parents found him a job working with blind children at an orphanage run by the Catholic church. The children loved him, and he loved them, now he is happy to be an emissary of Repair Hope. He will meet with Rhiannon.
I wrote my reply; Dear Rhiannon,
I am The Repairman. I read your email and empathize with you. I support your goals. The Repair Hope Network can be of assistance to you but you must agree to a few terms.
- You will meet my emissary on the date and time specified without fail.
- When arrangements are made for you to leave the farm you will sit down and speak to your family about why you are leaving and what you wish to accomplish.
- You will agree to the job I am offering. Trust that what I am doing is the best fit for your goals and your education. I assure you that you’ll be well cared for and well paid by your employers
- We will never ask you for money but we may ask for your time.
From your picture I can see how trapped you feel by your “fete persona”. I also applaud your loyalty and love for your family. However, I agree that going to University will, almost certainly, be of greater benefit to your family, the farm, and the community. Please reply as soon as possible if you agree to these terms.
The next morning I received her reply. Dear Repairman,
I absolutely agree to your terms. They are reasonable, as long as I can get into University I am willing to work for that opportunity.
I am moderately free to come and go as I please because I cannot work in the fields. I generally mind the house (cook, clean, ect). If your emissary is to meet me it might be best to do so outside of town proper. There’s a wood on the outskirts of town called Catherine’s Pines (it is clearly marked). I often go there to gather mushrooms. No one will think anything about my going to the woods. I have sent a map to help you. It is safer for all involved.
Thank you so much,
I called Gregor and explained the situation then emailed the map to his quarters at the church. He agreed to meet Rhiannon at the wood in 24 hours. He too felt that she might be in physical danger. (though if anyone could handle himself it was Gregor)
We haven’t much time so please pack what you need including your legal paperwork. (birth certificate, ect.) Also talk honestly to your family about your departure. You are to meet Gregor tomorrow at 15:30 in Catherine’s Pines. Gregor is a very tall man and difficult to miss. His heart is as big as he is so do not worry. He has arranged transportation for you to the Repair Hope offices. We will meet to discuss your job assignment, university and we will arrange for your papers.
I look forward to meeting you,
Rhiannon was as good as her word. She was in the woods right on time, waiting for Gregor. It turned out to be a very chilly early Fall day. They packed her little suitcases into his van and drove toward the train station. She cried a bit. Saying goodbye to her family was difficult for her. She told Gregor that they knew some day she’d want to go to school. They knew that she was in danger but had no idea what they could do to protect her. In the end they realized that this was the only way to keep her safe. Her family, especially her father, never imagined that the village could harbor such animosity towards just one of their children. Rhiannon said it felt like she wasn’t even from the same family as her “normal” brothers and sisters. Gregor certainly understood that feeling.
I’d arranged for her to travel with a friend of mine so she’d have a companion and someone to assure her safety. Her companion, Deborah, had sufficient skill to protect her from anything that might come up.
Gregor left Rhiannon with Deborah and went back to the church. Very late that night Deborah phoned me to let me know she had her “little bird” and was on her way to the office.
I met Rhiannon and Deborah at the door. Rhiannon disguised herself a bit. Wearing her hair up in a baseball style cap, using makeup to brighten her fair skin. She wore a duster length coat, suede boots, a big leather bag over one shoulder and a beautiful handmade scarf around her neck. Though the scarf was nearly large enough to swallow her whole, she looked like a typical 20 something I’d seen around town.
I greeted her “Rhiannon nice to meet you I’m Cary Alden. You know me as The Repairman. It’s lovely to meet you in person.” “It’s nice to meet you too…” she said, as if she were still deciding. “You’re not at all what I imagined. I expected someone much older and …” ”And not quite as handsome”? Deborah finished her sentence “Yes”, she replied, smiling broadly I laughed and replied “Please come into the office.” My housekeeper took their coats.
“Please feel free to sit anywhere you like. My housekeeper had made us some tea and coffee along with a plate of the finest gingerbread you will ever taste! All ingredients are grown on farms started by members of the Repair Hope Network. Would you like something?” I said. “Yes please!” Both ladies said at the same time. Deborah served while I spoke to Rhiannon.
“Did you bring your papers? Deborah is going to make arrangements for your student visa while I help you enroll in University” I stated. Rhiannon drew the papers out from her bag then handed the papers off to Deborah. “Meanwhile I thought you could work here at the headquarters helping my housekeeper thereby learning to manage a larger household. Your suite is on the first floor next to Mrs. McCarthy’s suite. She specifically asked for you because of your background. Mrs. McCarthy is a very good judge of character.” I informed Rhiannon with a smile.
Rhiannon grinned broadly. “I’ve never seen a place so big in my whole life. I think you could fit my entire village in this building. Does Mrs. McCarthy know all this? Does she know what she’s in for trying to teach me everything? I don’t have many nice clothes. I mean not party clothes. Just church clothes. Where will I go to University and how will I get there? And if you don’t mind me asking, what time do you eat?” She asked in rapid fire succession between bites of gingerbread.
“Yes, Mrs. McCarthy knows about your background.” I replied. “Let me ring for her, she’ll show you your rooms and fill you in on the household schedule.” Deborah said, “I’ll get these papers processed.” Rhiannon receded from the room in the company of the very able Mrs. M.
I looked at Deborah, “What do you think?” I asked. “She’s a very, very bright girl Cary! Mrs. M. was right to ask you to allow her to work here at the main house.” Deborah replied. She continued, lowering her voice “Also Gregor told me that everything she said about the village was true. Most of the people were very normal but they didn’t feel comfortable around Rhiannon and some even believed that a recent rash of livestock deaths were her fault.” “I see,” I said to Deborah. “I’m glad she contacted us.”
I heard the dinner bell ring. Rhiannon returned dressed for dinner and escorted myself and Deborah to the dining room. She came back with a tureen of Mrs. McCarthy’s delicious Irish stew. Mrs. McCarthy followed with soda bread and fresh churned butter. The two women floated in and out of the room silently putting food on the table. Mrs. McCarthy winked at me to let me know that Rhiannon was doing very well on her first evening.
As the months passed Rhiannon became a part of our Repair Hope family. Attending University for Food Service Management and learning at our offices the practical out workings of this career. As she learned, we increased her salary commensurate with her education. (I quietly sent money to her family until Rhiannon was financially stable enough to contribute on her own) We all watched a young woman grow from those first halting steps to a young woman fully capable of taking her place at Repairing Hope’s management staff. It all began with one email. All of us at Repairing Hope are like a family. Rhiannon Tremayne was the best of us.