By Michael Long (as told to Karl Williams)
Massey-Reyner, 1999


Introduction (by Karl Williams)
Farm and Family
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I met Michael Long in Toronto at the Third International People First Conference. He gave a speech in which he portrayed his idea of himself, in relation to the "normal" world and then to the world of disbilities, by means of several diagrams with interlocking cirlces. What struck me most about the speech was how it quite naturally applied to everyone in the audience alike, myself and people with disabilites and advisors to the various self-advocacy groups represented. He spoke about self-worth and how important that is in everyone's life; the world of disabilities he'd found himself in was just his particular obstacle; what he said about the need for establishing one's self-esteem applied clearly to everyone regardless
of his or her situation in life.

When Michael was invited soon after that to Pennsylvania's statewide conference, I made it a point to be there - I wanted to hear him speak again.

Afterwards I went up to shake his hand. I said that I was very glad to have heard him speak once more. I told him how very good I thought he was at what he did and that I was very happy to know him as a fellow human being.

And then, out of the blue as it seemed to me, several weeks later I got a call from him. He wanted to write a book and he wanted me to help him do it…


I remember us kids laying down in the shed, going to sleep on top of the walnuts in the bins with the dryer blowing hot air through the walnuts. Mom and Dad worked around the clock, twenty-four hours. This was during the walnut harvest, October through November 1. The walnuts were our main crop and so that's the reason why we ran around the clock like that. Mom would bring us outside with her, to keep an eye on us while she was working. My mother took care of the walnut dehydrator.

And we always had a lot of fun, lying down on top of the walnuts. The heat would rise up there, so it was always nice and warm. It's in a great big shed - it holds up to about 50 bins and we have this great big blower that blows air underneath the bins. Here's how the walnuts are dried: The bins have metal on the bottom to make a bottom of the bin and they have holes in that metal and so the dry air goes up through the walnuts and they dry the walnuts. The blower is heated with propane gas to be able to blow the hot air underneath the tunnel of where all the air goes up to heat the walnuts to dry them off.

We were laying on top of the walnuts inside the bins and where the hot air came up in the bins. The bin doesn't have nothing on top. We were laying on the walnuts, on top of themselves, and we kept warm by the warm air coming up underneath the tunnel there. The blower dries about 16 bins at a time, because there's three different sections and each section has 16 bins. And it usually takes one to two days to dry the walnuts. And then after the walnuts are dried, then we have these big semi-trucks and we have a conveyor belt that runs in between - you know you have your walls to protect the bin area and then you have a walkway in between the bins and underneath that walkway is a conveyor belt and when they're dry we lift up this handle and that opens up the bin and all the walnuts come out of the bin and then they go up the conveyor belt into the semi-truck and the semi-truck goes down to San Jose, CA and then they're processed there.

We were in different bins. There was room for two people in the bins, but most of the time we wanted our own bin. The feeling to describe it - it just felt so incredible, because you're all stretched out with all of these walnuts and that hot air coming up to be able to keep you warm. And Mom was always around those bins - for she could keep working. And then she would take us into the house and everything.

What happens is that during December through I would say probably March, the trees are dormant, so there's no leaves or anything. The walnuts start, when they have their flowers and what we call a catkin. And a catkin is like a caterpillar - it's hard to describe. And then the catkin drops off and pollinates the flower and then it forms a green husk. And then the green husk breaks apart - I would say in the month of October or so. And when they start doing that that means it's time to start walnut harvest. And then the walnut is taken off the tree by the shaking of the tree, then the walnuts fall down to the ground, and what's left of the walnuts is just the walnut shell like everyone knows about. If that green husk doesn't come off, that means that the walnut is still too green.

I grew up on a farm of walnuts and almonds and prunes - about four hundred acres of land. My Dad and Mom did alot of commercial work - that's where a lot of the other people who owned orchards, we did their orchards for them. My father built the business up from a small twenty acres that he and his father bought; he built it up all the way to 800 acres — we harvest over a thousand acres each year, including the commercial work, — and that took them about twenty years to be able to do that. That's where he really built his reputation up.

My brother Greg was the main one who always loved the farm; he really participated in every way that he could, in everything, as he was growing up. He was the more active one of the family with the farm. I always hated the farm because of had to get up early in the morning - us kids were always out there at six a.m. picking the prunes…


It was May 16, 1962 when I was born - right after midnight. Many dreams were shattered in the situation where my mom and dad were having a different son, was not going to be capable of doing things. I was a big breach baby and I had the umbilical cord wrapped around my throat and I lost a lot of oxygen when I was born and that formed a mild case of cerebral palsy and mentally retardation, brain damage, from the lack of oxygen. I was put right in the incubator when I was born.

The doctor said that, "You're going to have a child that's going to have a difficult time. He may not be able to walk in his life; and he probably'll be nonverbal, not able to communicate."

But my mom and dad wanted to be able to keep me at home and be able to raise me at home. And so my parents decided to bring me home and raise me like anybody else…

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